May 2020 Be the Last Time Iowa Goes First

Today is the day that political nerds have been looking forward to since January 20, 2017: the day where the eyes of the political world focus in on Iowa as the race for the Democratic nomination starts to get serious. Let us all hope and pray it’s the last time this happens.

Why does Iowa go first in both the Republican and Democratic primaries? Other than appeals to tradition, the answer typically given is that Iowa represents a normal state. It is the quintessential purple state. It’s not populated with elites or associated with the stereotypical depictions of liberals as a bunch of hippies or conservatives as aspiring theocrats, in the way that Oregon or Mississippi are. Due to its people being defined as “real” or “normal” Americans it is depicted as a state that is a microcosm for the country as a whole.

Except, it isn’t. This is not a partisan argument either. Over the past couple of cycles, people on the left and the right have begun to more seriously question Iowa’s privileged “first in the nation” status.

On the left, there is Julian Castro, who dropped out of the race at the beginning of January. He contends that Iowa does not represent the diversity of either the Democratic Party or the nation and thus it is not a fair indicator into what Americans really think:

Iowa and New Hampshire are wonderful states with wonderful people. But they’re also not reflective of the diversity of our country, and certainly not reflective of the diversity of the Democratic Party.

While Castro’s critique may stink of a candidate complaining about the rules of a game he lost, but if Democrats sincerely believe what they say about the importance of diversity then there is a certain logic to it. There are 50 states in this country. Why should Iowa and New Hampshire be in charge of picking the presidential candidates every four years?

This is a question conservatives have too. Although we here on the right side of the spectrum do not obsess over identity politics in the way Castro does, Iowa’s “first in the nation” status has led to politicians giving it special treatment, particularly in bowing down to the ethanol lobby.

In 2015, Jonah Goldberg wrote:

When I hear Iowa politicians talk about the sanctity of their front-runner status it sounds no different to me than listening to corrupt teachers’-union bosses talking about the sanctity of tenure; it’s just another interest group pretending that there is a great principle behind their own narrow self-interest

Talking about the anti-establishment rhetoric in the Republican Primary that year he added, “Well if there’s a more obvious hive of cronyism in the GOP than the Iowa ethanol racket, I’d like to hear about it.”

Given these two concerns, would it be too much to ask if the RNC and DNC put aside their differences for two minutes to agree to scuttle the traditional primary order? They don’t even have to agree on a common solution, just to get rid of the current one. The bipartisan agreement would ensure that the other party is not able to accuse the other being anti-Iowa.

If Democrats want to take Castro’s advice they can start with California, the Democrats’ largest safe state and one that meets Castro’s definition of diverse. Republicans could counter with Texas, their largest state.

Another possibility is to keep the Midwest-Northeast-South-West order, but instead of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, the parties could mix it up. Maybe you go Minnesota, Maine, Kentucky, and Arizona.

Yet another option (and a hat tip to Casey Maddox on Twitter for this one) would be to condense the length of the primary and vote over the course of four Saturdays where each Saturday is composed of a certain number of small, medium, and large primaries determined by a televised drawing.

This is similar to my personal preference would be to just throw all 50 states and additional territories into a randomizer. Instead of Iowa and New Hampshire, imagine if candidates had to fly from New York City to Sitka, Alaska or maybe even Hawaii. Those hideous travel demands might discourage of vanity campaigners, a phenomena that has grown to be ever-more annoying over the past couple cycles.

Nothing personal against Iowa, but while it may be heaven when it comes to baseball, it is not when it comes to politics. The rest of the country deserves a chance to made our voices heard.




Writing about politics and other interesting things. Contributing Writer to NewsBusters. Member of YAF’s National Journalism Center’s Spring 2019 class.

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Alex Christy

Alex Christy

Writing about politics and other interesting things. Contributing Writer to NewsBusters. Member of YAF’s National Journalism Center’s Spring 2019 class.

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