As states try to elbow each other out of the way to lead off the presidential nominating race, Iowa’s secretary of state, Michael Mauro, told the New York Times, “We intend on maintaining our status as first in the nation.” Not that Mauro has a say in the matter. Unlike New Hampshire, where the state runs its presidential primary, Iowa’s “first in the nation” caucuses are a party affair.
But Mauro is as infected with first-in-the-nationitis as most Iowans in or out of office. For an elected officeholder, especially, to suggest that Iowa give up its leadoff role would be on a par with proposing to scrap Iowa’s State Fair.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I phoned Mauro to ask him to spell out exactly why he spoke as he did to the Times. He rattled off the reasons:
1. Important to state of Iowa.
2. Brings candidates here.
3. Brings media from everywhere.
4. Gives candidates chance to make name for themselves
5. Economic growth
6. Candidates meet face to face with Iowans.
7. Showcases Iowa.
Give or take a point or two, that pretty much sums up the case to be made for the status quo. Not to be picky, but the same case can be made by any state enviously eyeing Iowa’s place in the limelight. That case rests heavily on the economic. There’s money to be made from everything from rent for campaign storefronts, to hotel rooms, car rentals, ad buys, airline tickets, restaurant meals and the like, not to mention the free publicity lavished on the state for no reason other than its place on the political calendar.
Mauro’s list is dominated by the parochial. Missing is an explanation of how excessive attention to vote-starved, heavily-white Iowa is advantageous either to the national political parties or to the country.
But then, self-interest is nothing new, whether in politics or anything else. The states trying to wrest the first-in-the-nation crown from Iowa are not driven by altruism any more than is Iowa.
If it weren’t so pathetic, and the stakes so high, the script being played out would be worthy of a Broadway farce – or a kid’s playground. In any case, the juvenile “I want to be first,” “No! I want to be first” shenanigans ought to be embarrassing to both parties. Iowa, and New Hampshire for that matter, have done nothing to merit the outsize attention they receive, which is due entirely to happenstance.
Since state party officials seem incapable of playing well with others, the time has come, and probably is long past due, for adults in the national party organizations to assert the national interest in a more rational nominating system. To continue to allow parochial interests to run this marathon show is to risk turning off voters while both exhausting and banrupting the candidates.