Monday, December 11, 2006

2008: Anybody but IOWA

I've got to remind A Better Nation readers of what I learned for working for Howard Dean in the heady pre-caucus days in Iowa, January 2004.

I learned that Iowa is not a good place to have an early shakedown for yet another crucial round of presidential candidates.

Iowa has got a lot of good citizens, and like its early primary cohort New Hampshire, a lot of citizens who care about politics. But the political passions in Iowa are a world away from those in New Hampshire. New Hampshire may tend to be conservative, but it also tends to be unconventional. New Hampshire's got that tough as rocks "Live Free or Die" motto on every license plate. In other works, the Granite State can be dynamic and passionate for progress. Not so Iowa. It is conventional in a twenty years behind the times sort of way.

Iowa's state motto? "Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain". Ho hum, Iowa, you tepid testing ground you.

On the ground that cold and wet January '04, in Des Moines, in Ames and in surrounding small towns, going door to door, I found Iowans to be passionate about only two things: (1) a sleepy-headed, sentimental version of the status quo, with heavy doses of apple pie and rose-colored glasses, and (2) protections and subsidies for farmers. Nothing else much gets on the radar there. Thus, social progressives, innovators, mavericks and edgy straight talkers get shot down, no matter how hot they are on the national scene.

And so, watch out. You think Hillary is in the lead? You think she's a juggernaut? You think she's unstoppable for the nomination, even if unlikely to win in the general election? Well, you'd be right on all these things.

But I'm telling you Iowa wants a decent looking, old-fashioned man. And what could change Iowa's mind? Not much, I don't think, not much. Iowa is just not a dynamic place. Why in the world are we starting things off there every four years? It's a disservice to democracy and a disaster for the nation.

You watch: In 2004, John Edwards came in a respectable second beyond Kerry. For better or worse, lots of Iowans really like the guy. They also really like their governor, big, broad and bland Tom Vilsack, and he's a shoe-in for the Favorite Son Vote. Yep, they could lay low for most of the next year, but Edwards and Vilsack, if they've got a few million bucks left to burn, will be at the top in that dark month of January 2008. These are the sorts of gentlemen that fit the Iowans' wish list a whole heckuva lot better than a Yankee Lady or Big City Black Man. Coaxed by some flashy media hoopla, Iowans will give the other candidates, seen as just another round of carpetbagging gladhandlers, some hearings. But in their hearts, Iowans aren't stretching far from home.


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