Perhaps it was unlucky 13.
The ill-fated 2020 Iowa caucuses represented the 13th time in a row that voters in the Hawkeye State had the first shot at picking a presidential nominee.
And if critics have anything to say about it, it’ll be the last.
Some suggest jettisoning not only the Iowa caucuses but the New Hampshire primary as well.
“With each passing election, the privileged place of Iowa and New Hampshire becomes harder to defend,” the Boston Globe said in an editorial. “The vote-counting snafu in Iowa this week seems to have unleashed years of pent-up frustration about a system that is unfair to Americans in the 48 other states and continues to distort American politics.”
This isn’t the first time Iowa has struggled to pick a winner.
In 2012, Iowa Republicans initially gave the nod to Mitt Romney, only to correct themselves 16 days later and announce Rick Santorum had actually won.
Now, Iowa Democrats are taking their turn in the hall of shame.
None of this should be seen as a reflection on the voters.
Even from a distance, you can see that those who turn out for the Iowa caucuses take their role seriously, and you can make an effective argument they perform a service for the rest of us.
The process is fascinating to watch.
Voters in towns across the state gather in high school gymnasiums or other large meeting places, and they split up into clusters.
Those supporting one candidate gather in this area. Those supporting other candidates gather in another.
And they count heads.
The candidates who reach a certain threshold remain in the running for delegates. Those who don’t either lure support from other candidates or they fall by the wayside.
There’s something to be said for the sort of one-on-one interaction that you see in these early states. For months on end, the candidates show up for ice cream socials or fish fries and hold town halls where they meet voters face to face.
In its editorial, the Globe acknowledged it had seen its own influence grow as a result of New Hampshire’s position in the selection process, but it announced it was withholding its endorsement of a Democratic presidential candidate until after the New Hampshire primary.
“Sometimes, it’s more important to stand up for what’s right than what’s in one’s own interests,” the editorial said. “More important than wielding our influence on a single small state’s primary, we believe, is to call for the end of an antiquated system that gives outsized influence in choosing presidents to two states that, demographically, more resemble 19th-century America than they do the America of today.”
The Globe suggested the two parties consider a lineup of states whose populations were more representative of the country as a whole.
“Take, for example, Illinois, whose population by age, race, and certain economic factors very much resembles the makeup of the nation,” it said.
Others have suggested Georgia and New Mexico. Or maybe Texas. All of those states have far more diversity in their populations than Iowa and New Hampshire.
And then there’s the idea of a single national primary, where all states would cast their ballots at the same time.
Of course, that wouldn’t help Indiana, one of the states that often finds itself irrelevant in the nominating process.
Instead of a situation where voters in Iowa and New Hampshire were getting all of the attention, candidates in a nationwide primary would be forced to focus their energy on population centers. They’d be campaigning in New York and Chicago and Los Angeles. Maybe Cleveland and Miami and Atlanta.
They wouldn’t be turning out for chili suppers at small towns in the Midwest.
Kelly Hawes is a columnist for CNHI newspapers in Indiana. Send comments to [email protected].