Political Thoughts from Iowa

DSM Skyline

I live in Iowa. It’s a unique place with a few urban centers surrounded by a LOT of farm land, as well as the farmers who provide food to much of the rest of the world. There’s a lot more going on in Des Moines than most people realize, but we’re not going to claim to be the next New York or Los Angeles anytime soon. If you come to visit you’ll find friendly people, good food, some great bicycling trails, and likely a politician or two. Even when the caucuses are not coming up in a few months.

It seems surreal, doesn’t it? Des Moines traffic slowed because a presidential motorcade is driving through? That’s not uncommon. Heck, when I was in High School, then-vice president George HW Bush came and spoke at our annual FFA banquet. That was a big deal for a small Iowa school like mine, graduating class of 51 students. It makes no sense that any politician would give any respect to such a small community!

But take a step back and think for a moment. If you live in LA or NY, it wouldn’t be too out of the question to see a celebrity out walking their dog, right? And after living there long enough and seeing them frequently enough, you probably become a bit desensitized to it and just wish they would pick up after their pets. When you see something rarely, you can be wowed by it. When it happens with any regularity, you aren’t moved by the excitement quite so much. So when Mike Huckabee has an event at a nearby Pizza Ranch or Ted Cruz is speaking inside a small town gas station, we take notice, but it isn’t out of the ordinary. There’s no shock and awe, and that comes with being the first in the nation caucus state.

That is to say that Iowans are not intimidated, or even overly impressed, by any politician. We expect to have access to them. If they are smart, they tell us to address them by their first name. Some have said that Iowa should be removed from their place in line, but this would be a huge mistake. If the first vote cast state were rotated, the shock and awe would be perpetuated. It would be like seeing Donald Trump giving free helicopter rides to people all the time. There would be an unhealthy sense of novelty about our civic servants in every state.

The first caucus status means that candidates need to organize their voters and meet with them small settings as well as larger events. An Iowan who is interested can expect to be able to approach a future president, shake his or her hand and pose a question. That’s normal in Iowa. Cruz had the best ground game, followed by Rubio. Cruz received all of the right endorsements and made all the right enemies. Rubio found out, just in time, that his path is in the Establishment category. And it still isn’t a done deal. He has a hard path.

How stupid are the people of Iowa?

-Donald J. Trump

Trump cornered the anger vote and provided some excitement outside what Iowans are accustomed to seeing. And that combo led him to a second place finish. He had a few events that Charlie Sheen would be proud of, he bought movie tickets at the crappiest theater in the Des Moines metro for people to see “13 Hours” and he gave kids at the Iowa State Fair helicopter rides.

Carson was rarely in Iowa. He was off at book signings and speaking engagements. Even without the confusion he’s lucky to have come in 4th. He gave signs that CNN reported, showing that he wasn’t committed to the race and several organizations, including the Rubio and Cruz organizations, went with CNN’s analysis. I think his steam was expended a few months ago and he will depart the race sooner rather than later. Any way you look at it, he was rarely in the State, instead an empty campaign buss drove around to give the impression that he was.  Regardless, he outperformed his polling numbers going into Monday night. 

With Cruz occupying the grassroots conservative lane, Rubio taking a firm hold on the establishment lane and Donald Trump taking the “Storm the Bastille” lane, there isn’t another viable lane for any of the other candidates. Kasich is doing well in New Hampshire and I don’t expect the other establishment guys to just roll over, but that three way race I described looks like it’s pretty much set.

Side Note: 3 of the top 4 Republicans in the Iowa Caucus were ethnic minorities and two of them are under the age of 50.

Another Side Note: I experienced the Republican caucuses, which are operated very differently than the Democratic caucuses. There were no coin flips at my meeting. Every vote was counted, even if it was just one for a candidate. For the record, Marco Rubio had 82 votes in my precinct, Ted Cruz had 43, Donald Trump had 42, Carly Fiorina had 13, Ben Carson and Rand Paul each had 11.

One more: NOBODY spoke for or voted for Mike Huckabee, who broke records 2 cycles ago with the largest number of votes in the caucus. That shocked me. But then his campaign relied more on his past name recognition from Fox News than with getting to know the current crop of Iowa voters. Rick Santorum (the last winner) also flopped for similar reasons. They had won the game before, then forgot how to play it. Imagine having to explain to Peyton Manning how to throw a forward pass before the Superbowl this Sunday!