Every four years the country turns its attention to the Hawkeye State as it serves as the first nominating contest in the race for America’s chief executive.
The spectacle of baby kissing and political promises from presidential candidates has been relentless in Iowa for over a year now.
People question why Iowa matters. It’s considered a fly-over state by many; a location folks like billionaire financier Donald Trump would never visit, unless he suddenly was running for president.
Iowa does matter. Its farming community supplies a goodly portion of all the food and agricultural resources consumed in America. The state also is a trendsetter in development of alternative fuel sources, like ethanol and wind turbines. Des Moines is a banking capital that provides resources needed to make those industries thrive.
Additionally, the educational system in Iowa excels at all levels. Its schools, universities and private colleges are some of the best in the nation, and the ACT testing service, that is geared to helping people achieve education and workplace success, is headquartered in Iowa City.
When considered, there is no one in America that isn’t concerned about food resources, agricultural sustainability, energy, money and education. That’s why Iowa matters.
Its people are perhaps uniquely qualified to have the first say in who will be the next president since they are exposed for generation after generation to experiencing these major political issues throughout their everyday lives.
Iowa residents take this responsibility of vetting the early candidates extremely seriously. In many ways the results Monday night are a firewall of sorts to extinguish frivolous candidates from continuing in the nomination process.
The caucuses also serve as an important litmus test for contending campaigns. There is considerable debate over whether Donald Trump actually has an organization suited to secure a victory. Are his supporters lining up at events because they are devoted celebrity watchers or are they actually going to come out on a wintry Monday night when the candidate is not there and participate in the Iowa Caucus?
There also is a lot on the line for Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Sen. Clinton is a big frontrunner nationally, but Sen. Sanders has closed that lead in Iowa to within the margin of error.
A win by Sanders would be a huge shot across the bow to Hillary. Whereas a convincing win by Clinton would be the beginning of the end for Sanders.
The caucuses are a totally different animal from a regular primary. While attending the University of Iowa I worked the Iowa Caucuses in 1988 and again in 2008.
At hundreds of gyms, high schools and other generic gather spots across the state – people will show up at 7PM on Monday to decide the first winners and losers of the 2016 race.
There is nothing remarkable about the people gathering. It’s the same folks you see in the grocery, at ball games and at church.
They will chit-chat about the weather, because snow is in the forecast for Monday night or the following day; how the kids are doing; the condition of ailing parents; and how ’bout them Iowa Hawkeyes being ranked #3.
There will be weak coffee provided, butter sandwiches, Kool-Aid and inevitably strange creations made from Jell-O. It’s amazing what Iowans will immerse in Jell-O for others to consume. It’s like Christmas fruitcakes – give a polite pass unless you’re a thrill seeker.
But underneath the chatter, each resident has a distinct opinion about which candidate is best suited to serve as the next President of the United States.
Speeches will be given and for Democrats, supporters of each candidate will break off to gather with like-minded supporters.
Head counts will be taken, and taken again. Organizers from other candidates then woo supporters of candidates not meeting the threshold for moving forward until one individual captures a winning percentage.
Getting a candidate’s people to caucus locations is key. It means spending a lot of time in Iowa. Visiting each county and giving talks at small diners to a few folks while refilling their coffee, and to huge crowds at assembly halls.
It requires paid staff on the ground, plus a slew of volunteers, to make phone calls, arrange rides and offer any other assistance to guarantee folks show up Monday night.
More importantly, the Iowa Caucuses get people involved. It’s not a forced responsibility, but one the state embraces.
To vet these candidates correctly it requires getting out to meet each of them; listen to their stories; what are their previous policies; and what are their intentions now.
It’s like homework. Residents put in time before the caucuses, and then spend a couple hours on caucus night voting their conscience.
There is something about gathering with your neighbors and talking about the concerns you hold dearly, fears you might have about the world we live in, what is being left for our children and ultimately making a public display of support for one candidate over another.
That is a commitment to joining in the electoral process. If people are upset that Congress and the establishment have let them down by only pandering to the ultra-rich in the top 1 percent of America, then getting involved is the vaccine to change that inequality.
All eyes will be on Iowa Monday night. Tune in to watch the circus and enjoy witnessing democracy in action.
And while you’re at it, brew up some red state or blue state Jell-O if you really want to feel the Iowa love.