Living in Society

Toward the 2020 Iowa Caucuses

Jimmy Carter at the Iowa State Fair, August 1976 – Photo Credit – Des Moines Register

I didn’t vote in the 1976 general election where the choice for president was between incumbent Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter of Georgia.

1976 was the first election in which new Democratic National Committee rules were in effect to change the presidential nominating process. Iowa went first, Carter realized it, and he showed up with an aid at the Iowa State Fair that August to campaign.

I was in military training and couldn’t figure out where I’d be on election day. I was unfamiliar with how service members voted and there was no mention of voting as I trained to became a military officer at Fort Benning, Georgia.

In 1976 voting didn’t matter to me. I was doing my part to serve our country, and the national nightmare that was the Richard Nixon administration had ended. I felt comfortable with the electorate deciding between Ford and Carter without me.

Even with its problems, the nominating process that now begins in Iowa is more open than it was when Hubert Humphrey was picked as the 1968 Democratic candidate for president in a Chicago hotel room by a small group of cigar-smoking men.

In 2016 complaints about “establishment Democrats” tilting the caucuses toward Hillary Clinton were frequent. George McGovern and other architects of the current nominating process did reasonable work and shouldn’t be blamed for the rise of internet chat rooms, social media, and reporters that look for stories with an easy hook to garner clicks on the web. The rise of the internet had an impact on the Iowa caucuses by facilitating easy communication about almost any topic and promoting the rise of conspiracy theories like the one that something called “establishment Democrats” exists and is a force for no good.

It looks like the Iowa Caucuses will go first again in 2020, although that’s not guaranteed. It also looks like the field of Democratic candidates will be large, maybe as many as 20 men and women when we get into the thick of it. For Iowa Democrats, who wins the horse race here is insignificant compared to the need for party building.

Under Troy Price’s leadership, the Iowa Democratic Party made progress rebuilding its brand during the 2018 midterm elections. That work should continue. More than anything, the Iowa Democratic Party should encourage participation by all in the presidential preference part of an open caucus process. IDP should not forget their main role is to build the party, something sorely needed if one looks at Fred Hubbell’s 2018 election map.

With limited time and resources, a focus on party building instead of selecting and supporting our favorite pick for president is the harder choice. What I sense already is many active Democrats will start to hunker down behind their fave presidential candidates and leave party building to others. That is a recipe for failure. It doesn’t have to be that way.

I’m no longer a fan of having a presidential preference pick as part of the Iowa caucuses, mostly because it doesn’t accomplish what is needed most — building our party into a winning team. I know the consequences of giving up “first in the nation,” and am ready to let go. However, that’s not the process we have so I’m stuck dealing with reality. Dealing with reality is a narrative I can back.

I do plan to vote in 2020.