Iowa’s Newest Test of Democracy: Fighting for the Iowa Caucuses

The greatest moments in our nation’s history don’t happen on a schedule or timeline. They often show up in obscure places, unaware of the true consequences of the event. Take, for example, an unfamiliar hill called Bunker outside of Boston. This almost unintentional battle was the first step in making the United States a free nation.

Consider the fate dictated to the people of Adam County, Pennsylvania, when Generals Meade and Lee found each other in a town called Gettysburg. When three bloody days of fighting were over, we knew pretty well that the restored United States would not exist “half slave and half free.”

Key events kept happening—at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the appointment of Joe McCarthy at a Senate hearing, JFK’s surprise promise that the US would be the first to put a man on the moon, and at a food counter and on a bus in the deep south.

Now, not without anticipation, and certainly not with life-or-death ramifications, Iowa and New Hampshire face a serious moment — and an opportunity. We can preserve, protect and defend a critical linchpin of American democracy – the future of our presidential process. This is not about two states separately. It is about the common service that we render to our country.

The recent plan by the Democratic National Committee to oust Iowa and New Hampshire from their traditional place as pioneer states will do great and irreversible damage to the openness of America’s presidential election.

The biggest single threat facing Republicans, who maintain first-in-the-nation status going forward, is that the Democrats lose them this cycle.

Few applauded the US Supreme Court’s 2010 decision Citizens United v FEC. The ruling found that limiting the amount of money they spend to call for the election or defeat of a political candidate is a violation of the right to freedom of expression for companies and unions.

That’s why Iowa and New Hampshire matter. These two small, independent states represent the only presidential election process in this US where open spigots of millions and billions of dollars in political money don’t work.

For the cost of a few plane tickets, a candidate can arrive in Des Moines or Manchester, be taken seriously, talk to and listen to real voters. If that person has a compelling presence, a thoughtful message, and the character to persevere, he or she can earn a strong performance and the famous “one of three tickets” to New Hampshire. That prospective president-elect can then raise funding and compete in subsequent, more expensive primary elections in larger states.

With Iowa and New Hampshire moving to the middle of the calendar, we are left with the stacked deck nomination method given to us by President Joe Biden. Citizens United, big money, special interests, and single-issue voters will dominate primaries and caucuses as they do general elections.

There is another important element that Iowans need to appreciate. Ours was the only predominantly rural state with a significant role in selecting Democrats and GOP candidates. So this issue isn’t just about Iowa, it’s also about 20 states with smaller populations, many of them rural.

Based on our current location, Iowa has a seat at the table. The personal approach to the candidates allows us to ask difficult questions and not settle for simple answers, twists and sophisticated ads.

Iowans in both parties — and independents who can partisan in either party by registering for one of them — speak for farmers, ranchers, small business owners and seniors in other states who are addressing concerns about the availability of health care, broadband access, schools and share security, among other things.

The proposed change of the Democratic National Committee shuns America’s heartland. Michigan is not a farm state and is not in the heartland.

The Iowa Democratic Party’s response to the DNC plan is unclear at this time. Fortunately, Republicans are working hard to hold their meetings as scheduled, thanks to Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann, and others. The Republican National Committee has listened to them, respects precedent, understands Iowa’s value for a level playing field, and is keeping Iowa first for at least the 2023-24 cycle.

The biggest single threat facing Republicans, who claim first-in-the-nation status going forward, is that the Democrats lose them this cycle. National Democrats can destroy Iowa’s role today, and it’s just a short hop to some big national Republicans attacking Iowa in 2027-28.

When deciding whether to oppose the DNC, the Iowa Democratic Party should first determine the implications of a surrender decision. People who are part of our culture and structure and would be affected should be consulted and allowed to voice their concerns.

Commercial interests such as agriculture, which feed the people and our future prosperity, should not be neglected. Leaders and advocates for issues such as rural elderly, conservation and other heartland conditions should be consulted.

Again, as “first in the nation,” Iowa represents tens and millions of people and America’s core values.

This is a heavy responsibility. When Democrats and Republicans stand together for Iowa, we stand for rural America. In a humble way, and with New Hampshire, we can follow and honor the decidedly braver citizens of colonial Massachusetts 250 years ago.