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Florida's move magnifies influence of Iowa caucuses

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | OCTOBER 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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Heading into the holiday season, few Iowans probably have their state's first-in-the-nation caucuses fully on their mind. Unfortunately, that will be forced to change quite soon — Iowa is about to become even more influential in this year's election.

On Sept. 30, Florida legislators announced they would move their state's presidential primary more than a month forward, to Jan. 31, setting it ahead of all other state primaries and igniting a domino effect in the process. In response, the first four political contests in the nation (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina) have announced, or are expected to soon announce, plans to proceed with earlier contests in an attempt to prevent their political influence from being usurped.

This political absurdity must end. The result of Florida's decision will not increase its influence. Instead, it will shift even more focus from political debate to rhetorical positioning. By moving the primary dates to an earlier date, there will be less time to learn each candidate's platform. This will increase the number of ill-informed caucus-goers who will ultimately set the tone for the entire electoral process.

As much as they proliferate throughout the news, polls (straw, online, or otherwise) are ultimately inconsequential. In October 2007, Sen. John McCain (14.6 percent) was being outpolled by two others: former Sen. Fred Thompson (20.2 percent) and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (27.2).

The Iowa caucuses do hold weight. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee was the first person (Republican or Democrat) to win the Iowa caucuses and not secure his party's ticket since 1992. Votes as influential as the Iowa caucuses should not be rushed, but it looks as if they will be, to the detriment of the electoral process.

It takes much longer for candidates without overwhelming financial backing (e.g. Rep. Ron Paul, Gov. Gary Johnson) to be recognized as legitimate contenders than those that do (e.g. Gov. Mitt Romney, Gov. Rick Perry). They have to rely heavily on their ideals, not on television advertisements, to distinguish themselves. A hurried election cycle puts candidates like these at an even further disadvantage, making rhetorical grandstanding and corporate fundraising even more instrumental.

Florida's decision comes despite rules set forth by both the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee that permit only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina the right to host primaries before March 6 of an election year. These rules attempt to prevent states from endlessly leapfrogging each other, as was the case in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election. During that election cycle, Iowa held an early Jan. 3 primary, barely providing caucus goers enough time to shake off their holiday-season fever and make an informed decision.

While there are certainly valid arguments on whether or not Iowa deserves to be the nation's first political battleground (or even questions about New Hampshire and the other early contests' significance soon after), Iowa has been first in the nation for nearly 40 years and will stop at nothing to retain its traditional position.

This becomes preeminently clear when one listens to Iowa's party leaders.

"One thing that Iowans need to know is that Iowa will be first, the only open question remains the date in which we hold our first in the nation caucuses," Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matthew Strawn recently told KWQC of the Quad Cities.

So it would seem that in an attempt at garnering recent media attention, Florida has gained next to nothing. If anything, the decision increased Iowa's importance in the electoral process.

"The apparent reason Florida moved its primary up was so that it has more influence in the nomination process," UI political-science Associate Professor Tim Hagle told the DI Editorial Board in an email. "Unfortunately for Florida, moving its primary date up has the opposite effect. The compressed schedule makes the early states such as Iowa even more important."

Instead, Florida has only kicked the hornet's nest and increased our political madness in choosing to move forward with an earlier primary. Florida certainly will not play host to the nation's first primary and ultimately will net no beneficial gain.

Iowans, on the other hand, can look forward to Season's Greetings calls from all their favorite (and not-so-favorite) candidates — that is, if they know enough to have an opinion.


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