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The Nation

Iowa works at being first and foremost

August 10, 2007|JAMES RAINEY

Iowa carved out its place on the political map in the 1970s, when longshots George McGovern and Jimmy Carter used strong showings in the state to power their campaigns to the Democratic nomination. Tradition has helped the state maintain its first-in-the-nation status.

But every four years, politicians in other states protest that Iowa is too small (roughly 1% of the U.S. population) and too white (about 95%) to properly represent the rest of the nation.

Iowa deserves its status and works for it, locals retort.

"We are well-educated and well-prepared to do this job. We take this seriously," said Susan Frembgen, the Scott County Democratic Party chairwoman. "The candidates learn to refine their messages here and to work a little bit, maybe, on their listening skills. That's what a smaller state really can offer."

Campaign managers appreciate the relatively low cost of running television ads in the state. And both major parties stage a series of events to accommodate politicking close to the voters.

Iowa maintains its status partly because of a state law that directs parties to schedule their caucuses at least eight days before any other state's selection. Iowa Democrats and Republicans had nevertheless seemed content to be just five days ahead of upstart Nevada's new Jan. 19 caucuses, holding to a Jan. 14 caucus date. But the effect of South Carolina Republicans' announcement Thursday -- moving up their primary to Jan. 19 -- remains to be seen.

During a recent workshop at Northeast Iowa Community College, Democratic candidates assured party activists of their support. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. drew cheers telling the group: "The day the importance of the Iowa caucus is diminished is the day the democratic process in the United States is diminished." Terry McAuliffe, chairman of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign, won a huzzah when he said, "Not to patronize you, but I'm going to patronize you: I'm glad it's Iowa!"

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JAMES RAINEY

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