Looking to 2020

Iowa Farm Field Near Iowa City

Farm Field Near Iowa City

The sobering news of the NBC/Marist poll released last week is Hillary Clinton leading the Republican candidate in Iowa by only 4 points (41-37) among registered voters.

In Iowa electing Hillary Clinton president will not be a slam dunk.

If one lives elsewhere in the country, the news was better. Clinton leads the two-way and four-way presidential races nationally and has multiple paths to 270 electoral votes needed to win the election.

Both major candidates remain unpopular. “In Iowa, 36 percent of registered voters have a favorable view of Clinton, versus 58 percent with an unfavorable view,” wrote Mark Murray on the NBC News website. “While Trump is at 31 percent positive, 64 percent negative.”

Clinton is polling well, as she has since announcing her candidacy April 12, 2015. The election is hers to lose, and every indication is she is taking nothing for granted. What mitigates the positives is every conversation I have with voters becomes dominated by how terrible Clinton’s opponent is. He is, and if you feel that way, volunteer or donate to Clinton’s campaign, even if you don’t like her.

Of Iowa’s 1,937,225 active voters, only 615,357 (32%) were registered as Democrats on Aug. 1, 2016, according to the Iowa Secretary of State. Republicans aren’t doing much better at 649,579 (34%). Based on registrations, it should be a fair fight for either party to build a constituency to elect a candidate in Iowa.

It’s not a fair fight, one made worse by the quadrennial Iowa Caucuses. Where to begin about that?

Let’s start with the quote attributed to Albert Einstein, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Who wants to be insane? None of us who volunteer to work for political campaigns.

I want something that doesn’t exist any more. When my father canvassed for JFK before the 1960 election he used mimeographed sheets made at the union hall. There was a diagram of a generic neighborhood where he recorded the names of voters to help him (and presumably others) keep track of where the election stood. When Kennedy won, we felt our family had contributed significantly to the victory even though he did not win Iowa’s 10 electoral votes.

Deviation from this inclusive, local technique has long been a practice. I associate it mostly with Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign, although others perfected it. Targeted canvassing has been my bone of contention with the Iowa Democratic Party. The practice has broken down neighborhoods in favor of demographic dissection. It isn’t healthy for working together with neighbors to improve our lives, something that should run concurrently with politics.

It’s no secret a large percentage of people seek to avoid conversations about politics and hide their political leanings behind a no party registration. What matters more to those with whom I’ve discussed it is participation in a society in which politics plays a minor role. More engage in politics during the presidential years, but spend the rest of their time living, working and volunteering. It’s the glue that holds what’s good in society together. The current caucus process with two dozen candidates roaming the state and spreading their minority views works against the warp and weave of a just society.

I believe the Iowa caucuses have seen their best years. Jimmy Carter had the right idea after Democrats changed the nominating process in response to the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Carter just showed up and met people, as he famously did during the Iowa State Fair. Today, politics has been co-opted by the media and the state fair is a timely example, with a dedicated political soap box sponsored by the Des Moines Register. It’s not unlike any of the other fair exhibits. The nadir of the state fair soapbox for Democrats in recent years was Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz giving out of touch speeches.

The caucuses are getting too large, making it difficult for organizers to find appropriate venues. In our precinct it was a challenge to hold people’s attention until the delegates were selected, after which they bolted and the caucus chair couldn’t fill committee slots for the county convention. Logistics aside, the Iowa caucuses place an inappropriate emphasis on presidential politics almost two years before the election. There is more to life than who’s president. We survived Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. We will survive whoever the electorate picks in November.

The opportunity to change this year’s process passed with the state convention and the page turns to the 2020 presidential cycle. Political activists want Iowa to be the first caucus in the nation, but they don’t represent our best interests. They are just one more special interest looking out for themselves. Politics is much broader than the people who caucused for Senator Ted Cruz, the Republican caucus winner in Iowa.

It is time for politically active people to get involved in a way that broadens the electorate and is more inclusive. However, if they don’t heed the message, we’ll find something else to do, raising money for our favorite charities, donating garden surplus to the food bank, and advocating with our elected officials for what is right — regardless of party.

People care about who’s president, but not so much they will set everything else aside. No one wants to be the target of political canvasses. Given the opportunity neighbors will join together to resolve pressing issues, including electing a president. This year presidential politics serves more distraction than help.

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