How I Internalized the Importance of the Iowa Caucuses
WINTERSET, Iowa – Hundreds of people crammed into the Marshall County Fairground for the chance to see the latest presidential candidate visit their small town. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and his Iowa campaign staff had organized a campaign event to connect with Iowa caucus-goers who lived in the rural areas outside of Des Moines. The rally itself was similar to other events that many politicians hold to try and garner support among the Iowa crowds. Mayor Buttigieg started with a stump speech that I’m assuming he gives, relatively unchanged, at all his events. He then moved into the questioning period.
Perhaps the most interesting question that came up was when one attendee asked Mayor Buttigieg a pointedly aggressive question. The question centered on Mayor Buttigieg soliciting large donations from wealthy voters; in particular, the audience member asked about the “Wine Cave” incident that had been mentioned in the December debate. However, what started as an interesting question was quickly dismantled by Mayor Buttigieg, and you could tell by the crowd’s reaction that they still trusted their candidate despite the question being asked.
While this question had the most potential for drama, there was another instance that’s important to mention. The last question was asked by a young boy from a nearby town. His question asked about how Mayor Pete will combat climate change. The kid specifically drew attention to the fact that he could live to the year 2100. It wasn’t a theoretical number or too far down the road to care about. This was his life that he was concerned about.
That was mostly the extent of the event. When I left, I didn’t think much of it. It seemed like a stock event. The most remarkable thing was that it was over in only 45 minutes.
After reflection, I realized the event illustrates the importance of the Iowa caucuses. First of all, even in a rural town with a population of 5,276, hundreds of people were in attendance. Being from Minnesota, this type of dedication (or the events to allow this type of political activeness) is not present. Recently, someone who was born and raised in Iowa remarked to me that, “It’s crazy that a person can make up their mind about which candidate to support without going to a single event.” This statement struck me as odd because that’s how the majority of people make up their minds in Minnesota. Few people go to any event, but many more will show up to the polls.
The second way this illustrated the importance of the Iowa caucuses manifested itself a few days later. When all of the candidates converged at Drake University for the January Democratic presidential debate, Mayor Buttigieg referenced the event in Winterset. He brought up the young boy and his question about climate change. This was in the midst of a debate where many candidates pandered to Iowan interests.
The Iowa caucuses are in a unique position that brings much attention to the state. Even before I came to Iowa I knew this, but until you spend an election cycle in the state, you can’t fully understand how different it really is.