The Importance of Iowa

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A lot of people have asked me about my thoughts on Bill Richardson lately. Since I spent more than three years reporting on the governor in New Mexico ((mostly when he came to Silver City, but on occasion when I traveled to Santa Fe)), people in the Washington D.C. area want to get the “real” story on Big Bill.

Invariably, I tell them that Richardson is the ultimate politician: there’s no position he won’t take if he believes it will score him some points with some constituency.

I think Richardson’s reversal on the Iowa caucuses is the perfect example. One year ago, he was quoted in the Salt Lake Tribune supporting the idea of a Western primary, and why the Iowa caucuses were so overrated:

Ethanol was Exhibit A on Friday at the Western Presidential Primary Symposium in Salt Lake City, the evidence of why Utah and its Western neighbors need to band together with their own early presidential selection process. While ethanol is debated ad nauseam, Western issues like preparing for drought, managing public lands, guiding growth and complying with the Endangered Species Act are glossed over.

“When is it you ever knew a presidential candidate’s position on water?” asked New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

Fast forward to this year’s election season, and you have Richardson defending Iowa’s right to a first-in-the-country caucus.

Along those lines, it was bittersweet to read this American Prospect article on Iowa voters:

But only one in ten Iowans can be bothered. Not only that, despite all the attention, Iowans know barely more about the candidates than citizens of other states, and don’t discuss politics any more than anyone else (unless something has changed since this research was conducted in 2000). Yet around 200,000 of them, possessed of no greater wisdom or insight than the rest of us, will determine who presides over this nation of 300 million for the next four years. The problem isn’t that Iowans aren’t like the rest of the country (95 percent white, for one). The problem is that despite the extraordinary privilege of having the next president grovel before them, they’re just as indifferent and apathetic as any other group of Americans.

And yet, we still keep pandering to them. Thanks to Kevin Drum for the link.

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