According to the New York Times today. Mitt Romney says he's as excited as kid at Christmas. Barack Obama promises only one more day of campaign commercials. Hillary Clinton is providing drivers and babysitters. John Edwards is busing all over the state. Fred Thompson says he'll quit if he doesn't come in a very strong third. And Rudy G. is paying no attention at all and is campaigning in New Hampshire for next week's primary there.
Freezing cold, pot luck dinners, town hall meetings. People gathering, casting their votes, being American. And it's all, if you'll excuse me, bullshit. The Daily Kos has a hilarious and pointed bit today on how "absurd" the Iowa caucus is. I mean, really, a nonbinding non-primary where millions of dollars have been spent over the last year just goes to show you how crazy American presidential politics continues to be.
The Iowa caucus really came to national attention in 1976 when the unknown Georgia politician Jimmy Carter won a victory there. Reforming laws had been passed in the wake of the Watergate scandals. One of them was the Federal Elections Campaign Act (which went by the unlovely acronym FECA) in which individual campaign contributions were severely capped, and candidates were limited in what they themselves could spend personally in their campaign. But any candidate who could raise $100,000 in 15 states could qualify for federal matching funds. (In 1976, the Supreme Court declared one part of FECA unconstitutional, claiming that contributions were really a form of free speech and thus protected by the First Amendment. Candidates were free to spend as much money as they wanted to on their own campaigns, unless they took part in Federal matching funds. But the Court did continue limits on individual contributions of Federal candidates and upheld the part of FECA that called for public disclosure of campaign financing.)
Because more money-strapped candidates could now qualify for Federal matching funds, the primary season got longer and longer, helped in part by the fact that more states, under pressure to make their delegate selection process more transparent, held primaries. While the Iowa caucus is not a primary, it is the earliest referendum on the presidential campaign held every four years. Along with his brilliant chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, Jimmy Carter understood that early victories in the extended primary process received a disproportionate share of attention from the press. Therefore, Carter went all out to win the obscure Iowa caucus—and the next day, the New York Times anointed him Democratic frontrunner, a position he was to keep. His running mate would be Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale.
Ever since, candidates have been freezing their butts of in Iowa this time of year, praying to be so anointed. And who will be anointed tomorrow?My guess is that Hillary and Huckabee will, but that the race will continue close and undecided through February 5, Mega Super Tuesday, when twenty states weigh in.
Anyway, it all begins this evening at 7 pm Central time.