Hillary in Iowa

Who are these Iowans who will vote first? Sen. Hillary Clinton is finding out, with Michele Meyer, field coordinator of Iowa ONE Vote ’08 in Council Bluffs.
Photo: Joe Crimmings

The New York Daily News asked the question in a headline over the weekend: “Iowans: So who are they, anyway?”

What people in New York (and in other more urban locales) really want to know now, just hours before the Iowa caucuses is a bit more pointed. It’s who are those rural people in the Midwest who will get first dibs on choosing the next president — who, as the Daily News writes, “get to pick presidential nominees for the rest of us”? The question has gained a bit more prominence in the past few days as candidates have been spending more time in rural stretches of Iowa — and as everyone now realizes that rural Iowa has a outsized say in the January 3rd caucuses.

early primary states

The indispensable Iowa Independent has the best explanation for how votes are counted in the caucus system. Reporter John Deeth explains, “Presidential candidates are spending a lot of time in small courthouse towns, because the way the results are counted, the small counties weigh in disproportionately.” It simply takes fewer caucus goers to elect a delegate in rural counties than it does in faster-growing urban places. Counties with colleges, according to Deeth, require the most caucus-goers to elect a presidential delegate.
Iowa has one of the most rural populations of early primary states.

The Wall Street Journal’s John Fund explains the power of rural Iowa this way: “Rural Iowa matters for another reason in the Democratic contest. In order to encourage candidates to campaign in farming areas, state Democrats have tilted the delegate allocation so that rural areas are disproportionately represented in the final results. This sometimes can lead to bizarre results. As Roger Simon of Politico.com notes, “˜the turnout in some precincts is so small that a single family–let’s say four people–can determine the winner. In other precincts, only one person will show up and win for his candidate by being the only person in the room.’”)

So the candidates are deploying to rural areas. According to The Politico , this means that “In Iowa, Bubba is back.” Over the last few days, the Clinton campaign has sent the former president — yes, the Big Dog — out to far western Iowa. The Hillary Clinton campaign is “hoping that — despite his new stature as a silver-haired, globe-trotting ex-president, — he still has the skill that helped make him a Democratic party star in the first place: His ability to connect with rural voters and coax them to identify with a small-town son of a single mom. “¨”¨’I love saying this,’ he began in Sergeant Bluff. “˜I never had a nickel to my name until I got to the White House, and I was broker when I left than when I came in. I had the lowest net worth of any president of the United States.’”

Everyone is getting in on the rural act. Most of the Democrats have grown to see the importance of the Second Amendment. Sen. Barack Obama , a Chicagoan, told a group in Harlan, Iowa, that his wife, Michelle, had been visiting “up…in eastern Iowa…and she said ‘Boy, it’s really pretty up here,’ but she said, ‘But you know, I can see why if I was living out here, I’d want a gun. Because, you know, 9-1-1 is going to take some time before somebody responds.'”

Sen. Hillary Clinton has gone “down-home,” according to the Buffalo News. She’s telling more stories, acting more “down to earth,” according to some.

Former Sen. John Edwards, meanwhile, has long staked his campaign on turning out rural Iowans with a populist style and platform. Edwards has even put out a DVD aimed at rural voters:

The North Carolinian’s approach appears to be working. He’s picked up in the polls and is collecting endorsements that talk about his approach in rural Iowa, like this one from the Daily Nonpareil of Council Bluffs :

“Edwards has a better knowledge of the wants and needs of rural America. He can relate to the rural culture better than any of the other democratic candidates, as he is the only candidate with rural roots. Most of all, Edwards is Iowa’s best chance at restoring hope for rural areas.”

Republican Mike Huckabee, meanwhile, is tapping into the church networks. Last Friday, according to the Washington Post, “three national religious leaders backing Huckabee — Tim LaHaye, Michael Farris and Rick Scarborough — convened a conference call with Iowa pastors to urge them to use Sunday’s services to drive up participation by Christian voters, who polls suggest favor the former Arkansas governor by comfortable margins.”

Okay, but who are these rural Iowans and what makes them tick? The Boston Globe’s Peter S. Cannellos describes rural Iowa as a place that time (and the economy) has passed by — a state filled with fearful people. Rural Iowans now have a “built-in fear of new economic threats,” and rural Iowans are “fixated on foreigners who take away jobs.” Rural Iowa is filled with “conspiracy theories.” Cannellos suggests these small towns have a future as tourist areas.

Carla Marinucci, with the San Francisco Chronicle , takes a more psychological approach. She finds that small town Iowans are “struggling” and are looking for “some empathy.” And that candidate, she says, is John Edwards.

Oh, and, so who are Iowans — according to the New York Daily News. They are a people “more rural, less hip and far from a melting pot.” That’s who.

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