States have fought brutally to hold their nominating contests early in the campaign season. But is the impact of early primaries and caucuses waning?
Iowa, holder of the first presidential caucuses and once a hotbed of political activity, has been relatively quiet this season, the Washington Post's Dan Balz reports in a fascinating and insightful piece. The lack of frenzy is particularly notable because the GOP field is turning out to be far more open than anticipated, and Iowa is a state where an ideological conservative can make a real run against the long-presumed (but perhaps no longer) front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Iowa and New Hampshire (which holds the first primary) have jealously guarded their roles as hosts of the first contests in the country, and they have a strong argument to keep those distinctions. Since the media markets are so small, it is virtually impossible to buy an election in either state. Both venues have given a boost to candidates (such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008's GOP race) that the media had largely written off as non-viable. And while voters in other states are understandably annoyed that Iowa and New Hampshire always get to go first (kind of like the Dallas Cowboys always getting to play on Thanksgiving Day, regardless of their record that year), veterans of political campaigns will also note that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire take their roles very seriously. They treat it like jury duty and tend to give a listen to pretty much any candidate who comes through.
The states once provided momentum to candidates, but that has been less of a factor since Internet fundraising has allowed candidates to raise a lot of money very quickly—and thus, stay in the race longer. And as the 2008 Democratic primary showed, the later states can be critical in determining the nominees.
If Iowa's power wanes, perhaps candidates will be less skittish about questioning ethanol subsidies. If New Hampshire is no longer king-maker, perhaps candidates will be less worried about refusing to "take the pledge" not to raise taxes. They'll always be important as long as they are first. But they will not necessarily be determinate.