Friday, December 21, 2007

Who Elected Iowa?

By Ruth Marcus
Washington Post
19 December 2007

KNOXVILLE, Iowa -- It isn't until his seventh stop, almost two hours into his work on an icy Sunday afternoon, that James Ahn hits pay dirt, in the form of Jennie and Arvin Van Waardhuizen.

So after a series of fruitless knocks at empty homes, after talking fast through a barely opened door to a woman whose commitment to Clinton -- or to caucusing, for that matter -- seems doubtful, Ahn has finally made it into the Van Waardhuizens' cozy living room, where Santa figurines line the mantel.

Within minutes, Ahn has given his basic, don't-let-the-process-scare-you spiel: Get there by 7, stand in Clinton's corner, make sure you're counted. He has jotted down that Arvin wants to see Bill Clinton and has delivered a requested yard sign.

In a mass-media age, there is something charmingly anachronistic about the small-town way presidential politics is practiced here. Iowa and New Hampshire are valuable in preserving the ability of voters, at least some voters, to get to know candidates as more than flickering images on a screen or talking heads in a televised debate.

And yet, to join Ahn on his appointed rounds is also to reinforce doubts about a system of irrationality layered on irrationality. The caucuses draw a small, unrepresentative sample of a small, unrepresentative state. While nearly 30 percent of eligible voters participated in the 2004 New Hampshire primary, just 6 percent went to the Iowa caucuses, according to data compiled by George Mason University professor Michael McDonald. The 2000 turnout figures were even more skewed, 44 percent in New Hampshire compared with 7 percent in Iowa.




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