Monday, January 21, 2008

Nevada Woes Help Iowa's Case For First Place

Nevada Woes Help Iowa's Case For First Place

Anyone heard Hillary Clinton complaining about the caucus process since she, maybe, won Nevada? Class? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Maybe process matters less than result -- or location. The relative bumpiness of the first-ever Nevada caucuses, where the candidates can't even agree on how to measure who won, makes a counter-intuitive good case for Iowa's process and first place.

The neighborhood meeting process is part of what's important about Iowa, sure. But what's more important is the nature of Iowa: established, rooted, and civically engaged. The political upside of our slow growth is an electorate which knows its way around the block.

Census statistics released last month show that Nevada remains the fastest growing state. One in seven Nevadans are new to the state since the last presidential nomination season, compared to 1.8% of Iowans. In general, the more mobile the state, the shorter the length of residence, and the higher the growth rate, the lower the civic participation and voter turnout. High-growth areas tend to be rootless, with nascent or empty civic institutions and a lack of civic tradition.

Nevada, in fact, has a a singular tradition of anti-politics, which may help explain the second place finish for Ron Paul on Saturday. Nevada was one of the best states for anti-politician Ross Perot -- though granted, half of today's Nevadans didn't live there in 1992. Nevada is a state with such a dim view of the civic process that it's the only state that places "None Of The Above" on every ballot for every office. An opt-out statement is given equal value to the choice of a community representative or leader.

Nevada had the process of Iowa, grafted on artificially because of the need to accommodate its original place on the schedule, which was before New Hampshire. But Nevada doesn't have the tradition of Iowa. And tradition is what makes Iowa's caucuses work. Some would say we have so much tradition of civic involvement that we're inefficient, with our 99 counties, 950 cities, trustees for tiny townships and annual school elections. But that makes us active and engaged.

So take that neighborhood tradition, transplant it from the fertile soil of Iowa, and see how it grows in the desert of Nevada, where many of the "neighborhoods" didn't even exist four years ago. Perhaps, with the months of deliberation we had, Nevada could have risen to the occasion. Instead they got little more than a week. But let's compare notes anyway.

Other than the overarching problem of too many people in too little space, and the philosophical question of should we require people to vote in person only in one place at one time, the biggest problems in Iowa seemed to be the occasional poor training or incompetence on the part of an overwhelmed volunteer precinct chair.

Compare that to Nevada: Clinton campaign partisans launching lawsuits to try to block the at-large caucus sites on the strip, charges of union intimidation (“The lady told all of us: Nobody can go to the caucus unless you’re voting for Obama”), and counter-charges from Team Obama:
We currently have reports of over 200 separate incidents of trouble at caucus sites, including doors being closed up to thirty minutes early, registration forms running out so people were turned away, and ID being requested and checked in a non-uniform fashion. This is in addition to the Clinton campaign’s efforts to confuse voters and call into question the at-large caucus sites

In all, this lent an overarching negativity to the abbreviated campaign.

It might be hokey, but that sort of stuff just doesn't fly in Iowa. That tradition of seriously, independently weighing the candidates is really what we bring to the table, and that tradition can't be transplanted to a national primary or a randomly picked state any better than it can flourish in the desert.

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