“There are those, mostly from outside our borders, who suggest that we are simply not representative of America, nor even Republicans in general,” Strawn said in a speech Thursday night at a GOP dinner in Des Moines. “To suggest that Iowa Republicans don’t care about exploding deficits, rising fuel and food costs, job-killing regulatory uncertainty, wasteful stimulus spending and shameful demagoguery on entitlement reform is dead wrong. Actually to suggest that we don’t care about those defining issues for America is as wrong as it is offensive.”
Most grating to Iowa Republicans have been the snide comments from their fellow early state, New Hampshire, which has a more conventional primary election.
In a recent column for the New Hampshire Union Leader that was reprinted in the Des Moines Register, former New Hampshire GOP chairman Fergus Cullen wrote that important issues don’t get debated in Iowa, because “three quarters of the audience wears tinfoil hats.”
“Iowa Republicans didn’t set out to marginalize themselves, but it’s happened — to New Hampshire’s benefit,” Cullen added. “With several major candidates likely to bypass Iowa, and the odds rising that Iowa’s skewed caucus electorate could support candidates with limited general election appeal, the likelihood of New Hampshire being called upon to make a correction” increases.
For all the quirkiness of a contest that requires voters to venture into a frigid night and then spend hours arguing with their neighbors, it does have its virtues. The fact that running in Iowa requires every candidate to campaign from living room to living room means that little-known and underfunded hopefuls have a shot at getting their names into the mix.
And Iowa can also be a proving ground, as it was four years ago for Sen. Barack Obama’s premise that he could bring new voters into the process. Obama won because those younger than 30 participated in the Democratic caucuses at the same rate as those older than 65 — something that had never happened before — and his victory in Iowa foreshadowed the remainder of his march to the White House.
GOP officials say that some of that potential for overturning the conventional wisdom exists on their side this time, if a candidate has the right message. Republican turnout in last year’s gubernatorial primary was almost 230,000, nearly double the number who participated in the presidential caucuses two years before. The winner was former governor Branstad, the establishment pick and the more moderate choice.
At his first stop Friday, Romney chatted with Joe and Shelley Laracuente, the owners of an agriculture software business in Ankeny, a Des Moines suburb. The couple had supported him in 2008, but Joe Laracuente told reporters he wasn’t sure he would again.