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The New York Times 1/2

Goodbye, Iowa The special treatment must end.

By David Leonhardt Opinion Columnist

Feb. 4, 2020, 9:28 a.m. ET

This article is part of David Leonhardt’s newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it each weekday.

Iowa should never go first again.

It should never go first again because it is an overwhelmingly white, disproportionately older state that distorts the presidential nominating process. In the 2020 campaign, Iowa’s outsize role has already helped doom two black candidates (Cory Booker and Kamala Harris) and given a boost to candidates whose main appeal has been among white voters (like Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar). Iowa’s Democrats look nothing like the nation’s Democrats, as Michael Tomasky explained in a Times Op-Ed.

Iowa should never go first again because its caucus excludes even some of its own citizens from voting. Absentee voting is not allowed. Thousands of people with disabilities can’t participate, as Ari Berman (a native Iowan) of Mother Jones noted. Neither can many people who work at night or need to take care of children, as Judd Legum wrote in his newsletter. And the votes from Iowa’s metropolitan areas don’t count as much as votes from rural areas.

Iowa should never go first again because the caucus is rife with strange, complicated rules. One example: Somebody’s vote — even for one of the leading candidates — typically does not count if it comes in a place where that candidate doesn’t get at least 15 percent of the local vote. “These rules are complicated,” The Times’s Nate Cohn noted. “There are ordinary people out there trying to make sense of these rules in running these caucuses.” Many of them struggled.

Iowa should never go first again because last night it botched its caucus when the entire nation was watching, giving the lie to the state’s longtime claim that it is better at conducting democracy than the rest of us. Last night, The Times’s Sydney Ember and Reid Epstein wrote, was “an epic collapse of the rickety system Iowa has relied on for decades.”

The Democratic Party can easily fix this situation, as Tomasky (who’s the editor of the journal, Democracy) laid out. Iowa has enjoyed a half-century of an outsize role in presidential campaigns, with all of the extra influence and economic activity that has come with that role. It’s time for the special treatment to end.

As soon as the 2020 campaign is over, the Democratic Party (and ideally the Republicans too — although Democrats shouldn’t wait) should begin creating a fairer, more inclusive, more competent process. Iowa will no doubt object and try to protect its status, as it has long done. The Democratic Party shouldn’t back down.

And when Iowa finally does report its 2020 results, don’t give them too much attention. If there is one silver lining to last night’s mess, it’s that Iowa has undermined its own influence.

For more …

Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report: “Every four years I say: ʻThese Caucuses are a mess. No way can they survive.’ And, every 4 years, here we are again.”

My colleague Frank Bruni, about last night: “Hours after the actual, physical caucusing at hundreds of locations across the state had finished, there were no official results, just reports that a newly intricate manner of counting was laborious, that a newly developed app for it wasn’t working as planned, that a backup phone line was jammed and that the campaigns had been asked to join in on a pair of emergency conference calls with state Democratic officials.”

Dave Wasserman, an election analyst for NBC News and The Cook Political Report, said the partial results reported made him think either Bernie Sanders or Pete Buttigieg won. Elizabeth Warren likely finished second or third, and Joe Biden probably finished fourth or fifth, Wasserman said.

If so, that’s a good encapsulation of the trouble with Iowa. Biden has led in almost every national poll of Democrats, largely on his strength among African-American and Latino voters — who, of course, are largely irrelevant in Iowa. That doesn’t mean Biden will hold his lead as voters pay more attention. He may not. But it does mean that a nearly all- white caucus is a poor guide to public opinion.

Politico’s Tim Alberta, who moderated a recent Democratic debate, pointed out that New Hampshire, which votes next week, has similar problems: “You know how, in pro sports, a series doesn’t start until the home team loses? Well, a Democratic primary doesn’t start until blacks and Hispanics vote.”

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2/4/2020 Opinion | Goodbye, Iowa – The New York Times 2/2

David Leonhardt, a former Washington bureau chief for The Times, was the founding editor of The Upshot and the head of The 2020 Project, on the future of the Times newsroom. He won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, for columns on the financial crisis. @DLeonhardt • Facebook

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