Opinion & Analysis

Which State Should be First in the Presidential Nomination Process?

June 16, 2015 6:20 pm - By: Richard V. Engle

It's that season again when politicians of every stripe trek to Iowa to act like farmers, eat loose meat sandwiches, and extol the virtues of ethanol subsidies. 

It is also the season for the news media and political commentators to gripe about the unfairness of beginning the process of determining the presidential nominees of the two major parties in a small Midwestern state. The whole thing has to begin somewhere. 

Where should it begin?

1) It should begin with a single state.  If the process begins with a contest in several states at once then only the very well funded campaigns will be able to compete.  By having a long lead up in a single state the voters of that state, and those watching from other states, have a chance to learn more about the candidates and possibly to support an underdog.

2) It should begin with a small state.  A state that is 1/100th of the population of the nation or less gives the candidates an opportunity to engage in true retail politics.  More importantly, it gives real voters an opportunity to ferret out the inner recesses of a candidates policies on innumerable issues of import.

3) It should begin with a caucus state.  Only the most engaged voters participate in a caucus.  This leaves home those voters who think that they have a moral or patriotic duty to vote even if they have no clue how best to vote.  Such voters tend to vote only on name ID. Caucus voters tend to be well informed.  They may make poor choices or good ones, but they make their choices based on their ideals.

4) It should begin in a state with registration by party.  An "open primary" state tends to skew things in a way that the political parties end up with a nominee that may well not represent the values of that party.  It is better when each party puts up a candidate that is representative of the values of that party and then let the general election determine which ideas are better for the country.

5) It should begin with a state with a well developed 2 party system.  While the Republicans need to nominate someone that holds their views, and likewise the Democrats, the nominee needs to be someone who can (credibly) communicate their ideals across the partisan divide and win the hearts of the majority of Americans.

6) It should begin with a state in which the average voter is more engaged than the average voter nationally.  These people will be doing a service for all of us and we need them to take their role seriously.

Each of these conditions exist in Iowa.  The first five exist in several states but no state matches Iowa in its level of voter engagement.

I moved to Iowa in 1988 shortly after the caucuses and left three years later.  I never participated in the famous Iowa Caucuses. 

However, a woman from my church decided to run for city council in Marshalltown.  She was born and raised there.  She had a small shop in her ward.  She began her campaign by going to her next door neighbor, customer and lifelong friend.  She knocked on the door and her friend warmly greeted her.  She informed her friend, customer, neighbor that she was running for council and asked for her vote.  The friend replied, "Come on in and let's discuss it."  She wanted to get to many voters that day and tried to excuse herself.  The friend insisted, "If Bob Dole can sit at my table and ask for my vote then so can you!" The Iowa Caucuses has created a new breed of voter.  They may be liberal, they may be conservative.  You may or may not like them.  What you can't do is demean the degree to which they are engaged in the process.

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Meet Richard Engle

Richard Engle

Richard Engle is a Past President of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies which is the nation's largest and oldest Republican support organization.

Richard was twice elected to his local city council and twice elected to the Oklahoma delegation to the Republican National Convention including serving on the National Rules Committee in 2000 where he successfully placed a minority report on the floor of the convention - the first, and most recent since Ronald Reagan did the same in 1976.

Richard is President of BellWest America. Richard and Denise, his wife of nearly 30 years, live in Oklahoma City. Denise Engle serves as Workers' Compensation Commissioner for the State of Oklahoma. Richard speaks and writes often on matters of public policy.

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