Every four years people from other states—or whose candidates loses—complain about Iowa and New Hampshire being the first states to vote on candidates. Why should states with a small population matter? Why shouldn’t states with more voters be first?
I’m a native Floridian, and I’ve never even been to Iowa, but we did live in New Hampshire for almost ten years so I have an opinion on why Iowa and New Hampshire matter.
It’s retail politics.
Florida is so big that you can go to a rally and listen to someone from afar, but the chances of meeting presidential candidates in a diner or someone’s home to talk to them face to face are pretty much nil unless you know someone in the state GOP structure or have big dollars to donate.
In New Hampshire presidential candidates are everywhere–go to a diner, a coffee shop. We once were invited to the home of someone we didn’t even know to hear a presidential candidate. They speak at churches. Wherever. If you live in New Hampshire it’s possible to be able to talk to at least one candidate.
In Iowa and New Hampshire candidates have to get out and go amongst the hoi polloi. In this day of highly scripted, public relation events, that’s important. They are confronted by people. This video of an Iowa farmer talking to Ted Cruz about ethanol has been widely circulated.
Candidates should have to talk to voters. Televised debates are scripted by the media. Network pundits decide the questions, and if any individual citizens get to ask questions, they’re chosen by the networks. Rallies are big events scripted to pump up enthusiasm. Candidates make their case without anyone on stage to challenge what they say.
If you’re going to run for president, then you need to be able to get out and discuss the issues and defend your positions to individuals. You should have to answer ordinary citizens who question you as to why they should vote for you. Iowa and New Hampshire help remove the protective screens and the media narrative. The media frames perceptions of candidates and slants questions, reporting, and opinions. Candidates do this to other candidates, and for themselves.
Iowa and New Hampshire, whether or not their votes determine a candidate, do a service for the rest of the country. Candidates need their feet held to the fire. Most of us won’t have a chance to challenge a candidate face to face. Extemporaneous questions and conversations caught on camera in those two states give us an important opportunity to evaluate someone who wants our vote to hold the most powerful office in the nation.