Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

The Case for an Illinois Presidential Caucus

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    Republican presidential candidates former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, right, take part in the Republican debate, Saturday, Dec. 10 in Des Moines, Iowa.

    In just 20 days, a group of residents from one of the most homogenous states in the union will determine who is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president.

    I’m talking about the Iowa Caucuses. For decades, our pushy neighbors in Iowa have insisted on being first in line to choose presidential candidates. The 2012 Caucuses will be held on Jan. 3, the earliest in history.

    In an article for The Atlantic, Stephen Bloom, a journalism professor at the University of Iowa, wrote about the absurdity of Iowa’s pre-eminence in presidential politics.

    In a perfect world, no way would Iowa ever be considered representative of America, or even a small part of it. Iowa’s not representative of much. There are few minorities, no sizable cities, and the state’s about to lose one of its five seats in the U.S. House because its population is shifting; any growth is negligible. Still, thanks to a host of nonsensical political precedents, whoever wins the Iowa Caucuses in January will very likely have a 50 percent chance of being elected president 11 months later. Go figure.

    (Most Iowans now want to lynch Bloom.)

    Barack Obama won the 2008 Iowa Caucuses because he’d been campaigning there for four years, visiting Moline and Rock Island every chance he got, so he could get on TV in Davenport and Bettendorf.

    But there is a state, right next to Iowa, that’s much more typical of America. It’s so typical it matches the nation’s demographics more closely than any other state in the union. As a result, it would be a much better proving ground for presidents than Iowa.

    I am writing, of course, about our own home state of Illinois. In 2007, the Associated Press named Illinois the “most average state,” because its ethnic mix, age profile and income so closely match the nation’s as a whole. For example, the U.S. is 72.4 percent white, 12.6 percent black, and 16.3 percent Latino. Illinois is 71.5 percent white, 14.5 percent black and 15.8 percent Latino. Iowa, which is 91.3 percent white, is the 41st most typical state. New Hampshire is even whiter. When Chris Rock was sent to cover the New Hampshire primary, he complained, “I’m having trouble finding hair-care products here.”

    “White, rural and homogeneous. New Hampshire and Iowa play big roles in choosing presidential candidates but don’t look much like the rest of the country,” AP reporter Stephen Ohlemacher wrote. “A better bellwether might be Illinois.”

    As state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie put it, Iowa and New Hampshire are “quite vanilla.” Exactly. This year, Illinois can’t complain too much about being left out of the presidential nominating process, since we’re the home of the president. But in 2016, the candidates should come first to a state that has a building taller than a grain elevator, and where Chris Rock can get a decent haircut. Let’s start off with the Illinois Caucuses. 

    Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!