By Mitch Traphagen
DES MOINES, IOWA – Here is something to make some Americans wake up screaming: it has only been nine months since the 2012 election with its relentless assault via the airwaves and our television screens on our senses and sanity, and the race for 2016 is already underway. Well, it is in Iowa, at least. And Florida’s very own Senator Marco Rubio technically kicked the race off just two weeks after the last election by a visit to that state.
Wait! It’s only 2013, right? Well in today’s world of never-ending campaigning, that means there are only 1,181 days until election day, never mind that just next year every single member of the House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 seats in the Senate will go before the voters. It is 2016 that is bringing the presidential hopefuls to the Hawkeye State.
Although no one has yet officially announced their candidacy for president, thus far it is primarily republicans making stops in Iowa, with democrats largely holding back, possibly so as the spotlight is not shifted away from President Obama, who still has three years left in office. That said, Vice President Joe Biden is expected to speak at Iowa Senator Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry next month, a large politically oriented gathering that then-candidate Barack Obama attended in 2007. The Vice President, however, told GQ Magazine just last month that he could die a happy man without ever being President of the United States. But then again, most politicians, like most everyone, could always use a little more happiness.
Just four months after the Harkin steak fry in 2007, Obama surprised the nation with a win in the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucuses, propelling the then little-known candidate past Hillary Clinton, who was at the time the presumptive nominee. Obama set up tent stakes early on in Iowa and that apparently paid off with two terms in the White House. Unless they have a better plan, most candidates for president consider Iowa to be essential.
The Tampa Bay area and the I-4 Corridor are considered some of the most valuable and volatile real estate on the political landscape. Further, with 29 electoral votes, tying New York and behind only California and Texas, Florida is considered an enormous prize for anyone with presidential aspirations. With Florida as the largest of the swing states, the Tampa Bay area is generally credited with doing the swinging. Iowa, meanwhile, has just six electoral votes.
More people live in the greater Tampa Bay metropolitan area than in all of Iowa, making it amazing the power such a relatively small state wields over the nation’s choice for president. Although some states, including Florida, have attempted to jump ahead and hold primaries or caucuses before Iowa, such attempts have not only been unsuccessful, they have sometimes resulted in retribution from the respective parties. Although a long campaign in Iowa, particularly during the cold winter months, can’t exactly be considered a vacation, the state does hold a certain appeal for aspiring candidates, and more importantly for those in charge of campaign finances.
No campaign manager in his or her right mind would want a heavily populated state such as Florida as a proving ground. The media costs alone in building and proving a candidacy in a state like this would be formidable, something reserved only for the wealthiest candidates and even then, the relatively few of those willing to part with their wealth. Iowa, on the other hand, has a handful of smaller media markets, led by the capital city of Des Moines, along with a population that has a long history of getting involved with the candidates, an affect that thus saves the all-important early campaign dollars as the people tend to come to the candidate for any number of fish fries and pancake breakfasts held at Legion halls, VFW posts and firehouses throughout the state.
And now, with the 2012 election still in the rear-view mirror, the candidates are already beginning to line up in Iowa for 2016, a pack that includes a number of newly elected politicians such as freshman Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who visited Iowa last weekend. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who eventually (but possibly too late) won Iowa in 2012, after a drawn out challenge that saw him first losing to Mitt Romney, also visited the state this past weekend, making a stop at the Iowa State Fair. Other politicians who can’t seem to get enough of Iowa lately include former Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Even Donald Trump has just happened to be in the neighborhood.
As President, Obama has returned to Iowa several times, although these days his sights seem to be set more on Florida, with a visit to Orlando last week speaking before 3,000 military veterans, who, coincidentally, also happen to be voters. The President may not be running for another office and he came with his own message to a group that is well represented in the Sunshine State, but his party is looking to 2014 and 2016 and Florida is far too important to ignore.
The upside for a jaded public worn out by the newly never-ending campaign cycle is that despite our own weariness, it is the candidates themselves that will likely suffer the most, consuming more fried foods on a stick, shaking more hands, wearing perma-smiles with eyelids droopy from exhaustion, and kissing more babies than anyone should be forced to in any lifetime. So while the ever-lengthening campaign process may be painful for us, just be glad that you aren’t the candidate. There are some things that nature never intended to be fried on a stick and the memories, some may call them nightmares, will last long into even the next election cycle which, the way things are going, will probably begin in a month or two. After all, Election Day on November 3, 2020 is only 2,637 days away.