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The field of candidates only seems to widen, but the state of Iowa seems more than happy to accommodate, and to take up its quadrennial tradition as the first-in-the-nation caucus state.
Travel to most other states, and voters know the candidates from the news and a seemingly endless barrage of back-and-forth campaign ads.
But no, not in the handful of earliest states on the primary and caucus-going calendar, which is still almost a full year away from kicking off. But once it does, Iowa certainly will be one of those very special states. There, voters expect not only to see the candidates up close and in person–they expect a kind of wooing, a sort of political courtship.
“Iowans do expect to have kind of a relationship with candidates and people say, well, oh, you’ve met so and so. Yeah, but I haven’t met them three or four times. I can’t make up my mind yet. We’re in that stage right now,” explains Kathie Obradovich, political columnist for the Des Moines Register.
All of the many Democratic hopefuls are attracting big crowds, even during blizzard conditions, Obradovich says.
“We’ve had a terrible winter here in Iowa, but people are actually turning out in the snow to see these candidates. I think they’re just sizing them up now,” she says.
It’s impressive if you run into an Iowan who can name all the candidates, says Obradovich.
“You need a bingo card to keep track of all of them. It’s something Iowans take seriously and they are going to be interested in policy as well as personality,” she says. “I personally hope that Iowans will pay a lot more attention to policy than personality this time around. Ultimately I think it’s — the strong personalities are going to stand out first and so you’ve got Elizabeth Warren, you’ve got Kamala Harris, even Amy Klobuchar well-known to Iowans, those personalities, Cory Booker, because they’re entertaining and interesting to go see.”
The latest entrant to the competition faces a unique challenge, however, according to Obradovich.
That would be Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is making his second run for the nomination.
“Iowans have a long relationship with Bernie Sanders. I am getting the feeling that people are not that excited yet about Bernie Sanders’ candidacy,” she says. “I think he will have to bring something new this time.”
If Iowa represents steady and traditional in this race, California is sure to bring disruption and the unexpected.
Last year, before leaving office, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a law that moves California’s primary way up on the calendar, to March 3, the earliest allowed without interfering with the traditional “early states.”
That means that California will play a whole new role of importance next year, according to political reporter and blogger Charlie Pierce.
Specifically, Pierce expects the earlier California primary to significantly winnow the field because candidates are “going to need a truckload of money to compete there,” he says.
“I think that that’s going to be the money primary and you will see if it’s a 20-person field, I think you’re going to see that cut in half after California,” Pierce predicts.
Obradovich and Pierce made their remarks during separate recent segments on MSNBC.