Why Iowa Matters – $$

Today Washington Post writer Sean Sullivan has a piece questioning how much the Iowa Caucuses really matter.  He makes a few interesting points about how long it’s been since the GOP caucus winner won the nomination and even dares to question the importance of the Ames Straw Poll (may the Lord have mercy on his soul).

One thing he doesn’t mention is money.

Iowa is a place you don’t have to break the bank to win.  In fact, the kind of personal contact and direct organizing it takes to win limits how effective tv ads can be in moving voters.  For example, here’s some data showing how much candidates spent last time per vote:

CANDIDATE $ SPENT     VOTES WON $ PER VOTE
R. Perry            6.15M      12,604              78.40
M. Romney     4.2M        30,015              154.90
R. Paul              2.7M        26,219               103.30
N. Gingrich     1.3M        16,251                89.84
R. Santorum   111K        30,007               20.50
M. Bachmann 24K          6,073                 3.95

It seems pretty clear that spending levels were not directly connected to vote totals.  RonPaul and Mitt Romney spent a great deal and came in 3rd and 2nd respectively.  The Ricker spend the most and came in 5th. In contrast Rick Santorum didn’t spend a tenth of what Gingrich did and came in first.

That is what makes Iowa special.  If a candidate, like Santorum, is willing to spend the time and go at all 99 counties it can pay big dividends in ways that spending boat loads of money on ads doesn’t.

If you complain about Iowa going first and the level of spending on politics what state would you have go first instead?  Any state with a big city is automatically going to make the race more about spending because the cost of buying even limited television and radio time will shoot up.

Some will say Iowa is not representative of the country.  Well politically it’s closer than most people think.  Since 2000, Iowa has been a pretty competitive state in the general election (minus 2008).  Also its two U.S. Senators are both inline with the mainstream of their parties.  Harkin is the 15th most liberal member and Grassley is the 25th most conservative member of the body.  So especially for the Republicans the kind of person who can win a statewide caucus or primary in Iowa would seem to be a good reflection of the party nationally.

We will hear more criticisms of Iowa and New Hampshire as the process moves along.  Hopefully the critics will receive the lack of attention they deserve.

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