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History of the Iowa Caucuses

"Iowans take their role very seriously. In Iowa you have to sit down with truck drivers and teachers and moms and dads and find out what's important to them." - Senator Ted Cruz

The Iowa Caucuses are first in the Presidential nominating contests and while they can certainly show the strength of a candidate they are widely regarded as being instrumental in 'winnowing the field', with candidates who are able to generate support in Iowa able to build a path forward to other states with some going on to clinch their parties nomination. Since 1976, when relatively unknown former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter won Iowa’s Democratic caucus which put him on the path to a November victory over President Gerald Ford, candidates, media, and voters alike have followed Iowa as the first choice on the road to the most powerful job in the world.

Co-Founder Douglas Burns

One of the last questions I asked President Barack Obama during an interview in his second term was this: Would he consider locating his presidential library and museum in Iowa? It’s not a silly or throwaway question, and the president answered it with great seriousness, because it is in our state, within our early nominating vetting, that Barack Obama rapidly matured into the nominee, and eventually, the leader of the free world,” said Keep Iowa First Co-Chairman Douglas Burns, co-owner of the Carroll Times Herald and Jefferson Herald. "Iowans are suited for this work of sorting out the candidates in intimate settings, of plumbing beyond the talking points and digital ads and commercials. Out-of-state technology let Iowa and the nation down in the 2020 caucuses, not Iowans. That can be corrected and updated with a bipartisan state agency and commission and full-time experts manning the helm. Our state owes the nation such a commitment, and after 50 years of playing this central role, we deserve the opportunity to continue with an improved process. From Jimmy Carter to Pete Buttigieg to Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, voices have risen from relative obscurity to the national stage in Iowa. Because of a blend of our culture and history, this doesn’t happen anywhere else in the United States. Finally, as the nation is changing, so is Iowa. We are far more diverse than we were just years ago, and the trajectory on this is encouraging.

Co-Founder Brent Roske

I believe the Iowa caucuses are one of America's last examples of pure democracy. The caucuses serve an invaluable role in our nation's democratic process and is run by the people. I moved to Iowa from California 6 years ago specifically to participate in the Iowa Caucus process. I created the Emmy nominated TV series ‘Roske on Politics’ to cover the caucus race, wrote and directed the feature film ‘Courting Des Moines’ about the caucuses and have ran two separate Iowa Presidential caucus campaigns. Some state is going to have to go first and if an expensive state like California or New York take the First In The Nation spot American Democracy will suffer because several would-be candidates simply won’t be able to compete. We need to simplify the process, have both the Republican and Democrat caucuses run by a bi-partisan committee and operated with state funds to ensure transparency and accountability. The last episode of my TV program before the 2016 election started with Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufman and Iowa Democrat Chair Andy McGuire stating that ‘they disagree on many things but in regards to the Iowa Caucuses they are lock step’ in keeping them first. We need to continue this invaluable tradition for the sake of American Democracy. 

 

1916

The Only Iowa Primary

Since Iowa became a state in 1846, Iowa has used the caucus system for its presidential nomination decisions with the exception of 1916 when Iowa held a presidential primary.

1972

First Modern Iowa Caucuses

The Iowa Democratic Party moved the 'Iowa precinct caucuses' up to January 24 in 1972, making the state the 'First In The Nation' (FITN). South Dakota's Senator George McGovern came in second-place in the caucuses but won his parties nomination.

1976

Carter Goes All The Way

Unknown Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter organized his campaign around doing well in Iowa, writing thank you cards himself and greeting people as they entered the Iowa State Fair. Buoyed by the media, the win helped him capture the nomination and the White House.

1980

George H. W. Bush Wins Vice Presidency

Former CIA director George H.W. Bush beat the favorite for the nomination, former California governor Ronald Reagan, in the Caucuses. This win, along with a great overall race, earned Bush the Vice Presidency.

1984

Former Vice President Mondale Wins Iowa

Former vice president Walter Mondale beat the Democratic field decisively in the state. The media judged that Senator John Glenn (Ohio) had been badly wounded by his rout and that the second-place showing of Senator Gary Hart (Colorado) gained him a national following.

1988

Bush Comes From Behind

Vice President George H.W. Bush, the favorite, was stunned in the caucuses, finishing third behind both Senator Bob Dole and religious broadcaster Pat Robertson. However, Bush corrected his stumble by defeating Dole in New Hampshire soon thereafter and went on to the nomination and the presidency.

1992

Harkin Wins Iowa In A Landslide

The 1992 Caucuses were a landslide victory for Iowa Senator Tom Harkin who won 77% of the caucus-goers. Bill Clinton then won New Hampshire and by Super Tuesday had virtually clinched the nomination which took him to the White House.

1996

Senator Dole Wins Iowa & Nomination

The 1996 caucuses were back in the limelight for the Republicans, with Senator Bob Dole beating a long field of Republican opponents on his way to earning his parties nomination.

2000

From Iowa To The Supreme Court  

The 2000 Iowa Caucuses set the stage for one of the longest battles to the White House in history. Texas Governor George W. Bush won the GOP caucuses and Vice President Al Gore won the Democratic caucuses and then every state primary and caucus after that. Since the modern Presidential primary system began in 1972, Gore remains the only non-incumbent to sweep all the nominating contests held in a given year. Texas Governor George W. Bush competed mainly against Senator John McCain for the Republican ticket who won several states but ultimately the nomination went to Bush. After a razor thin finish on election night, it was unclear who had won as Florida's results were so close the law required a recount. The Supreme Court decided that Bush was the victor and a later count showed that Bush won Florida by 537 votes as well as 11 states that had previously voted Democratic in the 1996 election.

2004

Senator Kerry Wins Iowa & Nomination

In 2004, Iowa once again chose the Democratic nominee with Senator John Kerry beating former Vermont governor Howard Dean in the caucuses on the way to the Democratic nomination. 

2008

Obama, McCain & Huckabee

First-term Senator Barack Obama beat favorite Senator Hillary Clinton, forging a path to the nomination and ultimate victory over his rival, Republican Senator John McCain. McCain himself made a poor showing in Iowa that year and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee established himself as a national figure in part due to his caucus victory in 2008.

2012

Santorum Edges Out Romney

President Obama ran unopposed for the Democratic ticket. Former senator Rick Santorum edged out former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who went on to become the Republican nominee.

2016

Cruz Wins Iowa, Trump Wins The White House

2016 was a crowded GOP field, with Donald Trump coming in a close second to Iowa Caucus winner, Senator Ted Cruz. On the Democrat side, at midnight on Caucus night, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed victory over Senator Bernie Sanders, which mathematically was less that 1 percentage point. In the general election Trump beat Clinton, marking the fifth Presidential election where the winner lost the popular vote.  

2020

Sanders, Biden & Buttigieg Battle For Iowa

The 2020 season saw an incredibly busy Iowa battleground with 29 major Democratic presidential candidates. Eventual nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, came in fourth in Iowa but delegates initially awarded to Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Elizabeth Warren were reallocated to Biden at the district conventions. Senator Bernie Sanders won the most turnout in Iowa, then won New Hampshire and Nevada before eventually losing the nomination to Biden. The 2020 Democratic Caucus results were delayed due to a technical problem with reporting software which was required by the national Democrat party. The Iowa Caucuses themselves were planned and executed perfectly, with Iowans going above and beyond to try and correct the national mistakes that were made.  After the caucuses, Trump, Grassley, Ernst and Reynolds publicly declared their support for Iowa staying first in the nation.

 

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