It’s finally arrived. Caucus night.
Presidential aspirants have been poking around Iowa for the better part of two years now. We bumped into them at our county fairs, coffee shops and even in the supermarket produce aisle. We’ve studied them, squeezed them and scanned them for blemishes like so many ripe tomatoes.
Some will leave our state intact. Some will become marinara.
Either way, they’ll be long gone by Friday.
Before it’s over, some thanks are in order.
First, Democrats ought to thank former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack for abandoning his long-shot presidential bid in February. The caucus race might have been much less interesting had Vilsack lingered on until his home state caucuses.
Although he was no shoo-in to win on caucus night, Vilsack’s presence might have prompted some candidates, Hillary Clinton in particular, to skip Iowa’s caucuses and devalue their outcome. It’s no secret some of Clinton’s advisors wanted her to skip Iowa even after Vilsack got out. She may regret not taking that advice.
And Vilsack might not feel much gratitude tonight. A Clinton loss would be another political blow to Vilsack, her top Iowa backer. He was supposed to help deliver Iowa with hopes of landing a prominent spot in a future Clinton administration. Instead, he may see his dreams dashed twice in the same election cycle.
Next, we should thank our guests in the media. Yes, I’m serious.
Although it’s easy to fixate on members of the national press who get us all wrong, we should thank hard-working reporters who put in the effort to get Iowa right. For every coastal hack who took pot shots at us from 1,200 miles away, there were many journalists who spent enough days and weeks with Iowans to understand how seriously we take our presidential responsibility.
The Iowa they portrayed to the rest of the world was not full of cornfed yokels who care only about ethanol tax breaks. Their stories were full of diligent, fair-minded people awed by the gravity of their decision but not by the celebrity status of the candidates.
They also fairly pointed out the caucuses’ legitimate flaws — in particular that most Iowans don’t participate and that many Iowans who want to caucus can’t because they’re at work, stationed overseas or otherwise unable to attend. Sometimes we deserve flak.
This was also the first caucus covered extensively by Iowa bloggers, and I think they deserve thanks for adding a new, unvarnished dimension to caucus coverage. Sure, they’re often biased and sometimes crass, but they closely shadowed the candidates, churned out interesting takes on the campaign and sometimes out-hustled the mainstream media.
Finally, let’s thank the candidates.
Thanks to John Edwards for getting a $400 haircut, to Hillary Clinton for unknowingly singing the national anthem into an open mike and to Mitt Romney for flipping a State Fair pork chop to the ground, and then for putting it back on the grill, and to Fred Thompson for showing up on the Grand Concourse in Gucci shoes.
Thank God politicians aren’t perfect. It would be pretty boring if they were.