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Will 2020 be the year Iowa loses its clout? Or will it matter more than ever?

Patrick Semansky/AP
Attendees listen as Democratic presidential candidate, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a campaign event Jan. 15, 2020, in Newton, Iowa.

Dear reader:

The Iowa caucuses are now just 19 days away. Which means that soon, we might get some clarity on who is likely to become the Democratic nominee.

Or not.

Why We Wrote This

With its first-in-the-nation caucuses, Iowa has played a major role in selecting Democratic presidential nominees in recent decades, to the consternation of some.

Politico’s Bill Scher makes an interesting case that Iowa will matter “less than ever” in 2020. He notes that the candidates themselves have spent less time in Iowa compared with previous cycles – and more time in states like California, which will vote on Super Tuesday.

This is all the intended result, he says, of changes made in 2008 to the primary schedule by the Democratic National Committee, placing South Carolina and Nevada right after Iowa and New Hampshire, with a “quasi-national primary” shortly thereafter.

“The sheer breadth of the Super Tuesday map, along with the compressed timetable, has persuaded candidates to crisscross the country, hunting for votes as well as dollars,” Mr. Scher writes.

Others aren’t buying the notion that Iowa’s clout is on the wane. The Hawkeye State has played a pivotal role in choosing the Democratic nominee going back to Jimmy Carter because of the momentum it typically gives winners. Barack Obama’s win there over Hillary Clinton in 2008 propelled his candidacy forward in a way that’s hard to overstate. The same was true for John Kerry in 2004 (a year that had an even more condensed timetable, with a “mini” Super Tuesday just one week after New Hampshire).

The New York Times’s Ross Douthat argues that a victory by former Vice President Joe Biden in Iowa next month might well “wrap up the nomination.” A first-place finish by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders would likely set up a two-person race between Senator Sanders and Mr. Biden. Perhaps the only outcome in Iowa that wouldn’t at least narrow the field significantly, Mr. Douthat writes, would be a “somewhat random-seeming one” or “a de facto four-way tie.”

As we’ve noted before, this cycle bears many similarities to 2004 – with the top four candidates closely bunched in polls, and voters seeming to prioritize ‘electability’ above all else. If those parallels continue, it’s easy to envision Iowa once again launching the eventual winner.

Let us know what you’re thinking at csmpolitics@csmonitor.com.

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