November 9, 2012

The Search for Respite from Long, Long Presidential Campaigns Never-Ending in Iowa

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Are presidential political campaigns in the United States too long? a German journalist in a group visiting Iowa asked a panel of Iowa journalists. The visitors were in Iowa City a few days after the presidential election gave Barack Obama a second term in the White House.

Your campaigns in the United States seem exhaustive, the German said. What do you think of the way they work? he asked.

The responses were predictable: the elections drag on and on and wear out people.

And by the way, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican on the list of 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls, has a Nov. 17 date with Republicans in Iowa.

I pointed out to the German visitors that the state they were visiting gets a double dose of the campaigns because of campaigning for the Iowa caucuses the year before the election. So, yeah, we tire of the robo-calls and political ads.

But this is a democracy, and getting a chance to vet your next president in person beats having a stranger dumped on you for four years. Iowans get a lot of benefits from presidential candidates focusing on our state. We see these candidates in the flesh and hear what they have to say.

Another benefit, though, is having enough experience to proclaim that presidential elections are too long, too costly and, in many instances, too annoying. Presidential candidates, including all of the Republicans who lost their nomination bids to Mitt Romney, had spent $1,024,462,844 as of the last count by the Federal Election Commission. That count was made in mid-October, before the final spending splurge in the days leading up to Election Day.

All that money, and spent by candidates talking about fiscal responsibility. How responsible? A registered independent, I got mailings almost daily from the Obama and Romney campaigns – moreso from Romney than Obama. I got daily phone calls at home, too.

Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky tells of how she and her husband, state Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, received campaign literature and robo-calls from the Republican campaign, urging them to support Romney. I think to myself, in this day of high-precision market research into voting habits, that a campaign from one political party calling the state chairwoman of the opposing party to seek support is a sign that you have money to burn. Or, you are not doing that high-precision market research.

Here’s a sign of the new world: One Sunday morning in October I received a tweet on Twitter from none other than Michelle Obama. She told me I could vote early in Johnson County, where I live, and provided a link to a website that told me where, and during what hours.

One Republican Party county chairman told me that, while he loves politics and urging people to support candidates of his liking, he had stopped picking up the phone at nights leading up to the election. Even this veteran of grassroots politics was getting worn out, he said.

One of the German journalists in the group visiting Iowa suggested that news organizations ought to report some of these things. A perfect time to discuss problems with the election system, she thought, would be now, with the election behind us but fresh in our minds. Indeed, it is a worthy topic for discussion. But, as one of the Iowans in our group pointed out, voter fatigue likely has lessened the audience at this time for any reporting about the reasons behind that voter fatigue.

Leaders of our two dominant political parties could do something about it, though. As they prepare for 2016 they could develop ways to present their cases with some dignity, in a manner that does not scrape our nerves. Perhaps, then their candidates would not scrape our nerves when we have to pick one to lead the free world.

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