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How seriously do Iowans take their 'first-in-the-nation' status?

Iowa has a little more than 3 million people, yet on Monday, the small, rural state will play a major role in picking the next president of the U.S.
How seriously do Iowans take their 'first-in-the-nation' status?
Posted at 12:32 PM, Jan 14, 2024

What we've seen traveling the state in these final days—despite the cold, the snow, and the wind—is that Iowans are showing up to these remaining political events.

They care and don't seem to be taking their role in the process for granted.

Another brutal day outside couldn't keep caucusgoers from turning out for political events in the frozen tundra of Iowa this weekend. The reasons, says Iowa political activist and evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats, are numerous.

"The state has gone really from a toss-up state to a red state, so there are more Republicans today, number one. Two, I think Iowans just take this role so seriously. Democrats have left; they've gone to South Carolina. Iowans want to hold on to this. You see them turning out in a blizzard warning, a windchill warning. They're going to show up at the polls,” said VanderPlaats.

We wanted to get a taste of whether that's true this weekend, so Scripps News stopped for a bite at Lansky's, where you see more pizza than politics, though it is cooking under the surface.

Marty Overgaard says Iowans like himself have earned their "first-in-the-nation" status. They're blue-collar workers who, he believes, need to be heard.

"They're out there busting their butt to take care of their family. Maybe it's time for somebody to listen to what we have to say instead of what they think,” said Overgaard.

What Iowans think this year seems to vary.

For Norma Scholz, it's very broad.

"Our country—we're losing our country. This is not the America we grew up in. Everything is crazy. Defund the police. Right is wrong. Wrong is right,” said Norma Scholz.

Jennifer Kurcz, who manages the pizza place, says "money isn't what it used to be" and that the economy looms large.

"Not quite as easy to keep a small business going as it was four years ago,” said Kurcz.

Which is why she won't be sitting out Monday.

"I would say that it exists in a different way than it used to because of the state of our country is at now. I think it's more important than ever. I hope the people show that,” said Kurcz.

Regardless of the weather, she, like the rest of these Iowans, considers the caucus a responsibility.

We cannot emphasize enough how much power each individual Iowan wields in the caucus. The highest turnout for the GOP ever was in 2016, and that was only about 190,000 Iowans.

Which is why you see these candidates desperately scrambling around the state in the final moments to secure as much support as possible.

SEE MORE: How exactly do the Iowa caucuses work?

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