If you’ve taken part in early voting so far this year, it’s likely you’ve run into extremely long lines or “nonpartisan observers,” both tactics specifically targeting communities of color, as was the decision to curtail or derail early voting in states like Ohio, which Sen. Nina Turner (D-OH) ably summed up here:
Some days it seems as if the GOP candidates are competing to be the governor of Alabama, circa 1960, rather than running to be President of the United States in 2013. Since the republican process to elect a nominee commenced, we have been treated to an endless string of racially awkward moments. Whether instances of ignorance or ignorant instances of institutionally racist ideology, too many of the republican Presidential candidates have re-revealed for us the colorblind fact that we are NOT post-race. In fact, judging from some of the candidate’s miscues and the underhanded pandering directly to the racial Right, we might actually be Pre-Race.
The life of the average Iowan or New Hampshirite doesn’t reflect the reality of the average American. Take a look at New Hampshire’s demographics, and you’ll see a state that’s nearly 94 percent white, with wealthier residents than the many states, far fewer foreign-born residents, and higher levels of educational attainment. Iowa is much the same: 91 percent white, high rates of home ownership, and low rates of poverty.
The short answer for why Iowa and New Hampshire matter: Symbolism. The Iowa caucuses are the first electoral events of the presidential campaign season; the New Hampshire primary is the first primary.
The long answer: The process leading all the way to the general election starts here. In Iowa on Jan. 3, voters will meet in 99 conventions to elect county-level delegates. Those 99 county delegates select district and state delegates, who will eventually select the delegates that attend the national Democratic and Republican conventions—-where those delegates confirm the presidential nominee. (Remember the frantic counting of delegates that happened before Hillary Clinton suspended her campaign? The Iowa caucuses are the first step there.)
And it’s worth noting that Barack Obama won the largely white Iowa caucuses in 2008—Schaller calls it “one of great racial ironies of modern American politics”—which was the first sign that he actually was a viable candidate.