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Commentary: Imagining A Farewell To The Iowa Caucuses

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Could the Iowa caucuses be done for? After this week of confusion and muddled results, journalist and comedian Mo Rocca says yes. He has this remembrance.

MO ROCCA, BYLINE: The Iowa caucuses, the nearly impossible to understand process by which the Hawkeye State chose delegates for the presidential nominating conventions, died this past Monday. They were 48 years old. The cause of death was an app. The first in the nation nominating contest, the Iowa caucuses were born in 1972. It wasn't the most auspicious of starts. That year, Edmund Muskie of Maine tied for the top spot with uncommitted. But in 1976, the caucuses helped make a name for a peanut farmer from Georgia who went on to become president. And for decades, the hours-long gatherings helped keep voting Iowans in shape with all the running back and forth across church basements and high school auditoriums. Studies showed that particularly contentious meetings could burn more calories than a barn raising.

But they were also a constant source of confusion for anyone outside of Iowa. Why were grown men and women in larger groups heckling supporters of less popular candidates? Wasn't this verbal abuse supposed to end with high school phys ed? Why not just bean that lone Tom Steyer supporter with a dodgeball while you're at it? Why am I having flashbacks? Or why not, you know, just vote for candidates the way normal people do, in primaries? And why not just call it the Iowa caucus, which is easier to say than Iowa caucuses. Isn't the Caucasus a mountainous region in the former Soviet Union? Does Iowa even have mountains?

Still, the Iowa caucuses loomed large in the political landscape, helping to winnow the field of candidates and separate the wheat from the chaff, a metaphor that would work a lot better if Iowa were a big wheat-producing state, but it's not even in the top 10. Iowa is, of course, all about corn, and corn is threshed. But threshing a field of candidates is way too grizzly sounding, even in these times.

Condolences on the passing of the Iowa caucuses poured in from other nominating contests, including the New Hampshire primary, which will now assume top billing as first in the nation. It's doubtful that the Granite State is actually upset about this. There's a reason that the New Hampshire primary has long been known to insiders as the eve, as in, "All About Eve" of nominating contests.

The Iowa caucuses were preceded in death by the equally incomprehensible Iowa Straw Poll. Survivors include fellow Iowa luminaries, Harold Hill of "Music Man" fame, and the state fair's butter sculpture and CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who is still awaiting the final results.

KELLY: The imagined farewell to the Iowa caucuses brought to you by Mo Rocca. You can hear him on NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me and read him in his most recent book, "Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving."

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANZ FERDINAND SONG, "OUTSIDERS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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