DES MOINES, Iowa — A Democratic committee formally voted Friday to strip the Iowa Caucus of its coveted first-in-the-nation status. One of the main people responsible for developing the caucus is concerned that Iowa will become a worse, less-knowledgeable state because of that decision.
Richard Bender helped develop the modern Iowa Caucus in 1971. He says he did not think much of Iowa’s pole position at the time, but now sees it as an irreplaceable point of pride.
“Iowans have viewed the caucuses as a real responsibility,” said Bender, who worked under Senators John Culver and Tom Harkin following his work to create the caucus. “They take their role quite seriously.”
Bender said he is disappointed in the Democrats’ decision mainly because Iowans may become less motivated to stay politically active.
“It’s changed the entire political culture of the state. The Iowa electorate has become extremely knowledgeable and very careful,” Bender said. “There’s this joke around where some say, ‘I haven’t decided who I’m voting for, I’ve only spoken to three of the presidential candidates.”
Bender remains proud of the caucus system. He believes it is an effective way for underdog presidential candidates to launch a campaign, pointing to past caucus winners Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama as proof.
He says the reason is voters are not constrained to one candidate, similar to ranked-choice voting, which allows a wider range of candidates to shine through.
“It shrinks the field, but in a way that the people who had candidates who were not doing very well got a second choice and won’t just walk out,” Bender said. “In a primary, I would have my say, but I don’t really get to vote among the people who might have a chance.”