Supporters watch as Republican presidential candidate Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks during a campaign stop at the Fainting Goat in Waverly, Iowa, Friday, December 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
On a two-day trip to New Hampshire last week I attended three campaign events with a total of roughly 600 people. I tried to find an African-American in the audience at all three events, but I couldn’t. To be fair, I did spot two Latinos and five or six Asian-Americans. The United States, according to the 2010 census, is 72.4 percent white. The first two states vote in the presidential primaries, Iowa and New Hampshire, are 91.3 percent white and 93.9 percent white, respectively.
The Iowa caucuses, which will be dramatically covered by the news media on Tuesday, are especially pernicious. In a caucus instead of a primary the Iowans who get to participate are even smaller in number and less diverse than the state’s already unrepresentative electorate.
Worse still, the Iowa caucuses aren’t subject to the same spending disclosure deadlines as primaries. An obscure 1979 ruling from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) held that Iowa’s caucus is not an election. The reasons are as muddled as they are unpersuasive. According to the FEC, primaries are elections, and caucuses are elections if they have the authority to select a candidate. Since, as a technical matter Iowans caucus for delegates to the state convention who will stand for a candidate, it’s not considered an election. Now, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, there are organizations called Super PACs that can raise unlimited contributions to take advantage of this loophole. Politico explains, “The decades-old caucus exemption allows candidates with robust super PACs in their corners to enjoy the benefits of unprecedented spending through the early contests without enduring the potentially damaging stories that can accompany the revelation of who’s behind it.” (The information will eventually be released, but not until later.)
Up in New Hampshire I caught two events with Jon Huntsman, who has been shamelessly pandering to the state’s sense of self-importance. When Nevada threatened to move its caucuses ahead of New Hampshire, Huntsman promised to boycott Nevada and relentlessly attacked Mitt Romney for not doing so. When speaking at a New Hampshire town hall Thursday night Huntsman talked about the importance of meeting New Hampshire voters in person to win there: “I think I’ve shaken everyone’s hand at least seven times,” he joked. The next morning I watched Huntsman, the former ambassador to China, sit through a Rotary Club meeting, patiently waiting to speak. The crowd of fifty-five or so sang “Happy Birthday” to an older member, and shared announcements of their children’s college acceptance letters. “I’m not sure you’ve had a candidate as actively promoting the Granite state as I have,” Huntsman bragged. “How cool is it to be a resident of New Hampshire when the New Hampshire primary rolls around! You change history through what you do. You have a chance to see and question candidates running for highest office in the land. You are the window through which the rest of the nation gets to analyze and get to know candidates for president for the United States.” Left unexplained is why the rest of us should have to view candidates through such a small window.