AMES, Iowa – Two national political strategists and native Iowans will examine the ongoing role of Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses during a panel discussion Monday, Dec. 3, at Iowa State University.
"The Future of the Iowa Caucuses" will explore the reasons why Iowa should keep its influential role in electing the nation's president and also look at the caucuses' political and economic impacts on the state. The 7:30 p.m. discussion in ISU's Memorial Union Great Hall is free and open to the public.
"We know other states have consistently tried to move to the front of the line in the presidential nomination process, and Iowa needs to pay attention to what we should do to maintain this status," said David Peterson, professor of political science at Iowa State and interim director of the Harkin Institute of Public Policy, the panel discussion's sponsor.
Participating in the discussion will be Terry Nelson, a Republican political campaign strategist and public affairs expert, and JoDee Winterhof, a Democratic strategist and humanitarian advocate. The moderator is another native Iowan, David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and former Des Moines Register political editor.
The Harkin Institute is named for U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, an ISU alumnus who has served 38 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. The institute will house Harkin's papers, and serve as the catalyst for interdisciplinary research, teaching and outreach on public policy issues.
"This panel discussion," said Peterson, "will bring together a prominent journalist and two prominent political strategists from each side of the aisle to present their views on why Iowa should continue to be first and why this is an important public policy concern for the state."
Nelson, from Marshalltown, served as the national political director for the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign. He was responsible for directing the messaging for the mail and phone program, grassroots organization, turning out the vote and coalition outreach. Nelson also has been a consultant on numerous house, senate and gubernatorial campaigns around the nation. In 2010, he was the senior advisor to the National Republican Senate Committee. Nelson was named one of Roll Call newspaper's "Fabulous Fifty" – a listing of the "50 most influential political operatives in Washington."
Winterhof, a native of Walnut, was the Iowa State director and senior strategist for Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign for president. She also has been chief of staff in Sen. Tom Harkin's Capitol Hill office. Since late 2008 Winterhof has been vice president for policy and advocacy for CARE, a humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. She leads CARE’s legislative agenda on issues such as hunger and food security, climate change, maternal health, gender-based violence and microfinance. She also has been the national political director of the non-profit organization America Coming Together.
Yepsen had a 34-year career with the Des Moines Register, serving as chief political writer, political editor and political columnist. He covered nine presidential caucus campaigns for the paper. In 1989 Yepsen was a fellow at the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. In 2008, he was a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard. From Jefferson, Yepsen joined the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in 2009.
Peterson said the Iowa caucuses serve the nation well because Iowans are good at scrutinizing presidential candidates.
"This is not a state you win by advertising or dropping in with deep pockets," he explained. "You win the Iowa caucuses by showing up, traveling across the state and talking to voters. This level of retail politics is rare in America, but it is something Iowans demand of presidential candidates. Iowa is very good at this."
If another state went first, Peterson believes it would not make the same demands on the candidates. "It would allow the best-financed candidates to have an outsized opportunity of winning. So the Iowa process is a great leveler. Candidates who put in the most work do better than those who put in the most money."