Preserve the caucus impact

CBJ Editorial 

The vote-counting debacle surrounding last week’s Iowa Democratic caucuses has resulted in much hand wringing and finger pointing.

Already, pundits are calling for Iowa to be stripped of this privilege – a scenario that would be a costly shame.

The total economic impact of the caucuses is hard to quantify, but at least one host community has tried. Catch Des Moines, the metro area’s convention and visitor’s bureau, predicted the 2020 Iowa caucuses would generate $11.3 million in economic impact for the city in the week leading up to the caucus. The organization further estimated the city garnered $228 million advertising value equivalency (AVE) from 2,400 mentions of Des Moines in articles about the Iowa caucus from major news sources since Jan. 1, 2019.

“The value of rolling out the red carpet and hosting campaign staff, political tourists and media covering the Iowa caucuses cannot be overstated,” said Greg Edwards, president and CEO of Catch Des Moines, in a press release. “And it’s not just the money. The media get to experience Des Moines for the culturally rich, welcoming destination that we know it to be. We see the caucus as not just a showcase for the candidates, but a showcase for our community.”

Although Des Moines is ground zero for the caucus media attention, it is still only one Iowa city out of the many visited by presidential candidates every four years.

Just look at the impact of a single business, RAYGUN.

“It would honestly be hard for me to imagine RAYGUN without the caucuses. In the four days leading up to the 2016 caucuses, we did 54 different interviews with media from all over the world. The attention gained and connections made are one of the biggest drivers in expanding our national appeal,” said founder and owner Mike Draper. “January is normally a quiet month in retail, and we see a 30-40% spike in business because of all the traffic.”

Lodging, dining, printing and the ever-growing media spend, particularly for Iowa television and radio station time, are significant.

Having that go away would cause a budgetary challenge for many of those businesses.

The biggest impact of the caucuses has been the unquantifiable political clout and the subsequent largesse that has come our way over the past several decades. We’ve had an outsized influence on issues, particularly on trade and biofuels, that have transformed the rural economy.

Presidential candidates have listened more carefully to Iowa than most other states. Without the Iowa caucuses, that could be gone.

It’s uncertain if we will lose our first-in-the-nation status. That will be determined after the election is over.

We are hopeful that our elected state and federal officials, in conjunction with every Iowa business, agriculture and economic development organization, will start devising a bipartisan strategy to preserve our first-in-the-nation status. It might take that amount of coordination and strategy, because the impact of losing that status is difficult to comprehend. •