Iowa Flag

It’s commonly said the race for the presidency is a marathon, not a sprint. This time around it has been a very crowded marathon, and more than a few of the participants have already thrown in the towel.

“Iowa has done its job,” says former Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and Lt. Governor Patty Judge.

The state doesn’t always pick the winner in its first in the nation caucuses, but it usually trims the field, Judge explains. This time around, the field of candidates for the Democratic Party nomination once stood at about two dozen. As of late January there were 12 candidates still standing and at least 15 who had dropped out.

And all of those candidates who campaigned in Iowa had the chance to talk to and hear from farmers.

“I do think that farmers have had a really big impact on the Iowa caucuses,” says Iowa Farmers Union President Aaron Lehman.

That impact was demonstrated by the fact that many candidates visited farms or toured ethanol plants, and many of them released rural policy plans.

One criticism of Democrats after the 2016 election was that they did not pay enough attention to farmers and rural residents, Judge says. In response, she and other Democratic leaders formed Focus on Rural America to try to encourage candidates to get out into rural areas and to talk about rural issues.

That clearly has happened, Judge says. What the effort will mean in the general election next fall is an open question, but she says it has influenced the campaign thus far, getting candidates out to rural areas and talking about rural issues.

While there is little action on the Republican side of the aisle this time since there is an incumbent Republican president, there is plenty of excitement on the Democratic side, Judge says. That excitement has expressed itself in the number of people seeking the nomination and the crowds that so many of them have gotten in the past year.

Now things start to get interesting.

Still standing in the Democratic presidential race at the moment are: former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, California businessman Tom Steyer, New York businessman Andrew Yang, and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

Those who have dropped out of the race include: California Sen. Kamala Harris, New York City Mayor Bill Di Blasio, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, former San Antonio Mayor and cabinet secretary Julian Castro, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, inspirational speaker Marianne Williamson, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam and former Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke.

That’s 27 candidates, 15 who have dropped out. It is likely that once the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary vote are both over the list will shrink some more, Judge says.

Meanwhile, farmers and farm organizations continue to press candidates on the issues.

Lehman said that has been a good thing. The Farmers Union helped sponsor a forum with five candidates last spring in Storm Lake. Six candidates showed up for the organization’s annual meeting in Grinnell in December.

Many of the candidates have pockets of support in rural Iowa. Some farmers like the anti-trust approach pushed by Sanders and Warren, among others. Others like a more centrist approach as put forward by Biden or Buttigieg or Klobuchar, Judge says.

A recent poll done by Focus on Rural indicated, among other things, that Klobuchar had a clear lead when voters were asked which candidate is best for the needs and interests of rural Iowa (with 29%, ahead of Warren, Sanders, Biden and Buttigieg, all in the 13-15% range).

And so, on Feb. 3, Democrats will go to caucus sites across the state where they will divide up into groups supporting different candidates and decide how many delegates each candidate in each caucus gets.

It is worth noting that the winner in Iowa doesn’t always get the party’s nomination. It’s also worth noting that while Republicans did well in rural America in 2016, the winner of the Republican Iowa caucus that year was Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who was criticized by many farm organizations for his longtime opposition to biofuels, among other things.

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.