Collins: Take that, America. And it’s on to the next state

Collins: Take that, America. And it’s on to the next state

Well, people, Iowa has spoken. Peeped, anyhow.

Every time the nation gets to select its next president, all eyes turn to Iowa, which traditionally has the first word on what the public wants.

This is a state with approximately 1% of the national population. How could we not pay attention?

Next week, we’ll be obsessed with the voting in New Hampshire, which has less than half as many people as Iowa.

So goes the current caucus-and-primary system — on the Republican side, at least. The Democrats changed theirs after 2020, when the Iowa count crashed and burned. It took days to get the final results, which gave Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders the lead, followed by Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, who came in at a pathetic 15.8%.

POP QUIZ: The Iowa Democrats struggled to produce a vote count because of:

A. A deep reluctance to let other states start getting all the attention

B. A bad app

C. Threats to public safety from a 12-foot-tall snow bear

Don’t go for the self-absorption option. Be nice. The answer, of course, is a bad app. Truly, in this day and age, virtually anything terrible that occurs is either because of a bad app or Donald Trump.

You’ve got to admire the dedicated citizens who keep the Iowa caucuses going. But it’s hard not to get tired of hearing candidates deliver effusive tributes to the state’s special interests, like the glories of ethanol subsidies. (“I stood up for ethanol like nobody has ever stood up for it,” Trump claimed on caucus night. Really suspect that before he began running for president, he thought ethanol was a hair product.)

Blame cold or options

This year, the Democrats are casting their ballots by mail, and Iowa leaders will let us know the results in early March. The party, under orders from President Biden, has rearranged its schedule so the primaries will officially start in South Carolina next month, then move on to Nevada. The idea is to get a population of voters that’s a tad more diverse than Iowa, which is about as ethnically homogeneous as Finland.

Sneering at the idea that Iowa is always first is traditionally coupled with an acknowledgment that voters there have a history of high participation even in terrible winter weather.

Turns out, however, that not so many showed up this year — 110,000 Republicans voted, which was less than 15% of those registered. And hey, probably about one-tenth of the population that visited the Butter Cow at last year’s Iowa State Fair.

Certainly can’t blame them for choosing to stay home during weather that would have discouraged Nanook of the North. But do you think it was possibly the ballot as well? Everybody knew Trump was going to win. Maybe some people found it too depressing to participate.

Our former president managed to get more than half of the votes cast in Iowa. But he failed to win all 99 counties, thanks to a one-vote margin (yes, one) in the county where the University of Iowa is situated. Nikki Haley won there, giving her at least a little bounce for the next stop, in New Hampshire, which has a relatively high percentage of college graduates.

Ron DeSantis is moving on, too. He actually came in a tad ahead of Haley statewide, but I’m not sure he should boast about that. Having visited every single one of those 99 counties (as he constantly reminded us), DeSantis apparently won most of the hearts in … none of them.

About New Hampshire. If anybody is going to beat Trump anywhere, it’ll be Haley in New Hampshire, where Republicans tend to be moderate and happy to show their independence by doing something different. She’s already taken on the front-runner by announcing that she won’t go to any debates there unless Trump agrees to participate, too.

Pause for a brief giggle.

On to New Hampshire

On the Democratic side, New Hampshire party leaders are very, very unhappy that Biden has ditched them for South Carolina. And how should we feel about that? On one hand, New Hampshirites have always been super devoted to their role — Chris Christie probably spent the happiest days of his campaign there, attacking Trump before always-available audiences. It’s such a deep-seated tradition, political junkies have to be a little sad to see the state being snubbed.

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On the other hand, New Hampshire is whiter than Iowa. It’s one of the least diverse states in the Union.

It’s very easy to write in a candidate’s name in New Hampshire, and top Democrats say they’re going to do just that for Biden — even though, in the words of former state party chair Kathy Sullivan, they’re “still pissed.”

Gird your loins, citizens. Our political lives are going to be primarily primaries for the next couple of months. (Super Tuesday is March 5.) Candidates will find ways to pick fights, even if they’re silly.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep all this in focus. We’ve got lives to live. Joe Biden has to run the country. Donald Trump has to go to 9 million trials.

But hey, it’s democracy. It’s important. And it’s going to be a very long year.

Gail Collins is a New York Times columnist.