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Iowa, I Hear You Calling

AMES, Iowa | I have this little theory that has long served me well. Everything, I believe, is politics.

Politics determines whether your children go to school or to jail; whether they eat or starve; whether their futures will improve on your past.

This is why I love politics and don’t mind politicians. So it is with no small amount of anticipation that I look forward to the 2012 campaign.

I was reminded of this as I flew into Des Moines this week on my way to a campus visit at Iowa State University, an hour’s drive north.

Iowa is full of memories for any political reporter. Pork chop dinners. The gold-domed State Capitol. The blinding snowstorm that once stranded me in Grinnell. Good times.

But mostly, we love Iowa because its citizens are kind to strangers and – thanks to their uniquely participatory caucus system — are political junkies just like us.

So imagine my surprise when I stood on a stage Thursday night and asked a crowd of about 500 for a show of hands. “Who,” I asked, “is looking forward to 2012?”

Barely a third of the hands went up.

“Why not?” I asked, not bothering to conceal my disappointment.

“It’s too early,” one woman yelled from the rear of the room.

“But Donald Trump’s coming!” I said. They laughed. Tough crowd.

It may seem early and suspiciously quiet, but we political junkies are worried. Where is the campaign? Four years ago it was in frantic full swing. But, then again, four years ago both parties were gunning for an empty chair. Defeating an incumbent is far more daunting.

But hey, the junkie in me says, what about 1992? George H. W. Bush was an incumbent and he was challenged during the primary season and defeated in the general election. (The Google fact checker in me replies: Yeah, and Bush was unopposed in the Iowa Caucuses. Bill Clinton, who ultimately beat Bush in the general, placed 4th in Iowa – behind Tom Harkin, Paul Tsongas and “uncommitted.”)

So maybe it’s not so crazy that Iowa caucus goers are waiting and watching as Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann test the waters. And it is undeniably true that those who care are more titillated by a redistricting drama close to home. Because of population shifts, Iowa’s Congressional delegation is shrinking from five to four. That could mean that two incumbent Democrats and two incumbent Republicans may be pitted against each other.

All politics being local, the face off potential certainly trumps Trump.

Besides, things have got to pick up. It’s only five months before the big straw poll, the summertime political circus that kicks off the season. If they can wait, so can I.

Gwen’s Take is cross-posted with the website of Washington Week, which airs Friday night on many PBS stations. Check your local listings.

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