50 States in 50 Days Election Preview: 29. Iowa

In the 50 days leading up to the election on November 6th, I will be doing a profile of the 50 states and previewing what is on the ballot and how they are likely to vote. All of the posts so far can be found here

29. Iowa

Capital: Des Moines

Nickname: The Hawkeye State

Motto: Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain

About the State

Prior to being settled by Europeans, Iowa was home to Native Americans from various tribes including the Sauk, Meskwaki and Potawatomi. French explorers, Jacques Marquette and Louie Jolie were the first from the Old World to document traveling in Iowa and the region was then colonised and made part of New France, or the northern section of the Louisiana Territory. As with the other states that were part of that colony, the French ceded the area that is now Iowa to the Spanish as part of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, who then returned it to the French in 1800, before it was sold to the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Although the US built Fort Madison there in 1808, the Federal Government did not assert full control over Iowa until after the War of 1812, during which that fort was sieged by British and Native American soldiers. Following this conflict, the US established a number of treaties that sought to relocate Native American tribes to west of the Mississippi River, but the push continued out of Iowa also and, by 1846, the Sauk and Meskwaki had been removed from the state completely, though some later returned.

During the 1830s, more Americans relocated to the region and the increase in population led to Congress established the Territory of Iowa in 1838 and – just 8 years later in December of 1846 – it became the 29th state of the Union. Iowa remained loyal to President Lincoln throughout the Civil War and sent more men per capita into military service than any other in the north or south. There were no skirmishes fought inside its borders, the closest the conflict came was across the Des Moines River in Athens, Missouri, in an 1861 battle. The state was ahead of the curve on matters of Civil Rights: in 1839, a court ruled that the slave in the case – named Ralph – was to be considered free as soon as he stepped into Iowa, 24 years before the Emancipation Proclamation; bans on interracial marriage were removed in 1851, more than 100 years before the US Supreme Court judged such barriers to be illegal; and segregation in schools was ended in 1868, 85 years prior to the landmark Brown vs Board of Education case.

Although early settlers did not think that the prairie grounds in Iowa were fertile due to an absence of trees, the soil was in fact perfect for agricultural production and that has been the primary sector of Iowa’s economy from its inception. Iowa is most famous for its cornfields and its output of more than 2 billion bushels of corn each year accounts for just under 20% of the total production in the United States. Alongside corn, its farmers also produce soybeans, oats, cattle and hogs; while manufacturing, banking and the insurance industries are also prevalent in the state. Winnebago Industries, makers of the popular recreational vehicles, is based in Forest City, Iowa, where it was founded in the 1950s.

Iowa is probably best known for its caucuses held in the January of each Presidential election year – the name coming from a Native American word for a gathering of elders – and the tradition holds that groups of people meet in a home or public space and put forth their arguments for each candidate, before making their choice. Because they are normally the first events of the Primary season, much media attention is put on the caucuses and success there helped build momentum for Jimmy Carter in his successful Presidential bid in 1976, as he arrived there as a little-known Governor from Georgia.

It is the 26th largest state of the Union in area, its 3 million residents ranks it 30th in terms of population, and it is the only one of the 50 to have rivers as borders on both the west and east – the Missouri and the Mississippi respectively. Herbert Hoover was born in Iowa, though he made his home in California, and there are no major league sports teams based in the state. However, there is an annual river to river bike race across the state and it was the location for the Kevin Costner baseball movie, Field of Dreams, with the set now a tourist attraction. Grant Wood, whose painting American Gothic is one of the best known works done by an American artist, was from Iowa and was a member of the Regionalism movement that was primarily situated in the Midwest.

Presidential Race

Electoral College Votes: 6

2008 Result: Obama 54.0% McCain 44.2%

Latest Poll: Obama +2%

As his lead in a number of swing states has either decreased or been eradicated altogether since his poor performance in the first debate, the importance of winning Iowa has increased dramatically to President Obama. Should Governor Romney secure victories in Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, while Obama takes New Hampshire, Colorado, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, then the entire race for the White House would come down to who is able to carry Iowa. Since 1992, the GOP candidate has won in Iowa just once, in 2004 when President Bush took the state en route to winning a second term in office.

Also on the Ballot

Congress: There are no Senate election in Iowa this year. As a result of redistricting following the 2010 census, Iowa the state will lose one seat in the House of Representatives, taking its total to four. The current delegation is made up of 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans; the redrawn 1st and 2nd districts are expected to remain with the Democratic party, while the other 2 races are considered toss-ups.

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