The Primary States: Iowa
by findingDulcinea Staff
Every four years Iowa glows in the national spotlight as the first state to host preliminary candidate voting in the form of the caucus. Iowa claims that 90 percent of its 56,000 square miles is dedicated farmland: It delivers more corn, soybeans, and livestock than any other state. But manufacturing brings in twice its agricultural revenue: In the capital city, Des Moines, a financial and high-tech boom is underway that, along with flight from rural areas to urban ones, promises to bring change to the Hawkeye State.
Although Iowa tends to deliver a conservative vote when it comes to actual presidential elections, the caucuses are anyone’s guess. To make things more exciting, voters in the Iowa caucuses can switch party registrations up to the moment they arrive at the voting booth. Turnout tends to be high, and presidential candidates heavily blanket the state in the weeks leading up to the January caucus.
Iowa was named after the Ioway, one of the Native American tribes that lived there before Europeans discovered it. Iowayian ways of farming and living are now on display at one of the state’s most popular attractions, the Living History Farms. Reconstructed stone tools and farming techniques are displayed alongside thatched homes and campfires. Also at the attraction are typical farms from the 1850s and early 1900s. Barnyard chores, baking, butter churning, and corn-growing techniques from these eras can be explored in an interactive setting.
About a half-million people live in Des Moines. In the mid-1970s, skyscrapers began to enliven the skyline; the tallest is the 45-story Principal Financial Building, though none are covered in real gold, as is the dome on the Iowa State Capital building. Many insurance companies have their western headquarters in Des Moines; other employers include banking, medical, and high-tech industries on the upswing. Notice is being taken: Forbes Magazine recently rated Des Moines as one of the top places for businesses and careers. Downtown is experiencing a real-estate boom; visitors can enjoy a farmer’s market, botanical garden, playhouse, and science center. The area called East Village draws young professionals and creative types to its shops, restaurants and bars. A burgeoning music, dance, shopping, and theater scene is chronicled by citizen bloggers for the city’s main newspaper, the Des Moines Register.
Iowa’s farming economy has suffered along with the rest of the nation in recent years. But with oil prices climbing steadily—and with no end in sight—there’s renewed hope that growing crops for alternate fuels such as ethanol will boost the state’s prospects. The plight of the poor, as well as the faces of modern Iowa, is beautifully captured by Danny Wilcox Frazier, a documentary photographer and midwestern native.
To the east of Des Moines, Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa, a respected public research university with 11 colleges and Kinnick Stadium, home to the Big 10 football team, the Hawkeyes. One of the school’s best known programs, and one that draws both top national and international students, is the prestigious University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the first creative writing degree program in the U.S. and has churned out Pulitzer Prize-winning writers and U.S. Poet Laureates. Each summer, visitors flock to the annual Iowa Summer Writing Festival to hone their skills in weekly workshops and lectures held by renowned instructors.