Leon Wolf's eviscerating review of "Dirty, Sexy Politics" by Meghan McCain is one of the most entertaining book reviews I've ever read. He absolutely shreds her book with ample examples (show, don't tell!) of poor writing, nonexistent research, and shoddy reasoning.
I found this part of the review especially interesting:
For instance, McCain devotes a lengthy passage to explaining how Mike Huckabee’s victory in the Iowa Caucuses ipso facto proves that the nominating process is broken. McCain claims that the first two contests which set the tone for the nomination are Iowa and South Carolina, which are “specifically conservative” (as opposed to generally conservative, which would presumably be less scary and ominous). Therefore, her “reasoning” goes, the process tends to lead to someone unelectable like Mike Huckabee getting the nomination.
Let’s unpack this a little bit. First, Iowa is a swing state. It went for Gore in 2000, Bush in 2004, and Obama in 2008. It is one of the few states in the entire country that swung to Bush in 2004, and then to Obama in 2008 (unless I am misreading my map, New Mexico appears to be the only other). Republican voters in Iowa have got some idiosyncratic tendencies (they tend to be very conservative on immigration and are big on ethanol pork), but it’s flatly erroneous to call Iowa as a state “specifically conservative,” insofar as we can safely assume that “specifically conservative” means “very conservative.”
It seems generally safe to call Iowa a swing state, but a commenter at Michael Froomkin's blog argues otherwise, stating: " I grew up in Iowa, and I was there two months ago to visit family and friends. It is not a swing state, not in the least. It is conservative, and always has been. Throw wolf's review in the trash, where it belongs."
Now, I didn't grow up in Iowa, but I did spend seven years there, so I think I can say a little about it. (Granted, I lived in Iowa City, which is pretty much the most liberal part of the state.) People tend to focus on how states vote in Presidential elections and ignoring other statewide races, which give additional information about the leanings of the state.
First, let's start with the federal offices. Iowa has had a very liberal senator (Tom Harkin) and a kind of conservative senator (Chuck Grassley) for decades now. Both are strong on agricultural issues, which is how they keep getting re-elected. If Iowa were always a conservative state, how would Harkin keep getting re-elected?
Now consider the governors that Iowa has had in recent years. It's been 12 years of Democratic governors (4 of Chet Culver, and 8 of Tom Vilsack). Before that, it was 16 years of a Republican, Terry Branstad. Branstad is running again, and it looks like he's going to clean Culver's clock. Even so, from a statewide standpoint, if Iowa's conservative, it doesn't show in the governor's mansion.