Ready. Set. Presidential race.
Like swallows returning to Capistrano, the presidential wannabes are booking flights to Des Moines and testing out the chilly waters of the Iowa political landscape. While it seems like they just left, in truth we're less than a year away from that Midwestern sieve that separates the "possibles" from the "pigs will fly first" brand of candidates.
Scott Walker struck first. The Republican governor of Wisconsin staked out an Iowa base by setting up the first strip-mall storefront office within our borders. He's ahead of the pack in early polling, but until the lineup is more certain, those early numbers mean little.
Walker was a part of Rep. Steve King's Iowa Freedom Summit program on Jan. 24, which provided a platform for nine Republicans considering bids to make pitches before a friendly audience of like-minded folks. Never mind that Jeb Bush, a likely heavyweight in the race, chose not to attend, nor did last campaign's candidate Mitt Romney. There were some "Of course" candidates. Some "Oh, my!" candidates. And, some "Oh, please no!" candidates. You can sort out which is which from the lineup of Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, Walker, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina.
Other potential candidates are making plenty of excuses to visit the travel hotspot of Iowa in February, like Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Marco Rubio, who were both in Des Moines last week.
While we sometimes grumble about the months of campaigning done throughout our state, a time when it seems we can't swing a ballot without hitting a candidate, I think many of us take pride in our role as early harvesters of the candidates. We separate the wheat from the chaff. A study in 2008 by Iowa State University economist David Swenson, downplayed the economic impact. Tourism leaders, however, argue those numbers.
In the 2012 campaign season, Greater Des Moines officials estimated $17 million in hotel stays, candidate and staff visits, political tourist visits (yes, apparently it's a "thing"), and other income came to central Iowa.
Even more vital were the reports from the field, filed by reporters who found themselves temporary residents of our state. Glowing stories in major magazines and newspapers touted the state's virtues, while few groused about its shortcomings. It was a multi-million dollar public relations coup for Iowa. And, barring any public relations trip-ups the coming year looks to be the same or better, with contested races in both the GOP and Democratic parties.
So, settle in and enjoy the ride the next year will bring. Take the time to head out and listen to the candidates, learn about the issues facing whomever is elected. Start a "Candidate Bingo" board game, if you wish.
The election race has begun and, as we know in Iowa, it's a marathon.