Iowans kicked off 2008 with the Iowa Caucuses, giving Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrat Barack Obama the opening round victories of the campaign. In July, Obama reflected on his Caucus win during a telephone interview with Radio Iowa. "The Iowa Caucus was lift-off for us," Obama said.
Also in July, Huckabee returned to the state to headline the Republican Party’s state convention. "I have a book coming out in November that will talk about some of the experiences in the campaign," Huckabee said. "You will be happy to know that the very first chapter is titled ‘I Love Iowa.’"
Republican presidential nominee John McCain declared his affinity for Iowa, too, during campaign visits here in the late summer and fall. "It’s great to be back in the heartland of America, the Iowa State Fair — it’s a wonderful experience," McCain said, "Thank you, all." And GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin campaigned here solo. "Iowa, I would ask you, would you hire us? Would you send us to Washington to shake things up and clean things up?" Palin asked a crowd in Des Moines in October.
Obama stopped in Des Moines the Friday before the November election; he reminisced about his Caucus Night win. "A whole new way of doing democracy started right here in Iowa and it’s all across the country now," Obama told the crowd. Obama wound up winning the state on Election Night. Iowans re-elected Senator Tom Harkin and sent all five Iowa congressmen back to D.C., too.
Once the general election was over, political news kept dominating the headlines. Attorneys on both sides of the gay marriage issue spent more than 90 minutes before the Iowa Supreme Court justices in early December, arguing the case. "Marriage is between a man and a woman," Assistant Polk County Attorney Roger Kuhl said. "It’s an oxymoron to say ‘same-sex marriage.’" The other attorney, Dennis Johnson, represented the six gay couples who filed the lawsuit. "The state should give them full marriage equality under the same name as everyone else," Johnson said.
By December, due to the economic slow-down, Governor Culver ordered a one-and-a-half percent across-the-board cut in the state budget. "As you can you can imagine, this is not what I want to do, but it’s what I have to do as governor," Culver said.
Also this month, President-elect Barack Obama asked former Governor Tom Vilsack to serve as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. "Thank you, Mr. President-elect for the confidence you have placed in me and I look forward to the challenge," Vilsack said during a news conference, with Obama, in Chicago.
The year’s other top political story: the state law which bans smoking in most public places. "What we’re saying here is there’s a strong, scientifically-proven, well-documented, public health benefit to protecting folks from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke," Representative Tyler Olson of Cedar Rapids said during legislative debate. A group of Iowa bar owners filed a lawsuit in July when the law went into effect and their ire was still evident in December when they asked a legislative committee to put the law on hold. "They’re not going to help and it’s bull," Oskaloosa bar owner Diana Heathcote said after the committee’s statehouse meeting.
Click on the audio link below to listen to Radio Iowa’s review of the year’s top political stories.