DES MOINES, Iowa (KWWL) -- With the exception of one election, Iowa always holds a caucus. As for why the Hawkeye votes first, it's just a quirky bit of history, one that many attribute to President Jimmy Carter.
“It just happened that Iowa was the was the first date,” said Michael Morain, the Communications Manager for the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.
Morain showed KWWL around the “First in the Nation” Exhibit at the State Historical Building in Des Moines.
“It really unpacks the story of how Iowa became such a big deal in this whole process of choosing the leader of the free world,” Morain said.
While caucuses have occurred in Iowa since it gained statehood, they weren't always so popular.
“It wasn't really until 1976 when then Governor Jimmy Carter came in from Georgia and saw this as an opportunity to increase his name recognition... and use the Iowa caucuses as a springboard for national recognition,” Morain said.
The exhibit features a number of artifacts, from a variety of campagin buttons to an antique campaign souvenirs, like a glass tea cup from 1860, the same year President Abraham Lincoln was elected.
Morain thinks the exhibit shows how the caucus has changed over the years.
“You know, one of my favorite artifact is a VHS tape from 1988 from the Pat Robertson campaign and it's a reminder that the caucuses technology evolves every four years... and so it's a good benchmark to see how technology shapes the way we campaign.” Morain said. “But in addition to that, there's also really low tech, we have buttons here from the 1860s that don't look that much different than buttons that we are still making today”
However, Morain says it's what comes next that keeps the museum's focus.
“Every caucus cycle we are sort of scavengers, and so after a rally, or something, we'll sort of sweep through and collect signs, collect buttons, collect things that will be useful to curators 50 years from now,” Morain said. “Because at this point we don't know what future historians will be most interested in. So we collect it all and, and do our best to tell the story of Iowa in 2020.”
You can find more information regarding the exhibit here.