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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Oct. 5, 2007

Steffen Schmidt

University Professor of political science Steffen Schmidt will give the fall Presidential University Lecture Monday, Oct. 8. Photo by Bob Elbert.

Campaign 'fear and loathing' is topic of fall presidential lecture

by Mike Ferlazzo, News Service

The Iowa caucuses' role as the first battleground state in the presidential election casts national exposure on the state like no other event.

And because the 2008 campaign is wide open and has drawn a record number of candidates, the race and hype surrounding it began earlier than ever before.

But Steffen Schmidt doesn't think that's necessarily a good thing. The University Professor of political science will explore that topic when he presents "More Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail: The Iowa Caucuses and American Presidential Candidate Selection" Oct. 8. Schmidt's talk is this fall's Presidential University Lecture. He'll speak at 8 p.m. in the Memorial Union Sun Room. A reception and display of student research will precede the lecture at 7 p.m. in the South Ballroom.

"I'm going to talk about the Iowa caucuses as a part of the phenomenon and culture that we've developed of how we select the candidates for the two parties and how that involves, basically, a lot of smoke and mirrors," Schmidt said. "It involves mostly images and it's mostly a media phenomenon. The practical selection of delegates is pretty irrelevant in the Iowa caucuses."

Media-driven spectacle

Schmidt said he chose the "fear and loathing" title because of the media-driven spectacle the caucuses have become. He should know, since he has been interviewed by reporters from many national media outlets, including ABC, CNN, CNBC, C-SPAN, The New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor during the current campaign.

"Candidates essentially are trying to find out what is going to resonate with the media and then make moves that are going to get them ahead," he said. "In some ways, it's like a chess game, where you try to move around the board in such a way that you end up somewhere strategically important by the time the thing [caucuses] happens. The problem is that for politicians, you really don't know where you'll end up until caucus night because it's an unscientific process along the way. And, until people divide up and vote in their caucuses on that night, anything can happen."

While the candidates' stops across Iowa make for good theater -- for example, candidates being questioned by locals in a coffee shop, or eating a corndog at the state fair -- Schmidt said that it comes at a high cost in terms of campaign dollars spent on the first battleground state.

About Schmidt

Schmidt joined the political science department in 1970. He specializes in public law and the government, policies of globalization and, more recently, the policies and politics of managing coastal areas.

Schmidt is lead author of the American government textbook, American Government and Politics Today, now in its 17th edition. He also is co-editor of Soldiers in Politics and Issues in Iowa Politics and a longtime commentator and co-host of WOI Radio's weekly political call-in show, Dr. Politics.

President Gregory Geoffroy created the Presidential University Lecture Series in 2003 to highlight the expertise and excellence of Iowa State faculty.


"Candidates essentially are trying to find out what is going to resonate with the media and then make moves that are going to get them ahead."

Steffen Schmidt