The nation’s eyes are on 4 states this February, due to their early presidential primary contests. Indeed, there is a fascinating history to their place in the calendar. But, let’s not forgo the opportunity to also unveil more about their culture and experiences that are worthy of our attention long after the ballots have been counted.
The Iowa caucuses happen today, February 3rd. The word caucus is thought to derive from the native Algonquin term for a meeting of tribal leaders. Many people know that Iowa votes first, but you may not know how it came to be. Iowa had the opportunity to shine after the momentous 1968 DNC convention. It was decided that grassroots forces should have more say in the nominating process after a groundswell of anti-Vietnam and civil rights protests. Iowa’s caucus process involves a complex series of lengthy town halls all over the state, so in order to get it all done in time, their date moved up in the calendar. In 1972, Democratic candidate George McGovern’s campaign manager seized the opportunity to use Iowa for an early media boost. In 1976, the GOP also held Iowa contests first, and Democrat Jimmy Carter rode his Iowa win all the way to the White House.
The caucus is also a travel and economic boon to the state, as you have a cadre of journalists, staffers, and others staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, and enjoying the local scenery. But there are a plethora of other reasons Iowa should spark traveler intrigue this season.
Things to Do in Iowa:
Think Iowa City Foodie Festival on Saturday, February 15th – For the culinary minded, this Iowa City event features talented chefs from local eateries, and guests can enjoy tastings, wine, and a cash bar. Tickets are $55.
Color the Wind Kite Festival, also on February 15th – Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy some fun in the brisk air at the largest kite festival in the Midwest. Catch one of the kite ballets choreographed to music, retreat to the warming room with hot food for sale, and pick out a new kite for yourself.
Mission Creek Festival happening in downtown Iowa City later in the spring from April 1-4, 2020 – A must do for culture buffs. It’s an intimate festival experience grounded in music and literature. Both locals and visitors convene to enjoy concerts, readings and discussions, an annual book fair, a comix and zine fair, a vinyl marketplace, and a slew of free programming. Individual activities are under $25 and event passes run $150-$250.
2. NEW HAMPSHIRE
A convergence of factors contributed to New Hampshire hosting the first presidential primary (February 11th this year). Timing was impacted by previously-established, annual town meetings that were set after the harshest part of winter and before the demands of spring planting. Prior to 1949, primary votes were just for the delegates that would attend the party conventions and were perceived to be more symbolic. But in 1949, candidate names were added to the ballots, making it more of a show of confidence in specific contenders. The following presidential primaries in 1952 cemented New Hampshire’s influence, as incumbent President Truman lost on the Democratic side, and Eisenhower won the GOP contest over establishment favorite Robert Taft.
Things to Do in New Hampshire:
Dartmouth Winter Carnival from February 6-9th – The event is a 110 year old tradition in Hanover, NH. The 3-day celebration of winter sporting features a Yeti Hunt, team ice sculpture contest, interactive exhibits, and more.
The Conway Railroad – A scenic, old-fashioned railroad that hearkens back to the Golden Age of rail travel. Visitors can enjoy trips ranging from 1 to 5 hours that showcase the most beautiful landscapes in the state.
Story Land – A colorful amusement park designed to be the best experience for kids and kids at heart. The founders realized their vision as a place where storybook characters could come alive. They have the distinction of opening in late 1954, a year before Disneyland. Guests can enjoy attractions like Mother Goose Manor and an enchanted tea party with Cinderella.
On February 22nd, Nevada will hold its caucuses. Nevada is the most recent addition to the early voting states. The state typically had primary elections before the first presidential caucuses were held in 2008. Ahead of the 2008 elections, the DNC sought to give African Americans and Hispanics a greater voice in the nominating process and therefore voted to have Nevada and South Carolina follow the Iowa and New Hampshire races. Nevada’s mix of urban and rural communities, ethnic diversity, senior population, and other dynamics align with the issues at the heart of debates in presidential contests. Nevada now has the distinction of being an early voting state as well as the first in the West.
Things to Do in Nevada:
Up, Up & Away! Hot Air Balloon Festival running February 21 – 23rd – The dates of this fun, outdoorsy event in the town of Pahrump flank caucus day. It features tethered balloon rides, carnival games, a live action rodeo, and more. Tickets range from $10 to $20.
Ranch Hand Rodeo Weekend from February 26th – March 1st – The town of Winnemucca hosts the largest event of its kind in the state. Teams will compete in saddle bronc riding, steer stopping, team roping, and more. Wednesday through Friday events are FREE and rodeo admission is $10.
Alpenglow Sports Mountain Festival from February 15 – 23rd in North Lake Tahoe Nevada and California – It features some of the area’s best winter recreation activities including backcountry skiing and splitboarding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing, as well as natural history, yoga, live music, educational workshops, social gatherings and more. Even better, most events are FREE.
4. SOUTH CAROLINA
South Carolina’s primary will be held on February 29th. The use of party primaries to nominate local candidates dates back to the 1880s, but the state’s first presidential primary was held by the GOP in 1980. South Carolina was swinging from majority Democratic to Republican, and party leadership wanted to seize on the shift by hosting a “First in the South” primary. That year, surrogates for California Governor Ronald Reagan helped him successfully defeat his southern competitor (Governor John Connally of Texas) and go on to achieve a series of big primary victories in the south, before his ultimate general election win over incumbent President Jimmy Carter.
South Carolina Democrats first used a primary process in 1992, when Bill Clinton won and proceeded to win the presidency. The prominence of South Carolina in the election process was further elevated with the aforementioned DNC changes ahead of the 2008 elections.
Things to Do in South Carolina:
American Heritage Festival Revolutionary War Reenactment from February 15-16th in Lake City – Visitors to South Carolina this month can see history come to life at this event featuring speakers, displays, performances, and more. It is hosted at the family-owned Graham’s Historic Farm, which supplied food and refuge to Continental Army soldiers during the war. Weekend passes are $15.
Gullah Celebration from now through February 28th – The rich cultural heritage of the native Gullah people is showcased on Hilton Head Island. The Gullah are a group of African Americans who live in fishing and farming communities along the Atlantic coastal plain. Because of their geographic isolation, they have been able to preserve much of their African cultural traditions and speak a creole language similar to Sierra Leone Krio. The event is a great reason to visit Hilton Head during the low season. It features art, performances, food, and more and helps foster economic development opportunities for minority business owners. Tickets vary by activity.