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The Gazette KCRG
Posted May 9, 2011
Does caucus bring big bucks to Iowa? Depends on who you ask

Producer Marni Rothman, (left) of New York, NY, interviews Dave Panther, of Coralville, owner of the Hamburg Inn, as cameraman Luke Korver, of Los Angeles, CA, films at the Hamburg Inn in Iowa City in October 2007. (Stephen Mally/Freelance)

Dave Panther, owner of the Hamburg Inn No. 2 in Iowa City, is anticipating another stream of candidates — and a corresponding boost in business — to his restaurant as the Iowa caucus campaign heats up later this year.

The restaurant again will hold its Coffee Bean Caucus, an informal poll in which customers cast ballots with coffee beans.

Panther said that the tradition invigorates the neighborhood.

“With the Coffee Bean Caucus, we’ve been able to generate quite a bit of interest in the past and our neighbors along the street also get a nice turnout from our caucus events,” he said. “We all enjoy it.”

While many agree the caucuses are a boon for Iowa businesses, Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson said the perception is unfounded.

“The general sense, given media coverage and the apparent activity of the candidates, is that Iowa and New Hampshire must benefit strongly from presidential campaign spending,” Swenson said.

“Think about it,” said Swenson. “Candidates spend on rental cars, dining, hotel rooms and media buys. What kind of job (creation) is associated with that? As a state, we are much better at making windows in Pella or manufacturing aircraft parts.”

Swenson cites his study of Federal Election Commission reports from the 2008 first-in-the-nation caucuses in Iowa and primary in New Hampshire in which he found that the Republicans allotted only $5.8 million to Iowa in late 2007 leading up to the Iowa caucuses. while the Democrats spent $9.8 million.

Gerald Lewis, right, cheers for Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., during caucuses Thursday, Jan 3, 2008, in Le Mars, Iowa.(AP Photo/Dave Weaver)

“The job numbers, too, are temporary job equivalents as those job values only last so long as the spending lasts,” Swenson said.

He said the state will see more economic benefit from the Iowa State Fair than from the 2011 campaigning and the 2012 caucuses.

“In 2008 we had both parties involved so we had way more attention by the national media,” Swenson said. “This time, (President Barack) Obama just needs to shore up his base. The big story will be the Republicans.”

Swenson does agree that Iowa’s first-in-the nation status entices spending in the state every four years that otherwise would not happen. He said there would be negligible campaign spending here compared to other states and regions if not for that status.

That’s fine with Joshua Schamberger, president of the Iowa City/Coralville Visitor and Convention Bureau, who said he has seen “a substantial benefit” to Iowa from the caucuses in his 16 years in the Corridor area.

“I have been through three full caucuses in those 16 years and I can’t think of a single negative to us being the ‘first in the nation,’” he said.

Schamberger said Obama drew a crowd of between 10,000 and 15,000 to Iowa City when he delivered his first big speech in Iowa City in 2007.

“We have never done research on the impact of caucuses,” he said, “but with numbers like that it has to be a significant.”

Jennifer Pickar, director of communications and marketing for the Cedar Rapids Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, anticipates the influx of visitors as well.

“It is difficult to track the direct spending in our community generated by the Iowa caucuses, since candidates (and media) come and go so frequently — sometimes staying overnight and other times staying for a just few hours,” said Pickar.

Jars for nine Democratic hopefuls, as well as a jar for undecided voters and one for incumbent George Bush, sit near the exit to the Hamburg Inn in Iowa City on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2004.

“However, the national exposure that the caucuses bring to Cedar Rapids and local businesses where candidates make their campaign stops is priceless,” she said.

Dee Baird, interim president of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, agreed.

“As an advocate for our business community, the Chamber appreciates the opportunity to share the issues and concerns that affect businesses’ success in our region,” Baird said.

As for Panther, he will be putting out the coffee jars at the Hamburg Inn later this summer.

“We will be sending invites to all the candidates to stop at the Hamburg Inn when they come to Eastern Iowa,” said Panther. “We make it a good event to attract media and people to meet the candidates.”

– Kathryn Bergstrom, correspondent

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