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U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., sits with former Iowa Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson, right, during the Iowa Democratic Party's annual Fall Gala on Oct. 6, 2018, in Des Moines, Iowa.Charlie Neibergall/The Associated Press

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey already has been here. So has Senator Kamala Harris of California. Former vice-president Joe Biden, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Governor Steve Bullock of Montana have as well. And Representative John Delaney of Maryland, the first Democrat to declare his candidacy for the White House in two years, has been here 18 times.

The midterm congressional elections are less than a week in the past, but already the 2020 presidential campaign is well under way here in Iowa, which 14 months from now will hold the first caucuses of the new White House campaign. It is a matter of urgency for Democrats. For ruling Republicans and Donald Trump, it is likely a formality

“It’s not too early for this to get going,” said Janice Weiner, a Democratic activist who organized get-out-the-vote efforts in last Tuesday’s midterm contests in Iowa City. “We’ll be flooded with candidates before long.”

California Senator Kamala Harris speaks at a Polk County Democrats event in Des Moines, Iowa on Oct. 22, 2018.KC MCGINNIS/Reuters

Ever since former governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia – carrying his own suitcase and sleeping overnight in Iowans’ spare bedrooms – used this state’s once-obscure caucus procedure as a stepping-stone to the White House more than four decades ago, Iowa has been besieged by presidential contenders, dark horses and long shots. Some, like former governor Pierre S. DuPont of Delaware (1988 candidate), have started two years in advance. Others, like Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut (2008), moved their families here. Still others, like Senator Gary Hart of Colorado (1984) moved through the state in stealth, creating an organization that catapulted him from obscurity to prominence and nearly to the Democratic presidential nomination itself.

Presidential politics in this state – which possesses what the historian Daniel Boorstin, a former Librarian of Congress, described as “the American archaeology of space” – has a special, almost antiquarian quality. Candidates take out media advertisements, to be sure; Representative Richard Gephardt’s television ambush during the otherwise quiet period between Christmas and New Year’s Day earned him a first-place finish in 1988. But generally, campaigning in this large state is a door-to-door, Legion-hall-to-Legion-hall, coffee-shop-to-coffee-shop affair, more retail than wholesale, and thoroughly personal.

Community members at a barn party where presidential candidate John Delaney spoke in Adel, Iowa, on Aug. 9, 2018.GEORGE ETHEREDGE/The New York Times News Service

“We take our role very seriously,” said state Representative Mary Mascher. “We are used to the presidential campaign starting early and we love the attention and the fact that we get to know these candidates as people. Other places don’t have that advantage.”

In many ways, the character of Iowa politics matches the geography and geology of Iowa. Four glacial sweeps left the state with unusually rich topsoil, an astonishing 14 or 16 inches deep, now eroded down to six inches but still fertile ground for campaigns to drop their roots. Indeed, with the exception of 1992, when there wasn’t a meaningful contest, no candidate has reached the White House without winning either Iowa or New Hampshire.

These Iowa caucuses are conducted on a Monday night, often frosty, sometimes snowy, in libraries, church basements, community halls and people’s homes. They are intimate and sometimes full of intimidation, for an Iowa precinct caucus is an open event, people moving to separate corners of a room to indicate their candidate preferences.

Landlocked Iowa with a population that is 91 per cent white is an odd venue for a vital political test for the Democrats, whose electoral map from last week’s midterms underscored that it is a coastal party full of minority voters.

Mr. Delaney poses for a photo in Grundy Center, Iowa, on Aug. 10, 2018.GEORGE ETHEREDGE/The New York Times News Service

Though Iowa is a peaceable place, it has from time to time been a staging ground for political rebellion.

Vice-President George H. W. Bush, the front-runner as the Iowa caucuses loomed, learned that in 1988, when he finished a stunning third. The once-surging presidential hopes of Senator John Glenn of Ohio, the former Project Mercury astronaut, took a beating four years earlier when he finished fifth, with only 4 per cent of the vote. Indeed, in the first half of the last century, W. W. Waymack, then the editorial director of the Des Moines Register and later a Pulitzer winner and editor of the statewide newspaper, said that during the Great Depression years “an angry fringe of capitalist-minded farmers [resorted] to direct action to maintain their capitalist status.”

The candidates who have streamed into the state have discovered that rural roots are a formidable political advantage. It is the country’s leading exporter of pork (US$2.6-billion), corn (US$1.75-billion) and feed grain (US$1.32-billion), according to the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Overall, Iowa is the second-leading exporter of agricultural products, with about a third of it (accounting for US$4.039-billion) going to Canada.

The political implication: grave worries among farmers and those who receive secondary benefits from agriculture here in the wake of Mr. Trump’s trade offensive.

Mr. Delaney’s campaign RV outside the Surf Ballroom and Museum, where the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding was held, in Clear Lake, Iowa.GEORGE ETHEREDGE/The New York Times News Service

That’s an advantage for Mr. Bullock, the Montana governor, and it explains the Iowa itinerary of Mr. Delaney, the congressman with the most trips here. A lawmaker whose Maryland riding includes rural Garrett County – with its 600 farms and where the burning issues include crop insurance, nutrient management and pesticide storage – Mr. Delaney has been to all 99 counties of Iowa. In one swing through the western part of the state, he campaigned in outposts such as Bedford (population 1,140); Sidney (1,138); Pandora (1,124); Lamont (2,324); and Emmetsburg (3,904).

Only those outside the political world believe it is too early to be campaigning for the next presidential election.

“The 2020 Iowa caucus is closer than you think,” wrote Pat Rynard, who runs the iowastartingline.com website chronicling campaigning for an event still about 425 days away. ‘’With no clear front-runner waiting in the wings, all number of Democratic elected officials have shown up in Iowa, meeting with activists and keynoting major party fundraisers." It’s started. There’s no intermission in American politics anymore.

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