Jack Kuenzie's first-hand account of the 1980 Iowa Caucuses

Jack Kuenzie's first-hand account of the 1980 Iowa Caucuses

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - While the Iowa Caucuses are getting a lot of attention, they are not always an accurate predictor of the party nominees, and WIS Senior Reporter Jack Kuenzie knows that first-hand.

Kuenzie says its easier to watch the Iowa Caucuses than it is to report on them. That's for two reasons: The caucus voting can be confusing and can take a long time to play out, especially on the Democratic side. Second, the weather: shirt sleeves here in South Carolina possibly, while there are parkas and snow chains there.

Kuenzie was working in Des Moines in 1980 when the idea of the Iowa Caucuses being important really grabbed the nation's attention. That was a long time ago, but there were similarities to what is being seen in Iowa.

A crowded GOP field, including a celebrity candidate, Ronald Reagan, a guy named Bush, a couple of candidates who'd been governors - John Connally in particular - and two U.S. Senators, Howard Baker and Bob Dole. Reagan stumped through the media area a number of times, talking about cutting taxes and big government. He'd been helped to some extent by his roots as a broadcaster at WHO Radio in Des Moines, where Kuenzie worked. It helped, but it wasn't enough.

Reagan ended up losing to George Herbert Walker Bush in a squeaker, 32 to 30 percent. Baker pulled 15 percent for third place. Reagan later said Iowa had been a "kick in the pants" for his campaign, and by the time it got to South Carolina, he clobbered his next closest competitor, Gov. Connally, with 55 percent of the vote.

Bush later dropped out of the race.

The Democrats were little more predictable with Jimmy Carter beating Ted Kennedy almost two to one.

With lots of media attention back then, Kuenzie said Tom Brokaw covered his first Iowa Caucus vote that year, which he is still doing today. Kuenzie also had a memorable moment passing by the hotel bar that night and seeing Walter Cronkite in there holding court with a circle of admirers around him.

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