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When things go awry

Iowa’s role in the presidential election is far more than last week’s precinct caucuses and the still-unfolding nightmare of the long-missing results.

What happened is more akin to a gymnastics routine, one in which the state Democratic Party belly-flopped the landing. But the state should also be judged on what happened before that, when Iowans did what they were supposed to do. They did it for months.

They talked to candidates, attended events, knocked on doors, listened in coffee shops, asked questions at forums and helped people in 49 other states get to know the people seeking to be the next president.

That continued Monday night, when tens of thousands of people gathered in schools and churches to be part of the process of selecting Democratic and Republican nominees for president.

Much remains to be untangled about what steps state Democratic Party officials took and didn’t take over the past four years that led them to be unjustifiably confident that they could share comprehensive caucus results within hours of most of the 1,765 gatherings convening.

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The egg on Iowa’s face inevitably prompts questions about whether another state should take the privilege and scrutiny of going first on the presidential nominating calendar.

This episode makes it harder to argue that Iowa is exceptional.

It’s the bad landing, of course, that everyone will remember. And it’s necessary to dig in and determine all the ways that caucus night went awry. But let’s not lose sight of the grass-roots involvement that a caucus process fosters.

Under new scrutiny from a skeptical nation, Iowans will need to weigh whether that is worth working to preserve.

— The Des Moines Register