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By Jonathan Capehart

The Washington Post

It happens every four years.

With each presidential election cycle come complaints that a state that looks nothing like the rest of the nation has a disproportionate impact on how this nation picks its leaders. (Not to mention criticisms that the state is too rural, and thus particularly conservative, and has turnout numbers smaller than some census tracts in Manhattan.)

And the lengths to which the Republican presidential candidates are going to appeal to Iowa's more socially conservative caucus-goers are nothing short of frightening.

But before folks get too giddy about beating down the Hawkeye State, I want to remind them of something: Iowa is the same wildly unrepresentative state that added instant legitimacy to the presidential ambitions of Barack Obama four years ago.

Sure, in 2008, plenty of white Americans were 100 percent behind hope and change. But plenty of African-Americans were unconvinced that "they" would vote for "one of us."

Despite Obama's good polling numbers, many thought, white voters would never really mark a ballot for the relatively inexperienced black senator from Illinois. That refrain was as common among blacks as it was constant in the days leading up to the 2008 Iowa caucuses.

But on Jan. 3, 2008, "they" spoke. The Democrats of predominantly white Iowa handed 38 percent of their votes (and a victory) to the biracial senator with the funny name and super-cute family.

And because "they" spoke, many black people — my mother included — shifted from being ambivalent or disbelieving, or even from being supporters of then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., to being resolutely behind Obama.

The 2008 New Hampshire primary snapped Obama and his supporters back to reality. Clinton, who finished third in Iowa with 29 percent of the vote, won the Granite State five days later with 39 percent to Obama's 36 percent.

But the genie was out of the bottle. History was made — and it was the people of Iowa who set the wheels in motion.

So those carping this time around really ought to leave Iowans alone.

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