Traffic can be a touchy subject for bloggers. Most writers know the pain of pouring a lot of effort into a project that gets little traction. On the flip side, although clicks are always welcome, seeing a post take off is not as satisfying when you are less invested in the piece. The most-viewed post in nearly 10 years of Bleeding Heartland's existence was nothing special, just another opinion poll write-up. FYI: A good way to get the Drudge Report to link to your site is to type up a long list of negative statements about Hillary Clinton.
I've never compiled a year-end list like this before, but since people occasionally ask what material is most popular at the blog, I figured, why not start a new tradition? Ulterior motive: I hope more readers will be inspired to write for Bleeding Heartland in 2017 after learning that guest authors wrote some of this year's most-viewed posts, including the one at the very top.
Follow me after the jump for the sixteen posts that generated the most traffic in 2016. Some of the results surprised me.
In creating this list, I left out the Bleeding Heartland front page, the "about" page, and some older posts that gained new life through online searches. For instance, quite a few people landed on a 2008 piece about what would happen if neither presidential candidate received 270 electoral votes, as well as a 2013 story about eight Iowa dog breeders being among the country's 100 worst puppy mills.
A relatively small number of hits separated number sixteen from the next ten or fifteen posts in terms of traffic. Some that barely missed the cut were among my favorites, so here are a few honorable mentions:
• Dave Swenson's look at the pattern of "extortion" that produces big state assistance packages for some corporations: Nice Bunch of Jobs You Have There, Iowa. Be a Shame if Something Happened to Them.
• John McCormally's list of 10 Things the Iowa Democratic Party Can Do To Rebuild (many more guest pieces with advice for Iowa Democrats are linked here).
My own writing that didn't quite make this year's top sixteen included Ten Iowa legislative incumbents who raised surprisingly little for their re-election campaigns and the all-time most-viewed wildflower post: The Dreaded Wild Parsnip. The irony is, that species is one of very few non-natives I've covered for Iowa wildflower Wednesday.
Two of my dozen posts about "planegate," the Iowa State University airplane scandal, also nearly made today's collection: If ISU pilots chose to land at Elmira, it wasn't for cheap fuel, and Seven ways ISU President Leath's airplane excuses don't add up.
With apologies for burying the lede, let the countdown commence:
Inspired by a planned 99-part series on the demographics and recent voting history of Iowa counties, guest author annaryon examined the history and culture of the smallest county by population. I'd like to publish many more pieces like this one in 2017, so please get in touch if you would like to profile any Iowa county you know well, either from frequent visits or having lived there.
This major research project covered the leading Iowa Republican blogger's side work for presidential candidates or other political committees, which he routinely failed to disclose when speaking to reporters or writing about the Iowa caucuses at his website. To my knowledge, no well-known media bloggers and only one national political reporter shared the link, so I was shocked the piece generated enough views to make today's list.
Incidentally, Robinson's posting at The Iowa Republican blog tapered off considerably during the first part of the year and ceased in early May.
I shelved another post in progress after a reader tipped me to an outrageous (and quickly-deleted) tweet by former U.S. Senate candidate Tom Fiegen: "How about a barricade hop-a-thon at the next Hillary event? At 5 SS per tackled protestor, they could run out of agents quickly? Then what?"
You know that thing where state legislative incumbents keep retirement plans secret so long that only one insider has a chance to file nominating papers for the seat? It's one of my biggest political pet peeves. After the "smooth handover" scenario played out three times in March, I stirred things up with this late Friday night post.
For what it's worth, two of the three Democrats who stepped in after last-minute retirements ended up winning in November: Tim Kacena in Iowa House district 14 and Ras Smith in House district 62. However, Tom Stecher fell short in House district 57, where Nancy Dunkel chose him as the Democratic candidate.
This post contained seven weeks of tables showing how many absentee ballots voters had requested and county auditors had received, statewide and in each Congressional district. It didn't go viral on any one day, just steadily generated interest as Iowa politics watchers mined the early vote numbers for clues on whether this state was still in play for Hillary Clinton. Speaking of which,
Highlights from the numbers released after Iowa's official canvass showed that the problem for Democrats wasn't a surge in support for the Republican presidential candidate. Trump didn’t match Barack Obama’s 2012 showing in raw numbers or share of the presidential vote. Rather, the problem was Clinton underperforming in the early vote and especially on election day.
I sensed right away that the ISU airplane story was a big deal. There were too many missing pieces and unanswered questions. When Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press that ISU claimed professional pilots "unilaterally decided" to stop at a small airport where President Steven Leath's relatives were picked up and dropped off, my other writing plans for the afternoon went out the window. Though I know almost nothing about small aircraft, it didn't take long to figure out that ISU's King Air would not have needed to refuel twice on a round trip to the east coast.
This post also discussed the possibility that the Internal Revenue Service may consider some ISU Foundation spending on controversial plane travel to be "excess benefit transactions," prohibited for 501(c)(3) non-profits. That angle hasn't received much attention in media coverage of the scandal, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the IRS impose some sanctions on the university's foundation.
My shell-shocked take in the early hours of November 9. I had been expecting a terrible night in Iowa, but I've never been so unprepared for a bad national outcome.
I updated this post many times as potential candidates to bring Iowa Democrats out of the abyss emerged or took themselves out of contention. Most of the eight people who are now seeking the job have written Bleeding Heartland guest posts outlining their view of the party's most urgent tasks. Click here to find links to all of those pieces.
I'm encouraged that so many readers became engaged in the search for a new state party chair. We'll need loads of grassroots energy to carry us through the next few dark years, because:
If you thought my morning-after take on the election was depressing, you should see how I felt once I'd had almost two weeks to process the results.
Iowa Democrats should not assume future presidential candidates will bother to play for our state, or that our gubernatorial and U.S. Senate elections will attract national attention. I emphasized one particularly disturbing fact in the image at the top of this post: Trump defeated Clinton by a larger margin in Iowa than in Arizona, Georgia, or even Texas.
Guest author Pete McRoberts shared his account of Trump's first rally in Des Moines after the Republican National Convention. After securing a spot in the fourth row, he held a pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution "above my head for the entirety of the speech where [Trump] and anyone else in the front could see it." Carrie Clogg attended the same event and had a dramatically different experience.
I opted not to seek a county convention delegate slot at my precinct caucus this year, but the Polk County Democratic convention ate up almost my whole weekend anyway. I was only casually following the action via social media until early Saturday afternoon, when a growing number of posts indicated things had taken an ugly turn at Valley High School. By the time the official Bernie Sanders Twitter account claimed, "Effort under way right now by @hillaryclinton and party allies to steal Polk County Iowa conv. election Bernie won earlier today," and “.@HillaryClinton and party allies are disenfranchising worker-class delegates at Polk County Iowa Democratic Convention," I knew these events needed my full attention. That evening and the following day, many people from the Clinton and Sanders camps helped me untangle what had happened.
"Fiasco" is a strong word, but trust me: its use was warranted here. Weeks later, some local activists were still ranting about the convention's injustices and vowing never to be a delegate again.
Yes, I'm still angry my own state representative, House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, spent well over $100,000 on misleading ads trashing his opponent. He never answered any of my questions about this ad, nor has he responded to any of my other queries in recent months.
Having flooded the Des Moines airwaves with commercials portraying a long-resolved tax issue as disqualifying for Hagenow's opponent, House leaders hypocritically put more than $93,000 behind GOP candidate Shannon Lundgren in House district 57. A similar error created a much larger--and still unpaid!--tax bill for Lundgren's business. But as they say on the internet, IOKIYAR (it's ok if you're a Republican).
The first installment of a six-part series explained what happens at Iowa Democratic and Republican precinct caucuses and how each party reports the results.
Part 2 covered barriers to participation in the caucuses--a problem Iowa Democratic Party leaders finally began to acknowledge this year, in contrast to previous election years. Part 3 explained Democratic caucus math. Part 4 focused on the role of precinct captains. Part 5 explained why the caucuses can be a "pollster's nightmare," as proved to be the case this year. Part 6 laid out pros and cons of the caucus system.
A Facebook friend alerted me to a local news segment showing that despite Iowa's history as an anti-slavery state, the "Stars and Bars" are among five miniature flags on Representative Steve King's desk in his Congressional office. King's not the only Iowa Republican who views the Confederate flag as a symbol of something other than racism and treason. Nor was this incident the only racial controversy involving King during 2016. To name just a few, he tried to keep Harriet Tubman off the $20 bill, asserted that whites had contributed more to civilization than "any other sub-group of people," and met with some white nationalist leaders in Europe.
Claire Celsi, the Democratic challenger to Cownie in Iowa House district 42, wrote about her opponent's failure to bring a bill up for a vote in the House Commerce Committee, which he chairs. No Bleeding Heartland post got more shares on Facebook this year, and if you know anyone with a child on the autism spectrum, you'll understand why. The legislation would have required insurance companies to cover applied behavioral analysis (an effective but expensive therapy) for Iowans with autism who are 21 years old or younger.
Later during the legislative session, Democrats in the state Senate tried unsuccessfully to include this bill's provisions in the health and human services budget. After the Iowa House and Senate adjourned for the year, some Republicans told constituents not to worry, because insurance policies available statewide would fully cover autism services in 2017. Sad to say, that spin wasn't accurate.