Source: 2010 Census data

WASHINGTON — The Republican presidential campaign is roaring toward climactic contests in South Carolina and Florida, but every GOP nominee has won at least one of the two early contests in the northern states of Iowa or New Hampshire since 1968.

Neither state is typical – neither a microcosm of the nation as a whole.

“What’s noteworthy about Iowa and New Hampshire are the issues that don’t get discussed because Iowa and New Hampshire are first,” said Bill Mayer, a political science professor at Northeastern University. “Two prominent examples are race and the problems of big cities.”

According to the 2010 census, Des Moines is the largest city in either state. It has a population of just over 200,000. Additionally the population of both states is over 90 percent Caucasian. Mayer said the country would benefit from having other states occasionally host the first primary election because it would change the issues that get the most attention.

“For natural and understandable and largely praiseworthy reasons, candidates that show up to Iowa and New Hampshire talk about the issues that are important to Iowans and New Hampshirites,” Mayer said.

From the time candidates declare their intention to run, they usually have more than nine months to campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire. So these two stages are often lumped together, but the issues addressed in the two states are quite different.

In Iowa, corn is king.

Shannon Textor, director of market development for the Iowa Corn Growers Association, said the state produced over 2.49 billion bushels of corn last year. According to the Census, one in six Iowans are employed in agriculture and related fields.

With corn so engrained in the life of Iowans, ethanol is naturally an important issue. Textor said about 45 percent of the corn produced in Iowa goes into to the production of ethanol, a gasoline additive. In addition to being the nation’s largest producer of corn, Iowa is the largest producer of ethanol.

Corn and ethanol related issues were a widely debated topic in the recent Iowa caucuses. Mindy Larson Poldberg, director of government relations for the corn growers group, said it would be impossible for candidates to ignore agriculture in Iowa.

“Certainly if a candidate doesn’t take any position on ethanol they will be asked a multitude of times when they come to their meetings,” Poldberg said.

According to customer research run by the corn growers, just over three in four Iowans claim that alternative fuels have been a positive for their state. Worth noting, three of the four top finishers in the Iowa caucus received favorable grades from the corn growers association on their ethanol and energy policies, including the winner of the caucuses, Mitt Romney.

While many Iowans may look upon ethanol favorably, only a small minority uses a candidate’s position on ethanol as their sole issue for voting. Mayer said coming out against ethanol may result in a two or three percent swing in votes — something, although small, that could make a difference for a would-be nominee. He said candidates may decide their ethanol position well before the caucuses to avoid alienating any potential supporters.

In New Hampshire, statewide issues do not carry as much clout.

“I think for the most part people here obviously have local interests, but they are also interested frankly in somebody at the national level who is going to address national issues and even international policy,” said Dennis Delay, an economist with the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy.

New Hampshire does not have a signature issue such as ethanol.

Most of the campaigning done in the state reflects a candidate’s national message. Mike Levoff, spokesman for Jon Huntsman’s now suspended campaign, did not tailor his words when asked about Huntsman’s message in New Hampshire.

“He is running for president of the United States and delivers a message to the entire country that we need a leader we can trust and who has experience helping create jobs without raising taxes and fees,” Levoff said.

New Hampshire natives do have some significant state concerns. One issue currently being debated is the Northern Pass energy system.

Northern Pass is a project that will connect New Hampshire and New England to hydroelectric power from Quebec, Canada. Supporters say the program will reduce energy prices throughout New England by introducing independently funded renewable energy.

“There is a significant demand for renewable energy that will lower carbon emissions, but it has to be economical,” said Martin Murray, a spokesman for Northern Pass. “Every other source of renewable energy in New Hampshire and New England is basically subsidized by customers or the government. This will receive no subsidies at all.”

Murray said the plan is on hold while Northern Pass searches for a viable way to construct the power lines leading from Canada. Environmental groups, although in favor of renewable energy, worry about the destruction of wildlife to put up the wires.

Some groups in New Hampshire are debating this proposed energy line, but Murray said most residents may not even be aware of the program. The further away people are from the Canadian border, he said, the less likely they are to know about Northern Pass.

The only mainstream candidate to address the program during the primary campaign was Newt Gingrich. He proposed putting the lines underground to get the power, while limiting the environmental impact.

Murray said Northern Pass is researching effective underground technology, but it has never been done to the scale needed for Northern Pass. He said that Gingrich’s position is textbook politics.

“Speaker Gingrich basically acknowledged publicly that he was courting votes,” Murray said. “He knew that voicing opposition to the protest as proposed would earn him favor with a specific constituency and he was speaking to that constituency.”

Gingrich finished fourth in New Hampshire, but received his highest percentage in Coos County – the northernmost county in New Hampshire – and the one where the argument over the new power lines is most heated.