Thursday, January 3, 2008

First Person Account--The Caucus

So here is how the caucusing worked in Ward 2 in Wallaceville. Henrietta and Henry Q. were delighted to stay home alone while Mrs. Wallace and I went around the corner to the elementary school to caucus.

The school parking lot was packed. Cars were parked along both sides of the driveway. We had to park in the snow behind the school. Our ward met in the Media room. Volunteers and campaign workers were passing out candidate stickers. We signed in at the table for registered Democrats.

After signing my name then I marked an oval for attendance and another oval under the candidate of my choice. There was a large group of people filing past the table for people who are not registered Democrats. It was crowded. But some of the other wards were even larger. (The Des Moines CBS affiliate just reported that the statewide turn out is at least 205,000--up from the record 120,000 four years ago.)

The chair called us to order. She asked how many people were new to caucusing. Everyone laughed when it looked like every hand in the room went up. After making some announcements and explaining how we would proceed, we took a count. Sixty-one people. I asked the secretary how that compared to last time. She didn't remember a number but she said it was a lot more. The cookies were already going around. So were nomination sheets for Senator Harkin and other the challengers for the Republicans who hold every other office that represents western Iowa.

After going through the math to determine how many people it would take to make the candidate viable (10), we divided into our preference groups. The count was Obama 21, Edwards 18, Clinton 13, Richardson 3, Biden 3, Undecided 4. Overall, the whole ward was older, but the young people were all in the Obama, Richardson, and Biden camps. In fact there were two teens in the Richardson group, one of whom was the Richardson precinct captain.

One of the reasons I love going to the caucuses--and the local campaign events--is that I get to see who else in town are committed Democrats. I saw some other church members, a couple of lawyers, the assistant police chief, the fire chief, a new wealthy young couple who I had assumed were Republicans. The husband said to Mrs. Wallace and I that he peeked at the sign-in sheets for new democrats and said that most of them where for Obama. There was a lot of laughter. But not so much in the Hillary group.

The chair announced that the Richardson, Biden, and Undecided groups were not viable. It sounded kind of mean. She told us that each group could send one member to the nonviable groups to try to convince them to join. I announced that all round cookies are officially Obama cookies.

The Congregational minister, a woman in her mid 60's told me to go over and lobby some of the other groups. I checked with the Obama precinct captain to see who is going which direction. She didn't know. So I went over to the Biden people. I asked what it was about Biden that they liked. The young CEO of the hospital said, "Because he is the best one to be president!" I told him that I had seen Biden speak. I said a couple of nice things about Biden; but when I began to talk about Obama, the guy explained that if we gave him three people, we wouldn't lose any delegates. Yikes! He was the precinct captain for Biden.

A Richardson person came over and my Biden guy put his wife in charge of the kid while he headed over for the undecideds. I went back to the Obama group. After a little joking about how the Biden dude almost got me, I went over to the three Richardson people. Looking for my angle, I asked what they like about Richardson. The two 17 year olds started showing me baseball cards with Richardson's qualifications written on them. Dang. One of them is a precinct captain, too! They asked why I don't support Richardson. I said, "Because he called my daughter a boy."

The kid with long hair said, "A lot of people think I look like a girl."

I said, "You kinda do." (yeah, I really did)

He said, brilliantly, "See, Richardson is a regular guy. He makes exactly the kind of mistakes you do." There was a little more back and forth, including questions about what my daughter Henrietta looks like.

[Keep Reading, there might be violence after the jump]
I said something about Obama and then added, "Just don't go with Hillary". And the woman said, "Oh, we already said we were going to go with Obama." What the hell? One of the lawyers had already been there.

Over to the Undecideds.

The Edwards guy was working over two of them pretty hard. I listened to him for a minute, waiting my turn. My turn didn't come. I walked around him to a friend who leads the high school youth group at church. I asked who she was leaning toward. She wasn't sure. Then there was a bunch of applause. The Biden people had joined the Obama group. I explained that I thought that Obama can actually take us forward as country, that Hillary's campaign is going to take us back to the wars of the 90's. Obama is about the future; Hillary is about the past. Yadda, yadda, yadda. I thought, Dang, I wish I had some baseball cards like the Richardson kid.

The chair announced that time was up. Time to choose. I went back to sit by Mrs. Wallace, who was chatting happily with the nearby women. She's a trooper. Did I mention that she was diagnosed with shingles yesterday? She might have appreciated a regular primary, where she could just vote and go back to bed. But she wasn't going to miss this. It's fun.

I lead a cheer for my friend from church. We chanted her name. She sheepishly sat down with us. "Yeah!!" I leaned over to the Biden guy and offered his candidate the Secretary of State position. Should I have cleared that first?

Then the chair took over again. Man, she was joykill. She didn't smile the whole time. And I haven't told you about the times she had us re-count ourselves. Well, it was time to count again. She was annoyed that the Obama people hadn't counted yet. We had 29 (we added the three Biden people, the three Richardson supporters, and two of the four undecideds). Clinton still had 13. Edwards added the two people that mister-no-take-turns hounded into membership.

The chair then took us through the math equations to determine how to distribute the delegates. Our ten delegates divided out like this: Obama 5, Edwards 3, Hillary 2. Basically, we got a delegate for every six people. Rounding helped us and hurt Edwards and Clinton. We were the only ones to pick up delegates in the second round. (By the way, if we had ten delegates for 60 people, it seems reasonable that 6 should be enough to be viable.)

Then each group was directed to chose their delegates. Mrs. Wallace nominated me. Damn, she really wanted to get this thing over with. A couple of us guys had to work to coax a couple women to go to the county convention. We are so enlightened.

The chair then announced that she was going to call in the results. She was going to find a quiet place and invited people to follow her and listen in if they wanted. Somehow it quickly transpired that she would stay there and we would all be quiet and listen. I'm pretty sure that this is as transparent as the process can possibly get. No hanging chads, no Diebold, no rigged machines.

I slipped out to go see what the results were in the rest of the wards. Most striking about every ward was the turn out. There was a huge group meeting in the gym. I could see a farmer leading it, so obviously it was a rural ward. A friend confirmed, telling me that there had been someone at the door saying, "If you have a long driveway, your meeting is in here."

As a bonus, here's my report from the last primary I voted in:
I went in. I teased the old ladies at the sign in table. I voted.

Caucuses have their problems, but they aren't boring.