20 January 2004

Back from Iowa!

I’m back from Iowa! You know, that state just west of Illinois (in which Chicago is located). I had an opportunity to go to the Democratic Caucus. While not a Democrat, I jumped at the opportunity to go. This was a chance to see the process first hand, and I’m glad I went.

I had a great time. I went with a van load of people, two of whom I knew beforehand; my brother and a friend of mine from the Political Science Department. The rest of my fellow travelers I met on the way. Originally my group was meant to go to Iowa City, but instead we ended up in Dubuque. Take a look at a map and see if you can find it.

This was a wonderful experience. I was there volunteering and campaigning for John Edwards the United States Senator from North Carolina. We were put to work talking to local people in the city and outlying areas. We tried to make sure that they were coming to the caucus in their precinct to support John Edwards.

What is a caucus? To be honest, I had no idea until I was in Iowa and found out what this was all about. Caucuses are held all over the many different precincts of Iowa. This meant was that on this past Monday night Iowans would show up to a YMCA in their area, or a school gym, or the local union building, which is where I was. There they would find tables located in the different corners of the room with signs indicating which candidate was positioned there. If you knew who you wanted to support, you’d sit yourself in that corner. If you did not know, you would continue to sit in your chair in the middle of the room. The Chairman running the caucus gave a certain amount of time for all the different groups representing the candidates to try and convince the undecideds in the middle of the room to come to their candidate’s corner. This was the most interesting part of the caucus. These people were actually discussing ideas and policies. They weren’t throwing slogans around without thinking. The undecideds wanted to know what the candidates would do for them before putting themselves in a particular corner.

This was just the beginning. If your group didn’t have at least 15% of the people at the caucus, you had to disband and find another candidate to support. This gave the viable groups a chance to convince the disbanded to join them. Delegates were given to viable groups according to how many people were standing by their candidates sign. Those delegates will go onto a County Convention as well as a State Convention.

Finally, by the end of the process, and the exciting insanity that went along with it, everyone in the room had found a candidate to support. Dick Gephardt and Dennis Kucinich’s groups were not viable and had to find another candidate. In my precinct, many of the Gephardt group came to support John Edwards, and many Kucinich people went and supported John Kerry.

The results of the caucus were very interesting. Senator John Kerry came in first, and Senator John Edwards came in a close second. I had been watching the news over the weekend, and all the political commentators had been saying that the candidates with the most money and best organization almost always won. That would have meant that Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean were shoo-ins. It didn’t happen that way.

The candidates personal style seems to have won or lost the race for them. Dean with his “speak first, apologize later” style really turned people off. Also the fact that he was the first to run negative advertisements against his opponents didn’t do him any good. Dean had plenty of paid volunteers all over Dubuque. But, while he was once on top in the Iowa race, the local people were sick of his supporters always being in their faces.

One also would have thought that the Union support behind Gephardt would have propelled him to victory. But that was not the case. Many people had thought that his time had come and gone, that he had been in Washington too long and had lost as a candidate for president back in 1988. It didn’t seem that he had the power to win against George W. Bush if he got the Democratic nomination. He dropped out of the Presidential race this past Tuesday.

So now after the Iowa caucuses are over, it seems that the political talking heads were wrong. It didn’t come down to the money or the huge organizations. In the end it came down to personality, qualifications and the ability to win against President Bush. Both Kerry and Edwards have great qualifications. Edwards has real personality and has not supported any attack advertisements, unlike Kerry. This will be a fun race to follow.

Iowa was great. The people were the friendliest I’ve ever met, and since we overlooked the Mississippi River, it was also a really pretty spot to be. Who would’ve thought that Dubuque, Iowa would be the place to hang out for the weekend?

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