Thursday, January 21, 2016

Hey Mom, what's a caucus?

“I have never understood the Iowa caucus.” — Larry King

THAT'S OKAY, Larry, neither do we, and we've lived here most of our lives.

As you know, Paul and I reside in Iowa, home of the first-in-the-nation caucus. I've said before that I don't think we deserve our special status, but we have it for at least one more go-round anyway. 

To save you from having to ask:

  • Of course we will be caucusing.
  • With the Democrats.
  • For Bernie Sanders.

The caucus process on the Democratic side is interesting, to say the least . . . and complicated! 

I'll give you a brief rundown: After credential verification — attendees must be US citizens, live in the precinct and be registered (or register there on the spot) as Democrats. This is an extremely labor-intensive, time-consuming step in the process because when it's a presidential year, many residents will be inspired to participate for the first time, and many voters will have moved into the precinct during the preceding four or eight years. 

At the predetermined (and advertised) time, an attendee count is made, and that becomes the governing number. At this point, no one else can join in. 

Attendees are allotted a certain length of time to divide into candidate preference groups, and a speaker is elected in each who is authorized to give a brief, timed, persuasion speech to the body at large in hopes of swaying those in other preference groups to defect.

That's followed by another timed period where all verified participants are allowed to roam and engage members of other preference groups in an effort to persuade them to switch to their candidate. When that period has elapsed, exact tallies are taken to determine whether a candidate is viable or not. Viability is calculated by a complex formula based on the total number of attendees. 

I was precinct chair, and Paul my able assistant, in two non-incumbant presidential election years — in other words when there was no sitting president running for reelection, and my oh my, what a circus!! The last time I chaired was when President Obama ran the first time around; it was a mad house! 

In an off-election year, we might get three people showing up for my precinct's caucus, but in 2008 we had 200 plus — way more than the room could accommodate or was even safe — all of whom had to be checked in one by one. Beforehand, Paul and I had created 
designated candidate-preference gathering areas so there wouldn't be a free-for-all in claiming parts of the room, we'd printed multiple copies of the rules and agenda — though as it turned out, not enough — and put out cookies, coffee and water. It would be a long night.

There are rules about how much candidate signage can be displayed per candidate, and campaigning by candidates, staffers, volunteers and all other non-participants is permitted only outside the premises. The press and other interested parties are allowed to observe inside during the process, but must be cordoned off to prevent interference. They can not participate in any way unless they happen to actually be registered to vote in that precinct — so FYI: the scene in The Good Wife where Alicia and the kids are inside a precinct caucus in Iowa trying to persuade participants to rally for Peter is completely bogus! 

Meanwhile, the clock is running. Letters from officials have to be read, delegates elected, counts made, forms filled out properly, signed and witnessed. 
Results must be called into a special number set up for the purpose using a secret security pass code by a designated bewitching hour so that reporting can be timely. 

Because so much is riding on the outcome of our first-in-the-nation caucus, strict procedures are in place to prevent tampering or rigging including having the result call-in witnessed by caucus attendees. All the documents are then placed (and again witnessed) into sealed and double-sealed envelopes, and something around a two-day window is allotted to get the physical results to the county chairs and from there to the Secretary of State

Since our precinct is located at most just a 20-minute drive from the special SOS receiving station set up for the night, we always drove there and handed our documents over in person immediately.  

From prep to bed, it was like running 16-hour marathon, grueling, utterly exhausting, and I freely admit that I am thrilled, overjoyed, delighted, ecstatic, pleased as punch, in seventh heaven, on cloud nine, giddy — well, you get the idea — to not being doing it again!! 

I'm glad I had the experience, and in retrospect, I'm rather proud of myself for caring enough and being brave enough to step into the ring and wrestle this beast of a process down to the ground, but this time around it's someone else's turn. I will enjoy being just a participant.

I said all that to say this: below, according to the New York Post, are the latest polls in Iowa

I can tell you one thing for sure from experiencing it; Bernie Sanders has a heck of a volunteer army here. Someone from his campaign calls Paul or me about every other day, and last night one of his volunteers door-knocked in no-degree weather to make sure we were caucusing. He has so many volunteers, they're almost tripping over each other.

Trump and Sanders hold big leads in Iowa polls

By Geoff Earle 

January 21, 2016

WASHINGTON – Donald Trump is thumping Ted Cruz by double digits in a new Iowa poll, while Bernie Sanders has grabbed a significant lead from Hillary Clinton among Democrats likely to caucus in the state.

Trump, who has been neck-and-neck with Cruz in recent Iowa GOP surveys, now leads the Texas senator 37 percent to 26 percent, with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at with 14 percent, according to a CNN/ORC poll released Thursday.

Republican Ben Carson dropped to just 6 percent.

Sanders cracked a majority in the poll, leading Clinton 51 percent to 43 percent in the Democratic primary – presenting Team Clinton with a unsettling rerun scenario of 2008, when she ended up a disappointing third in Iowa.

A month ago, Clinton was running away from Sanders, beating him 54 percent to 36 percent in the state.

A series of recent Iowa polls have had the Republican race closer than the newest survey — including the Des Moines Register, which showed Cruz narrowly edging Trump 25 to 22 percent in a poll issued Jan. 13.

To win, Trump will need to turn out people who haven’t showed up to caucus in the past.


  1. Wow, so much more complex than just going in and voting in the primary. I went to one caucus when we lived in Minnesota and wowza! I spoke in favor of the ERA and got shot down by anti abortion people. After that I never went again, instead volunteering for Geraldine Ferraro and Walter Mondale in their offices. Good for you for taking all that on. It would be fascinating to read up on how the process came to be.

    1. Oh, good story, Liz! Reminds me of my first caucus! I went with a pro-reproductive choice resolution to present — which I did. I had no idea that I lived in a VERY Democratic, but Catholic, precinct. Oh my, I thought people were going to come to blows (not me, but those proponents of each side). In the end, my resolution prevailed, and some reporter from maybe the NYT (or some other really big paper) wanted to interview me. I declined. In retrospect, I'm kind of sorry I said no.

  2. Oh wow - that had to be very exciting - wish I'd been there. Yes, when I went to the Minnesota one, I was pretty young, not 25 yet and still an idealist. I expected that since it was a liberal state, it would be accepted, not realizing that on the edge of The Cities, I was in a rural area where they tended to be pretty red and were not supportive or even civil. Good experience though. Yes! I wish you HAD having those folks an interview. Go Kelly. PS - thanks for the link to this. Perhaps the messages go to one of my gmail accounts and I rarely check them.