asking what you can do for your country: more on caucusing in Iowa
Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 3, 2008
After my parents each sent links to stories featuring their suburb and its citizens, I couldn’t resist checking out the Des Moines Register‘s homepage. The Register is Iowa’s largest newspaper. Its a bit dippy at times, and a bit parochial most of the time (When India and Pakistan were engaging in nuclear brinksmanship several years ago, the Register‘s headlines focused on the catastrophic dangers of methane gas, the unfortunate byproduct of the state’s large bovine population and its digestive woes.).
But its the paper I grew up reading. I love it for its quirks and for its moments of greatness, like today’s editorial:
Tonight, Iowans, it’s up to you.
You have gone to speeches and rallies. You have gathered in your neighbors’ living rooms, coffee shops, high school gymnasiums, union halls and county fairgrounds to meet and hear out the men and woman who want a chance to represent their party in the November presidential election. You have read the news coverage, the brochures and the avalanche of information directed at Iowans on the Internet and television.
Tonight, you must choose. No more “undecided.”
This is an awesome responsibility. It is a more awesome responsibility this year than ever for the Iowa-caucus process, at least since it became something more than just an in-state party event. This year, the stakes are particularly high.
It has been 55 years since the field was as wide open as it is this year, without an incumbent president or vice president of either party in the race. Anybody – anybody – who’s campaigned extensively in Iowa could become president of the United States, and it seems to some Iowans as if just about anybody and everybody is running for the job.
In fact, there are five score or more officially in the race.
After tonight, it’s likely only a half-dozen or so will have credible chances to become president. Yes, a few more will continue to draft behind the front-runners for some time, looking to advance their narrow agenda or to keep their name prominent for a Cabinet appointment or administration position. But tonight, after a campaign that began with enough candidates to fill a commercial jet, the number of people seriously in contention for the presidency of the United States could comfortably fit into a small sedan.
Tonight, Iowa’s role in the nomination process ends. Those of you who attend your precinct caucus will cast your support for one candidate. Although you have been paying attention, much of the rest of the nation has not. It will be paying attention to what happens tonight, however.
In the case of Republicans, it will be a simple process. You will cast a paper ballot, and the numbers will be phoned in to the Iowa Republican headquarters for tallying for a national press corps anxious to alert the nation about which candidates will go on to other states for primaries and caucuses, and which candidates will go home.
In the case of Democrats, the process is more complicated. Caucus-goers literally stand in groups to be counted for their favorite candidate and then re-form into new groups until all groups meet the requisite 15 percent viability test.
When all is said and done, 200,000 or more Iowans will have stood up for their candidate or cast a straw ballot for him. To some, this is a shamefully low turnout in a state of 3 million. It is not. Far from it. The party caucus is not a primary. It is not an election. It is a party function. It is as old as the republic, as American as the town-hall meeting, as close to the Earth as the proverbial grass roots.
The Iowans who show up tonight to caucus for a candidate are a self-selected group of people who have studied the candidates, the issues and the lay of the land. They are passionate about politics, their party and their beliefs. They might be seen as a national political focus group. They will be on hand tonight because they care.
Whether the Iowa caucuses continue to have national significance after tonight is anyone’s guess. But tonight, those 200,000-plus Iowans will make the state proud.