Insider’s Perspective: The 2008 Democratic Iowa Caucus

Political pundits are promising the 2008 presidential race will be one for the record books, and kicking off the official delegate-winning activities was the state of Iowa, home of the year’s first caucus.

Iowa’s Republican caucus uses a straw poll, and therefore resembles the primary system used by a number of other states. But Iowa’s Democratic caucus is a literal scramble for delegates that takes place in dozens of school auditoriums and similar venues throughout the state on the chosen night in January. Supporters of each candidate gather together and try to persuade other participants to join them. Candidates with too few supporters become “non-viable,” and their supporters may choose to join another camp — after being vigorously wooed, of course.

Carolyn Cole, VP of corporate communications at The VGM Group in Waterloo, Iowa, was a Democratic caucus participant in a year with record turnout. Her caucus night reflections:

• Participation was extraordinary: “Black Hawk County’s suffered from massive disorganization. Organizers claim they expected the same numbers they had in 2004. Didn’t it occur to anyone that the media hype alone would drive voters out in record numbers? Iowans don’t care about cold temperatures in January — it’s supposed to be cold then.”
• The start was civilized: “I attended a Democratic caucus at a school near my home. I went an hour early to change my voter registration so I could participate. Ward 2-Precinct 6 voters were crammed into a science classroom. Thank God there was a school district employee there, who opened up the empty school auditorium so all 202 of us could go there. It was not a particularly boisterous crowd. There were some old hands who’d obviously been caucusing for years. I sat next to a woman who had never attended before. The last time I caucused was 20 years ago — for the other party. Boxes of cookies and crackers were passed back and forth.”
• Then things heated up: “People were anxious to get down to business. I was one of the three supporters of Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, so I became non-viable in a nanosecond. Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Bill Richardson were also immediately non-viable. All three groups of supporters were courted heavily by the viable candidates’ spokespeople. It became almost humorous listening to their pitches. Within a few minutes, everyone had joined the (Barack) Obama, (John) Edwards and (Hillary) Clinton camps. I was part of Hillary’s group.
“The final tally was Obama, 83 and 3 delegates to the state convention; Edwards, 72, 2 delegates; and Hillary, 47 and 1. Do not ask me how to do the math. It is complex and esoteric and Democratic with a capital D.”
• What she learned: “You can never predict what Iowans will do. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend or how many annoying robo-calls your campaign makes. Before the event, I (said) it was too close to call. I was amazed at the outcome. I never thought Hillary would finish third. I never guessed that Obama would be first. (Mike) Huckabee’s victory was less surprising; his star was rising right before the caucuses.
“Of course, I will go caucus again. I’m a strong believer that those who don’t exercise their right to vote often get what they deserve.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2008 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Carolyn Cole, VP of corporate communications at The VGM Group

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