Monday, January 07, 2008


Grassroots with a Vengeance.

In 2005, when my wife first suggested moving from Los Angeles to Iowa so she could attend law school, I was skeptical for several reasons—but she reminded me that we’d have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play a role in the Iowa Caucuses. And so we have.

I wound up being a precinct captain for John Edwards in Iowa City, and—without going into details about the Edwards campaign, since I’ve promised not to—here are a few observations about the caucus process:

On-the-ground organization is everything; media counted for little. My counterpart in the Barack Obama campaign benefited from the Illinois senator’s swelling popularity here, but she also by several reports simply out-hustled the other campaigns. The Obama campaign in my precinct not only had red t-shirts, private-label cupcakes, sign-waving volunteers and a visible organizational structure, it offered staffed daycare complete with toys while the caucus process took place. This put even the well-organized Clinton campaign, not to mention my own paltry efforts, to shame. My wife also observed that the Obama campaign signs actually de-emphasized the candidate’s name (!) in favor of themes like “Hope” and “Unity.”

People can be won over at the last moment. I and fellow Edwards volunteers increased the number of votes we had by nearly 50 percent between the first and second rounds of caucusing, as fans of Sens. Dodd and Biden, Gov. Richardson, and Congressman Kucinich realized their candidates would not be viable.

But not everyone. By report, several Richardson voters walked out of the caucus rather than throw their weight behind another candidate. Contrast this with the reasonableness of Kucinich supporters, who generally shifted their votes to Edwards or Obama.

Digging in pays off. An audible, prolonged gasp swept the room when Sen. Clinton’s representative announced that she didn’t have enough votes to be viable. That wasn’t the case for long, as the Clinton team doggedly worked the room and easily came up with enough additional votes for viability. Even though Clinton won just a single delegate in my precinct (there were eight up for grabs), her team’s fast work impressed me.

Political debate thrives at the grass roots. Of course it’s easy to say this in politically saturated Iowa, but I was impressed by the thoughtfulness of practically everyone I encountered, and the respect accorded to every candidate’s representatives as they sought votes from a crowd that numbered 541.

1 comment:

Amish Trivedi said...

1. We rocked.

2. The Richardson folks were pretty rough!

3. So much fun! Almost worth finding a way to remain living in Iowa just to keep at it, eh?

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