My first caucus experience was pretty awesome. Although I might be a little biased, since I'm for Obama and he did extremely well in Iowa. But that aside, it was just really cool to see people "“ especially people my age, who historically have been rather blasÃ© about elections "“ out there caucusing and making themselves heard. I was impressed.
To be honest, going into the caucus, I didn't really know what to expect. What I didn't expect, though, was to go to the wrong caucus location and then have to run across a field of snow in heels. Let me explain. Theodore Roosevelt High School "“ they're called the Rough Riders, which always entertains me "“ is back-to-back with Hubbell Elementary School. Both schools were caucus locations. We thought they were connected so we could walk through Roosevelt and get to Hubbell without walking outside. Wrong. By the time we figured this out, it was about ten minutes to seven. That's when the doors close "“ anyone who hasn't made it inside their caucus location by seven p.m. sharp isn't allowed to caucus. So, we spotted Hubbell across a field of snow from Roosevelt. We decided to make a run for it, despite the fact that I was wearing open-toed heels (which I shouldn't have been wearing because of my swollen toe anyway"¦ I am an idiot) and the snow was a good foot deep.
Anyway, we made it with about two minutes to spare. For those of you unfamiliar with the caucus process, this is how it went "“ at least for the Democrats. Republicans caucus a bit differently. After assembling in the location for your precinct (ours was in the gym), we listened to a speech. The speaker varies from location to location - ours was from Senator Tom Harkin (pictured). Then a representative for each candidate had 60 seconds to make a last-minute pitch for their candidate to convince people who hadn't made up their minds yet.
Then came the real caucusing. Everyone had 10 minutes to assemble in the designated spot in the gym for their candidate. Each candidate was allowed just one campaign sign to mark their area.
Now 10 minutes might sound like a lot of time to assemble, but we had 444 people caucusing, plus observers, plus press all crammed into a relatively small elementary school gym. Maneuvering did take a little time and effort. Oh, and the press wasn't allowed to interact with the caucus-goers until after the caucus. By the way, 444 is significantly higher than the 279 people that showed up from my precinct to caucus four years ago, so yay precinct 49!!
So, with everyone in the spots for their chosen candidates, and with undeclared and independents in the middle of the gym, the counting started. If a candidate didn't have 15 percent of the room (67 people in this case) in their section, he/she was not considered viable. The people in that candidate's corner had to choose another candidate.
Here's what happened in the first round at my precinct. The first part of the first round was kind of unofficial "“ each group counts for themselves and lets the person running the caucus know what their numbers were. The unofficial count was:
Barack Obama - 168 people.
John Edwards - 81 people.
Hillary Clinton - 67 people.
Bill Richardson - 54 people.
Joe Biden - 45 people.
Dennis Kucinich - 12 people.
Chris Dodd - 11 people.
Six people were undecided.
So then everyone had five minutes to convince the undecided people to join them (or to get decided people to switch sides). There was lots of yelling and chanting going on "“ it seriously sounded like a cheerleading competition. I wouldn't have been entirely surprised if caucus-goers had started forming pyramids and doing basket tosses.
After five minutes, the official first count was taken. This was counted out loud for the whole room to hear. The official first round numbers were:
Obama "“ 175
Edwards "“ 87
Clinton "“ 69
Richardson "“ 63
Biden "“ 51
By this point, all of the Dodd and Kucinich folks had switched to another candidate since they knew there was no way their candidate would be counted as viable.
Then there was another five minutes of yelling and convincing and cheerleading. Apparently during this time period, the Richardson people convinced some others to switch to their side, so a quick, unofficial recount was done. Richardson now had 67, Biden now had 42. I guess some people left or were in the bathroom or something, because by my count that's only 440 people.
So, then it was time for the official final count, which was done out loud for the whole room to hear again. The official final count was:
Obama "“ 194
Edwards "“ 97
Clinton "“ 75
Richardson "“ 69
Those ended up being the four viable candidates from our precinct. Richardson was a bit of an anomaly, because he only won two percent of Iowa as a whole "“ that means in most precincts, he wasn't viable at all.
Each candidate gets delegates based on the number of people that caucused for them in that precinct. From ours, Obama got 4.3 delegates, Edwards got 2.1 delegates, Clinton got 1.6 delegates and Richardson got 1.5 delegates. Those delegates then go on to basically caucus again at the county level. The same process will happen and then the delegates from the county caucus will go on to the state caucus. Then the state caucus delegates will go on to the nationals.
So, that's the whole process! We headed to the Obama after party in downtown Des Moines after that. That's where I saw the Obamalac. I had to get a picture of that, of course.
Anyway, despite trudging around in the snow with my broken toe, I had a great time. It was a very educational experience and I just loved seeing people who were so passionate about their candidates and causes.
What do you guys think about the Iowa caucuses? Any New Hampshire-ites gearing up for the caucuses? Michiganers, Floridians?? Let's hear it!