WARNING: Huge mother of a post ahead!
For those of you who don’t already know, I hail from the state of Iowa. Many things make Iowa great, like pulled pork sandwiches and corn. Another thing? The Iowa Caucus. It’s the first caucus for the presidential election, which means we get quite the attention. That’s right, the state smack dab in the middle of the media fly over zone finally gets a day in the sun.
Or should I say months? From about October on we get pummeled with a storm of mail, phone calls and visits. The newspaper coverage is crazy, too. I’ve got to say it’s equal parts cool and annoying. What makes it especially difficult -- I mean fun
-- for my husband and I is that we’re swing voters, which means we don’t hold allegiance to any party. That
makes us wild cards open to any and all candidates.
But wait! How can I report on a Republican caucus when I’m not a ‘tried and true’ Republican? Well…
In Iowa, you must be a registered member of the Republican or Democrat party to take part in the
caucus. However, you can change that night. So if you are an Independent, you can switch to the more competitive caucus to increase the chances you like both candidates on the ticket (or at least one candidate you like). The history of our party affiliations is public record, and the candidates’ campaigns look at it. They know we’re ripe for the picking and they want our fruit.
Okay, lesson’s over. Want to know what it’s like to live through the Iowa Caucus? Well, you’re about to find out. If you’re interested, read on. If not, go pick
your nose and, don’t worry, next week I’ll go back to being silly. But for now, it’s caucus time!
Here’s what I did:
I kept every piece of political mail received during the last week and tallied who sent what.
I chronicled every political phone call I received during the week prior to the Iowa Caucus.
I went to three -- count them, THREE political
rallies-- the day before the caucus and took pictures, and…
I went to my precinct’s caucus.
(Side note: I took a lot of photos. After you read the post, if you’re hungry for more, click here.)
LET'S START WITH THE MAIL.
The green flecks on carpet are pine needles.
Here’s a photo of every political piece of mail we got from December 23rd to January 2nd, 2012.
pieces from the Michelle Bachman campaign0
pieces from the John Huntsman campaign0
pieces from the Rick Santorum campaign0
pieces from the Newt Gingrich campaign4
pieces from the Mitt Romney campaign5
pieces from Ron Paul campaign 6
pieces from Rick Perry campaign As well as… 3
pieces from Strong America Now Super Pac -- which say positive things about Newt Gingrich and negative things about Mitt Romney. Interesting… and 7
pieces from Restore Our Future, Inc. -- which say positive things about Mitt Romney and negative things about Newt Gingrich. Also interesting…
To round things out, we get 1 piece from AARP encouraging us to vote for retirement security. We're not getting any younger, you know.NOW LET'S GO TO THE PHONE CALLS!
By far, the most irritating part of the process. In year's past, I wouldn't even pick up the phone. This time I did and it really sucked. See what I do for you people?
I received a total of 41 calls. Here's the breakdown:0
calls from the Michelle Bachman campaign0
calls from the John Huntsman campaign3
calls from the Rick Santorum campaign4
calls from the Ron Paul campaign4
calls from the Rick Perry campaign7
calls from the Newt Gingrich campaign14
calls from the Mitt Romney campaign
calls from miscellaneous campaigns/curious folks.
The kicker? Only ONE
negative phone call. Kudos to the candidates for keeping it positive. I liked
that. (For a mind-numbing blow by blow of every phone call, click here. I dare you. Seriously, it's horrible.)
IT'S TIME FOR MY FAVORITE PART -- THE RALLIES!!
Like I said, I decided to attend rallies of the three candidates who happened to be in Davenport, Iowa on Monday, January 2nd, the day before the caucus. There were three: Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Newt Gringrich. Here are the details of each:
Mitt Romney rally: 8:15 a.m., Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds Starlite Ballroom, Davenport, Iowa.
Closet proximity to candidate -- shook his hand!
That’s right. I got up at 6:30 a.m. on a day I didn’t have to just for you guys. Feel special? You should. Rick and I arrive at 7:45 a.m. and are greeted at the door by sharply dressed man handing out Mitt stickers and offering us yard signs to take when we leave. He also invites us to sit on the rafters behind Mitt’s speaking platform. We can get on national TV! I’m all for it, but Rick’s not into it, so we mark our territory about eight feet in front of Mitt’s platform.
Standing room only. I count about nine cameramen on risers positioned along the side and back of the room. There’s also a sectioned off area with two tables lined with laptop computers and reporters behind them. Someone next to us is being interviewed by a newspaper reporter about their thoughts/feelings on the caucuses. Rick spots a cub scout leader he knows, as well as someone from work. I don’t know a soul. Waiting…waiting…Take some pictures. There’s about 300 or so of us there,
mostly older men. We chuckle as any family with young kids are ushered to the risers behind Mitt’s platform. If you want your spot on national TV to be
guaranteed, bring munchkins! I decide to camp by the door where Mitt will enter and right at 8:15 a.m. I get a shot of him arriving.
Mitt moves so fast, he's almost a blur!
He’s dressed in jeans and a button down shirt. Not what I expected. Then I go back to Rick and we listen as the speeches begin. First we hear from the local Iowa rep. Then Senator John Thune from South Dakota speaks for a few minutes before handing the mic to Mitt. Mitt introduces his posse -- his wife, his brother and sister-in-law and three of his five sons. (Handsome guys, I must say. His son, Josh, could be mistaken for a Cullen.) His wife, Ann, speaks for a few minutes and then Mitt speaks. He doesn’t speak to long, fifteen minutes or so, cracking jokes along the way -- funny ones, not lame. He seems very at ease, but earnest.
Afterwards, he starts shaking people’s hands. It takes some finagling, but I manage to work my way in there and grab his palm which, frankly, is a little rough. The person right in front of me is hysterical. “Good for you for adding a little spice to that speech so people know you’re a real person!” she tells Mitt. He seems genuinely amused at that remark. Rick, the smarter one of the two of us, decides to hold off on elbowing his way through the crowd and, instead, positions himself right along Mitt’s exit path. Here’s a shot of him shaking his hand.
Rick shaking Mitt's hand.
We also shake Senator Thune’s hand and get a special ‘thanks for being here’ from Mitt’s brother, Scott. I take the opportunity to ask Mitt’s son, Tagg, (who is so laid back and personable it bowls me over) how Mitt feels about Saturday Night Live’s portrayal of him. Tagg says, “He thinks it’s hilarious!” then goes on to tell me that Mitt’s too busy to watch it live, but that they downloads the SNL clips onto their iPads and show him and he always busts out laughing.
We leave all smiles. That was actually kind of fun. Why did I wait so many years to do something like this?
Ron Paul, 1 p.m., Steeple Gate Inn, Davenport, Iowa.
Closest proximity to candidate: 40
Rick’s watching football and corralling the kids so I cajole my good friend, Melody, into coming with me. She’s lived in Iowa most of her life and has never been to a speech or rally of any sort. “All I’ve ever done is eat lunch with Laura Bush,” she tells me. I find that wildly funny.
The end of big spending starts at home.
Right in front of us pulling into the parking lot is Ron Paul’s rented white stretch limo that’s been decorated high school homecoming dance-style -- a big difference from Mitt and Newt Gingrich’s super buses. We head inside the hotel and go to a huge conference room. There are more people than Romney’s -- at least 350 -- and less media (6 cameras and no media tables full of computers/reporters. There had to be reporters somewhere, but they weren’t an obvious presence). The attendees are different, too. Again, mostly male, but this time A LOT of young ones. Many look plucked from college. A few of them came in vanloads, but I don’t know where from. It’s a mixed bunch, too. Some look professional, others look like they just came from an Occupy Wallstreet demonstration. If you’re wondering who has the idealistic and disenfranchised vote, I’d say Ron Paul is the guy. We also see our friend, Linda, there and make a point to talk to her later.
The whole feeling in the room is edgier, harder to contain. During the speeches, people whoop from the crowd. Man, there are some hard core folks. It’s obvious Ron Paul has some loyal, enthusiastic fans.
Right on time, Ron Paul is ushered in from a side door wearing a red and blue tie coupled with a blue blazer that, frankly, could have fit his body better but fits his persona just fine. Ron isn’t slick. He doesn’t look it and that’s part of his appeal.
Rand speaks as Paul looks on.
There’s no real meet and greet time for anyone save a few folks at the front. His son, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky speaks first. He’s smooth but warm, The crowd responds well to him as he spouts hard facts, as well as funny stories about how badly Washington, D.C.is broken. Ron Paul speaks next and sounds surprisingly sane given the media picture that’s been painted of him. He seems very genuine, too, with little political polish. I can immediately understand the appeal this guy has for people who are sick of the current political situation as well as politics, in general. This guy exudes anti-status quo.
At the end of his speech, Paul is ushered out the way he came in, with just a little time for people up front. We stop by a table on the way out and pick up some ‘Ron Paul Family Cookbooks’ filled with recipes like Oreo Cake and Mama’s Peanut Butter Cookies. All together, a much different experience than this morning. The crowd was edgier, the mood harder to contain. During the speeches, whoops from the crowd could be heard. Ron Paul has some loyal, enthusiastic fans. All in all, I don’t feel like I’ve just seen a candidate, but got a first hand look and a political movement.
9 p.m. Blackhawk Hotel Bowl & Martini Bar, Davenport, Iowa.
Closest proximity to candidate: shook his hand!
This is by far the most fun location of the three. A dimly lit and very chi-chi martini bar with ultra cool bowling lanes? I’m coming back to this place to hang out later on. The place rocks.
Rick and I arrive twenty minutes early and order drinks from the waitress. There’s only about 100 people here, no surprise because it’s late on a school night…as well as a football night, Rick reminds me. The people there are evenly mixed among women/men, young and old. Overall, a good cross-section of Iowans. We take a seat and talk to a couple of guys by us. One guy is here just there to check Newt out. The other is a roving cameraman who makes his living selling video footage of the candidates.
Right at 9 p.m. (everyone's been on time today!)Newt arrives and talks less than five minutes. This event is more of a casual meet and greet, which suits Rick and me just fine. I’m sure it fits Newt fine, too, since he was at a rally earlier in the day at his Daveenport campaign headquarters and just finished back-to-back interviews on national TV. A laid back Newt jokes about the event location, saying it’s an inspired choice, then says he’s happy to stick around, mingle and pose for photos with his wife. We all line up.
That's us with Newt, trying not to squint.
In line Rick buys me a silly button that says, ‘Hot chicks vote Republican.’ Right
before we take our picture with Newt, one of his people jokingly, but seriously, asks me to take it off in and effort to “preserve the dignity of the office.” I oblige. When it’s our turn in the spotlight -- or should I say spotlights. There were two or three of them -- we hand our camera to one of Newt’s assistants, who hands it to another assistant as we are guided to Newt and his wife, Callista. They both shake our hands, thank us for coming and then pose with us for a photo. From there, we leave -- in an out in forty minutes! It was a fun, quick diversion for the night.
AND NOW FOR THE BIGGIE: THE CAUCUS
Precinct 31 meeting, the Tanglewood
Pavillion. Doors close at 7 p.m.
(Note: I'm writing this very fast, so there might be a typo or two.)
At 6:30 p.m. Rick announces with a grin, “Let’s go screw up America!” The two of us hop into the car, arriving five minutes later to a loaded parking lot. We create a parking space (none of the real ones are left) and walk into the door.
Dan greets us -- he’s the brother of my good friend, Rita -- and ushers us through the main door. We encounter a very long check in line and head toward the back of it. I see I bunch of folks I know, all in all,
about ten percent of the people there. About fifteen minutes later our names are checked off and we sit down with friends.
A long line. Hope I get a seat!
All in all there’s about 250 people there, filling nearly all of the chairs. Jim, a man many of us know, offers to chair the night unless anyone else really wants the job. No one does, so he proceeds, asking everyone to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. After we do, he pulls out a hat filled with paper numbers. The five people who want to speak on behalf of their candidate have to draw numbers to see who goes first.
Each is given five minutes to talk about their candidate. Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are represented. Two of the folks are neighbors of mine. Two other are people from precinct who I don’t. The final guy, a young father and passionate Rick Perry supporter, is a Texan who drove 16 hours to be there. All of them get polite applause after they finish speaking.
Once they're done, we’re asked to fill out out the ballots they handed out at the registration desk. We do and place our folded ballots in bowls. Then Jim asks for volunteers to count and three people’s hands go up. They all head to the back of the room and start counting.
While they count, there’s other business to attend to. Most people don’t stick around. But we do and, first up, we pick a precinct committee chair. It’s easy because on one person wants the job. He’s a young, earnest man with a toddler in his arms who keeps grabbing for his microphone. Next up, Jim asks for volunteers to be county delegates. They need ten, but only three volunteer. That’s always happens whenever I got to a caucus,
Next up, the floor is open for anyone to offer resolution ideas to add to our core party platform. They’ll be sent up to the county and, hopefully, go upward and onward from there. A gentleman goes to the front of the room and offers up two ideas. The first one, a resolution for the U.S. congress to pass a balanced budget amendment, gets a lot of discussion. Many people agree we need to balance the budget, but an amendment? People aren’t sure. It goes down to a paper vote and gets voted down 46 to 42 votes.
The second idea is more accepted. It’s about term limits. A resolution passes saying congressmen should only be allowed to serve four terms and senators should only serve two. It passes with a strong majority.
By then the votes for the republicannominee have been tabulated. The numbers go as follows:
2 votes for Bachmann
6 for Hunstman
17 for Perry
37 for Paul
49 for Gingrich
59 for Santorum
87 for Romney
Afterward the results are announced, we head for the exit. A few of us go out for a celebratory rootbeer. Then we head home to watch the results on TV. I've got to go now, I want to see how the rest of Iowa voted.
So there you have it! I hope you enjoyed this little peek into the Iowa Caucus experience. It was fun, but I’m glad it’s over.
On to New Hampshire!