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.
0 pieces from the Michelle Bachman campaign
0 pieces from the John Huntsman campaign
0 pieces from the Rick Santorum campaign
0 pieces from the Newt Gingrich campaign
4 pieces from the Mitt Romney campaign
5 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…
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 campaign
0 calls from the John Huntsman campaign
3 calls from the Rick Santorum campaign
4 calls from the Ron Paul campaign
4 calls from the Rick Perry campaign
7 calls from the Newt Gingrich campaign
14 calls from the Mitt Romney campaign
and 9 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:
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.
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.
We leave all smiles. That was actually kind of fun. Why did I wait so many years to do something like this?
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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,
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!