It's not lost on me that my affection of the Iowa caucuses is based on my own zip code. Yes, I'm an Iowa boy and I do appreciate the power that the Hawkeye state receives in this political process. Specifically, I like how the Iowa caucus forces candidates into one-stoplight towns to press the flesh with a bunch of suspicious farmers who privately think the members of the media are a bunch of retards but are too polite to suggest such a notion publicly.
I think it's clear that, should a larger state bully their way ahead of Iowa in 2012, we'll witness the types of shoe leather express campaigns that led to this year's caucus getting traded for a more segmented one. In that regard, just watch the politicians target large population centers and major-market media outlets instead of trying to get support one handshake at a time like they have to here in Iowa.
Yes, I like the idea that sometimes a candidate has to walk through pig shit to try and get to a potential supporter and then has to walk back through it to get to the next one without really knowing if their rhetoric stuck, unlike the pooh on their soles.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the archaic process that is the Iowa caucus, let me spare you the boredom of another explanation and just say that it is the perfect process for our state. I'm speaking from my years of experience in the Democratic party here; the only contact I've had with the way the Republicans conduct their caucus was through a fiscally conservative friend in college who I encouraged to get involved. Afterwards, I asked him how it went and he explained that all he essentially did was write down his candidate of choice and go home.
When I told him about my party's caucus, he seemed genuinely disappointed that he was a registered Republican. While he sat through a fairly uneventful process and had no idea who won until he saw the results later that evening, I aggressively lobbied supporters of candidates that weren't "viable" and got a chance to see, with immediate results, who won my precinct. And immediately following our caucus, we all went down to a neighborhood bar to relish in this process and argue into the wee hours on why we ended up backing our respective candidates.
I knew 2008 would be something different when it became a challenge just finding a parking space at my caucus location, an elementary school in Robins, Iowa (population 2, 435). Entering the school, there was only one person managing the registered voters while four people were managing the influx of first-time voters and independents who wanted to have a say in my party's nomination process.
I then made my way toward the school's cafeteria, where a standing-room-only crowd brought the temperature to a level that belied the winter chill from which I had just escaped moments before. I quickly surveyed the crowd and noticed that there would be three major players that evening: Obama, Clinton, and Edwards while all other candidates were obviously going to struggle to be viable.
It was a bigger clusterfuck than the caucuses that I had previously been a part of and this disorganization initially irritated me. I began to feel a little more empathetic towards the precinct captains after I learned that they originally planned for around 100 to 125 participants that evening. When they finally did manage to conduct an initial count, the total turned out to be 304.
Math skills are important in the Democratic caucus, and the formula that was used on Thursday meant a candidate had to have at least 45 supporters before they would be considered viable. With the supporters of Richardson, Biden, and Dodd posting totals of 18, 17 and 1 respectively, it meant that their supporters would have to find another candidate to back or go home without participating.
As I settled into the Obama section of the cafeteria, I immediately noticed how decisive his lead was over the other candidates. Clinton could have captured every single non-viable candidate and still not managed to take away Obama's lead. And what's more: when the non-viable supporters finally did align themselves with another candidate, the vast majority of them went over to Edwards, thereby overtaking Clinton's second place showing in the process.
The other observation was how Hillary's camp looked like a good representation of Iowa itself, while the Obama supporters tended to look a little more like a good representation of America. Her supporters were almost universally white and older. In fact, every elderly caucus goer that I saw sported some kind of Hillary attire.
Barack's supporters were made up of white, middle-aged males like me, soccer moms (some still dragging along their children to this very un-kid-friendly event), people of color, and a tremendous amount of young participants. I was floored at the number of first-time caucus goers under the age of 21 and how they all had that "deer in the headlights" appearance about them throughout the entire process. They obediently followed the organizers' instructions while stoically standing with Obama, just like their political stickers announced.
There was something else about this caucus that felt different when compared to my other experiences. This was the first time that I really felt an emotional connection at being a part of history. As I drove back to my suburban home to watch the results, I was taken aback by what just transpired: An overwhelmingly Wonder Bread state was going to nominate a black candidate for the president of the United States of America. While I can't speak for anyone else, that kind of possibility makes me incredibly proud to live in this country in which this is even a possibility and I felt even prouder that I was a member of the first state to help him get closer to his goal.
I was also met with a certain amount of sadness that this may be the last time that a small state like Iowa is able to wield the kind of political power that it's held since 1972.
But what a great way to end its run.
Now lets see if the rest of the country can follow suit.