Purple and Proud: An Iowa Caucus Restrospective

Image via iStock Photo/Daniel Deitschel

Ready for the Iowa caucuses?  Interested in what really goes on there?  Guest contributor and Iowan Sonia Walsh wrote about her experience four years ago.  We thought we’d re-post it here for some perspective on the inscrutable process!

I would be quite remiss if I didn’t mention that today is a pretty big day around here. No, not at my house, but in the entire state of Iowa. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that finally tonight is caucus night and after having candidates as a presence here for over a year already, it will finally be the time to register our voices in the political process.

I would also be quite remiss if I didn’t give you my thoughts. I’m not a political blogger, though I may throw out some not quite disguised political leanings from time to time in normal discourse.

My oldest son (the know-it-all middle-schooler) is a Kennedy Democrat. In the last election cycle, he and a classmate oversaw the balloting for their third-grade class for President. He was a staunch John Kerry supporter. (FYI: Kerry did win over Bush in the local 3rd grade results…I know you were on pins and needles wondering.) Anyway, Haste asked me who I was going to vote for, and I had to explain a little bit about the caucus system to him (which is challenging for an adult to grasp, let alone a sixth grader). I asked him who he would vote for if he was old enough.

“I would vote for Obama.”


“Because I think there needs to be a black President. There’s never been one. I think there should be in my lifetime.”

I was impressed that he had that thought-out of an answer. Do his standards have any merit because his reasoning is so base? Hey, I know people have voted for President with less to go on than that.

As for Zach, during the 2006 election, we had a Governor’s race and various congressional races going on.  His response as I headed out the door to go vote was:

“Who are you going to vote for as President?”

“This isn’t the Presidential election year, this is just people around here kind of stuff.”

“Man, when is it going to be someone else’s turn? George Bush’s turn has been long enough!”

Again, I thought Zach, as a then-second-grader during this exchange, had an interesting take. He clearly is a firm believer in term limits.  Or at least in his eight-year-old mind believed that people should be fair and take turns.

Believe it or not, hubby and I talk about politics, but certainly not much in front of the kids (mostly because hubby gets irate about certain things and his inability to edit his swearing kicks in, so it’s better if the kids aren’t around).

Anyway, many of you might be sick to death of hearing about the Iowa caucuses. Hey, me too. Guess what? It’s not our fault. I’m sure many of you would agree that the entire caucus and primary system currently in place is horrifically antiquated. I think it is. Way back in the day, caucuses were designed for members of parties to go about the business of local politics. It was not intended to be an overexposed litmus test for who should be President. However, until the caucus and primary system is done away with entirely, this is what you get.

Also, I have heard every shape and size of grumbling from practically every demographic about “Why Iowa?” My response is, “Why not?”

Consider –

  • We are in the “middle” population-wise and size-wise. And perhaps, more importantly, we’re “purple.” We’re not a lay down red or blue state. There is no easy predictor as to which way Iowans are going to go. You can poll until you’re blue in the face (which some pollsters might be with the below-freezing temps) and you’re not going to have anything solid until all the shouting is over. I like that we’re “purple.” Aside from that being my favorite color, I think it shows a trend of careful thought and an ebb and flow with the times. People here are less likely to vote straight ticket because “that’s how it’s always been done.” Thoughtful consideration with one’s vote is high priority because people respect and understand that, however unfair it may seem that we have such a pivotal role in the political process, it is not taken lightly here. No, we’re not as ethnically diverse as some other states, but nobody’s perfect. I can name a lot of other states that aren’t very ethnically diverse either. All I can say is, when slavery was introduced to American society way back, slave owners didn’t set up in Iowa, we were with the North during the Civil War and, thusly, our population of African-Americans is, using history to explain population trends, smaller than equal-sized Southern states. Contrary to the beliefs of some comments I read from metropolitan types who seem to never leave the city limits of their burg but have the rest of us all figured out, there is not a sign that says, “Welcome to Iowa: Minorities Go Away.”
  • Next, I’m sure you are well aware of the gargantuan cost of campaigning. I myself would love to see some kind of cap on campaign fundraising to level the playing field and make races more about politics than campaign dollars. And yes, I say that realizing that my state benefits from the spending of those fundraised dollars.  But for real, it is so excessive! Anyway, consider if you will the perspective of the “little guy” candidates. If they had to start out their campaigns in the larger key states, can you imagine the money required to pull it off?  Iowa is “doable.” In interviews with candidates across the board I have heard that they like campaigning here and that is one reason.  Logistically, it works. They can visit the entire state. All 99 counties. And they can do it with a more reasonable budget than if they had to start in a “big” state.
  • Are Iowans going to come out to caucus because it’s cold? That’s been the big “idiotic” question of the last several days. Short answer: yes. Um, newsflash NBC, C-SPAN, Fox, and all you others who are over-analyzing everything to death, we are pretty used to this kind of weather. It’s not a shocker to us that it’s a bit chilly in early January. Hey, be happy. If it was 60 degrees you’d all be complaining about global warming. It’s cold. But there’s no blizzard or ice storm coming tonight. The temperatures will not deter a single caucus participant I know of. We bundle up and we go. If it was a blizzard where travel was not recommended, now that would affect the outcome. We’re political animals but we’re not dumb-asses.

If you, like a lot of people, don’t understand the caucus system, the Des Moines Register has an awesome graphic that explains how both parties caucus. It is not an all-day, go into the booth and cast your ballot situation like the general election. No sir. If you are truly interested, check the link. Republicans changed the format as the system became more about Presidential hopefuls testing the waters to reflect a one person, one ballot kind of deal. Democrats have a more lively exchange of ideas and, basically, it’s almost like Red Rover until people have vocalized their support and whittled it down to the selected viable candidates and number of delegates.

As for me and my place in the caucuses, I’m still up in the air. I have some “mom” type responsibilities that may prohibit my attendance. I am going to make every effort to attend but you can’t put any candidate up there on a higher priority than my kids. Not even with my interest in politics.  If cosmic forces align and I can make it on time (you’re late, your keester doesn’t get to vote, PERIOD), I will go.

But I put forth to you a dilemma. I’m a Libertarian. I’m “purple.” But I can go caucus if I get there in time to register with that party, just for the purposes of tonight. If you could be a fly on the wall, which caucus do you think would be more compelling?

I do love the energy of it, but I’ll be glad to heave a sigh of relief when the pressure is off, too. This morning I grabbed groceries after dropping the kids off at school and the café attached to my grocery store was full of farmers, probably 30 of them, and I didn’t have to be within earshot to tell you what they were likely discussing.

I also learned that a small town in my county that boasts a robust population of 2,500 (you city slicker types are supposed to find that funny) has a mixed marriage. The local campaign chair for Obama is a woman, mover and shaker type. Her husband is the local campaign chair for Hillary. This is not unusual in Iowa, I assure you. Heck, my own grandparents are a prime example of strange bedfellows. Grandpa is a very conservative Republican and my grandma is a blue dog Democrat. They have spent over 60 years of marriage respectfully disagreeing with each other.  And I’m sure Iowa will do it again this time.

UPDATE: I attended the Democratic caucus and it was completely fascinating and the results in my precinct mimic the state results. Overwhelming Obama win, Edwards second, Clinton third. There are 238 other people who were there, aside from myself (actually, more like 250 if you count people who had some kiddos in tow). It was loud and energetic and enthusiastic and I’m glad that I went!

Guest contributor Sonia Walsh doesn’t blog anymore, but is definitely going to the Iowa Caucuses again this year, and will keep us posted on what happens at her caucus location this time around!

  • My biggest pet peeve with the caucuses is that Iowa is so totally not representitave of the entire country. And you are correct that a lot of states aren’t but other states are then forced into going around party rules in order to get in the front part of the calendar. Let’s face it: Iowa is a very white, very rural state. How is it fair that 1% of the population (3 million Iowans, 300,000,000 million Americans) gets to pick the nominee? I’m not blaming you as a resident of the state but let’s be real here. Also this is a problem that has to do with both of the major parties and not with the people that live there.

    I just wrote a post on just this thing. And yeah, it makes me crazy: http://vsb.li/wMoqFT

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