Caucus-Goers Prepare for Early Iowa Caucus

Despite the confusion surrounding when the early voting state of Iowa will have its caucuses, many veteran caucus-goers in Iowa have begun preparation for a likely Jan. 3 or Jan. 5 date.

Bob Dodder, 78, of Iowa, a retired Methodist minister and veteran Democratic Party caucus chair in Council Bluffs, Iowa, has been scouting out locations to recommend to the party for the caucus.

"We're proud of the fact that we're first in the nation and we're proud of the fact that we get to meet our candidates," Dodder said.

Iowa has enjoyed political clout and publicity since 1972, when Democratic caucuses in Iowa surprised the nation with their support of George McGovern and boosted his campaign's momentum.

The only state that doesn't envy Iowa's position is New Hampshire, the site of the nation's first primary.

Arguing Iowa's mostly white population doesn't adequately represent the mosaic of the nation, other states like Florida and Michigan have tried to leapfrog the presidential calendar to bask in some of that early balloting glow.

But Iowa state law mandates it'll be first, even if that means a caucus just days after the Christmas holidays.

Iowans Weigh Candidates 'Eyeball to Eyeball'

Dodder said the Iowa caucus-goers he knows will show up regardless of the date and take their roles as caucus-goers seriously, carefully weighing each candidate who comes through his town of about 60,000 people.

"I've seen all of the candidates two or three times," Dodder said. "Lots of times I'll just go to homes and we'll be sitting around a kitchen table. … You meet them eyeball to eyeball and you get to ask them questions."

Unlike primaries, where machines count the votes, the Iowa caucuses are intimate and dynamic, with caucus-goers clustering in public schools, town halls, church basements and private homes.

Norm Sterzenbach, political director of the Iowa Democratic Party, said because Iowa's complex caucus system dictates that every Democratic candidate reach a viability threshold, Iowans have a great deal of power to persuade their neighbors to support their chosen candidate.

Democratic Party rules state a candidate must have the support of at least 15 percent of the meeting's participants at most of the state's almost 2,000 precincts for a candidate to be considered viable.

Those supporting unpopular candidates are often lobbied to join with neighbors supporting more popular candidates.

"They take their responsibility very seriously because if they're going to go out and spend an hour, two hours or three hours at a caucus supporting their candidate, they want to make sure they've got the right candidate and they know how to convince others to support them," Sterzenbach said.

After everything is hashed out, the percentages are reported to Democratic Party headquarters and winners and losers are declared.

'More Meaningful Role for the Voter'

Rachel Caufield, professor of politics at Drake University, argues the Iowa caucus is the most hands-on democratic process in the nation.

"So many people are disillusioned by money, by media, by meaningless political campaigns where their only role is to spend two minutes in a voting booth pushing a button or pulling a lever," Caufield said.

"A caucus instead really is a community-based process and it's discussion-based so you're part of a bigger political community and in that sense there's a much more meaningful role for the voter," she said.

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