Thursday, January 03, 2008

Iowa Caucus: We, the People...

"We, the people, in order to form a more perfect union..." Our country was founded by people who gathered together, bringing with them their experience and foresight, to build our nation into what we are today. The Iowa Caucus continues that vision of gathering for the future tonight, as people around the state come together in small meeting halls and living rooms, bringing their experience and foresight, to show their views of the best people to build our nation into the future.

Many people wonder why all the fuss about the Iowa Caucus? Well, let me tell you why so many presidential candidates are willing to stomp through this midwestern state right in the middle of the coldest months.

The Iowa Caucus is unique in its approach to selecting a presidential candidate worthy to hold the office of President of the United States. As in any primary or caucus, each person eligible to vote in the presidential election can caucus for their preferred candidate. Okay, so the other primaries and caucuses are pretty much the same in that regard.

Unlike most primaries, the Iowa Caucus is not like voting. There are no government officials overseeing the process, and there are no voting machines employed. Each political party is responsible for their caucus.

So, who decides who can run as a presidential candidate in a party's caucus? Well, as an Iowan you do! If you want to caucus for someone, anyone, you can do that.

"There is no ballot for caucus. So we have no petitions, registrations or fees," according to a spokesperson from the Iowa Republican Party. Basically, on the Republican side, you can caucus for anyone. It is a sort of free-for-all with Republican presidential candidates and the Iowa Caucus. Of course, they would like to get people to caucus for them, but if they only get a few in each precinct, they will still get some sort of showing in the caucus results. This is most likely why Republicans just don't canvass the state campaigning to small localities like the Democratic presidential candidates have been doing for the past year or so.

That's because the Democratic side of the Iowa Caucus is a bit more complex. Anyone can get Iowa delegates for their presidential campaign, according to Chris Allen, press secretary for the Iowa Democratic Party. The catch is that the candidate needs to get enough supporters in the democratic precinct to be viable, which is 15% or more support. The all important distinction of viable candidate happens at each precinct in the Iowa Democratic Caucus. It is up to the Democratic people of Iowa to say if a presidential candidate is viable. And the viability distinction is vitally important to a presidential campaign, as only viable candidates get results in the Iowa Democratic Caucus. This is why all the ground work campaigning is needed in Iowa. Presidential candidates are vying to be viable in Iowa, and the way to do that is to get caucus supporters.

Luckily, the state of Iowa is one of the best places in the country to campaign. With it's uniform grid of counties and highways that criscross each other in linear simplicity on mostly flat topography, navigating the state is easy. Iowa's rural population is one of the largest and most evenly distributed in the country. Iowa holds on to its traditions, and the Iowa Caucus is one of those traditions of people gathering to make key decisions for our future. The caucus is a reflection of Iowa's value of education.

The ground work and grassroots campaigning is critical, not only to make a candidate viable, but it is also effective in gaining momentum for a presidential campaign. Campaigning around the state of Iowa, presidential candidates can educate Iowans on their political stance on a variety of ideals, from domestic issues to international relations. As a state that prizes education, Iowans do not take their role in the presidential race lightly, and many choose to see all the candidates as they venture through their communities. As citizens in communities across Iowa band together in alliance with their personal views of what they value for the future of our nation, they look to find the presidential candidate that best reflect the way to attain that vision for the future. Once there is a group of people willing to caucus for a candidate, that momentum can continue into caucus night.

Caucus night is a fascinating experience in Iowa. The Iowa Caucus shows the passion of our people as we gather together on caucus night. During the night, presidential candidate supporters get a chance to speak for their candidate at the caucus. It is a time for caucus participants to hear the concerns of their neighbors and learn more about the political policies that affect the heart of their community.

The Republican process allows for more anonymity, according to past Iowa Republican Caucus participants. During caucus night, Republican caucus-goers will support their presidential candidate by putting that candidate's name on a slip of paper and placing that piece of paper into a hat. Pretty easy.

The Democratic process for caucus participants is a bit different. After comments are made for the presidential candidates, the precinct's participants then split up to areas of the room designated for each presidential candidate represented in the precinct. Neighbors often encourage undecided people to join their group at this time. Precinct officials then count how many people are standing for each presidential candidate and calculate if a candidate has enough supporters to be deemed viable. That viability threshold is 15% of the precinct's participants.

For example, the fictitious Soda Bar precinct in northwest Iowa has gathered 43 participants on caucus night. Five participants each speak about the presidential candidate they support: Stephen Colbert, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, and Jon Stewart. Once the speeches are over, participants gather to support their candidate. Colbert has 12 supporters in his corner, Leno has 10, Letterman 3, O'Brien 6, and Stewart 8. There are three participants undecided, and one supporting Carson Daly. Colbert (28%), Leno (23%), and Stewart (19%) are viable candidates. The Letterman camp persuades three to join their side and one goes to O'Brien. O'Brien becomes a viable candidate with 7 supporters (16%). Letterman, with six supporters, still is not viable with only 14% of the precinct participant's support. Those six Letterman supporters can either go to a viable candidate's camp, or end their participation in the caucus. Of course, the other candidate's camps encourage the six to join them. One Letterman supporter decides not to support another candidate. All five believe comedy is king, with two deciding to join the Colbert powerhouse to give him 14 supporters and 33% of the precinct, and three going with Stewart camp giving him 11 supporters and 26% of the precinct.

The results of the Soda Bar Caucus show Colbert (14) with 33% of the precinct, Stewart (11) with 26%, Leno (10) with 23%, and O'Brien (7) with 16%. Daly and Letterman are not viable candidates in this fictitious caucus.

You can see how the results change somewhat dramatically from the beginning of the Democratic caucus to the end. Even a previously unviable candidate can become viable during the Iowa Democratic Caucus if they have enough persuasion to get undecided and other supporters of unviable candidates to come over to their camp. This is precisely why it is so vitally important for presidential candidates to educate caucus-goers in Iowa, because on caucus night results rest not on the candidates themselves, but on their supporters who advocate for them on caucus night. Results of the Iowa Caucus is about the people.

Sure, there is media that can put a spin on the presidential pickings for primaries and caucuses held across the nation. Media cannot spin the fact that no other presidential caucus or primary in the United States compares to the Iowa Caucus. The nature of the Iowa Caucus is all about the people, not the candidates. Unlike other primaries or caucuses, no committee decides who can be a presidential candidate, and there are no fees for the candidates to run in the Iowa Caucus. It is up to the people of Iowa to decide who they believe is a worthy presidential candidate to caucus for on January 3rd.

No other political process in the country gives a greater proving ground for candidates like the Iowa Caucus. In other presidential picking processes in the country, candidates just need your vote. That can be done easily through advertisements and media coverage. In Iowa, not only do candidates need your vote, but they need you to know them as a candidate and where they stand on issues important to you, so you can caucus for them and convince others to support them on caucus night. Presidential candidates in Iowa are much more than a pretty face on TV, responses in a debate, or a few sound bites on the news. Presidential candidates in Iowa must prove they are the country's catalyst for a better future.

The results show how a gathering of educated, well-informed people in a small, midwestern state hold such a large stake in choosing the next President of the United States. In Iowa, the caucus is about people. The Iowa Caucus: We, the People...