I returned from knocking on doors in Iowa to a barrage of negative feelings about caucuses and whether Iowa even deserves to be first in the nation. Well, I think we should have a caucus and that Iowa should be first. Caring about Iowa and reaching every voter shows a candidate that will truly care about every American. Making sure that it is door-to-door retail politics and not a barrage of advertising, as it will be before Super Tuesday, when 13 states vote in a primary, that determines who wins the first state in the nation, is important.
I learned to care about Iowa, where I knocked on everything from typical suburban homes, to less than perfect homes in downtown Cedar Rapids, to shelters and drug rehab centers. The first obvious thing is that a lot of people are hurting, or struggling, and their lives can be improved. They may not believe that who is president has any effect on their future, but I tried to assure them that it does, especially because the issues all the Democratic campaigns in Iowa were talking about were healthcare, student debt, raising wages, college tuition, childcare, a women’s right to choose, and equal pay for equal work. These are all pocketbook or kitchen table issues.
I have worked all day at my precinct in Virginia and it would take me all day to see the number of neighbors I saw in a caucus in Iowa. At a primary people are pressed for time, want to march in and march out and do not want to be swayed by a campaign worker. At a caucus that is kind of the whole point, and only members of that precinct, and not outside campaign workers, can make arguments for their chosen candidate. This is a test of enthusiasm (which Democrats badly need) or a way to take the temperature of the room. Many voters are now making their choice long before Election Day, when the dynamic could be very different from when they voted.
The Iowa process tests exactly what every campaign needs to convince voters of: viability. They do this first by showing their ground game, how many volunteers, phone calls, door knocks, etc., they can make. Next, they need a strategy. Buttigieg’s campaign obviously had a strategy, although not entirely visible, that was very successful, involving rural precincts and a bump after the first alignment.
Sanders won the enthusiasm with the largest rallies, like the one I went to in Cedar Rapids with 3,000 people and the largest number of popular votes. So a caucus is a way to take more than one measurement. We know when November comes there can be a difference between delegate counts and number of votes. So you learn things in Iowa that you need in a presidential campaign.
One new feature of the Iowa caucus’ were satellite caucuses and Sanders did exceptionally well with this demographic, sweeping some of the 87 Caucus sites, 60 of which were in Iowa. In a primary system there would be no opportunity to get in a room with your Muslim brothers and sisters or your Spanish speaking friends, family and neighbors and discuss who you support and then cast your vote.
I had driven with 20 friends from Virginia to knock on doors in Iowa and we came back with great stories and having met great people who believe in democracy. This is what a caucus looks like, and as I have chanted at many a march in Washington, this is also what democracy looks like.