Inside a caucus: Iowa 2008
Revealing look at an Iowa caucus: Is this democracy in action?
Inside the caucus: Iowa 2008
MATTHEW PALEVSKY, JOURNALIST, TRNN: I’m in Des Moines, Iowa, at Brody High School, the site of the 67th precinct for caucusing. We’re in the Democratic caucus, and around the room are different groups representing the supporters for each democratic candidate. In the first phase, at some point, someone’s going to come around and count the supporters in each group representing each candidate, and those who don’t have 15 percent of the vote in this room will then be asked to disperse and find their second-choice candidate. But before the caucus begins, the secretary is going to go around and count each person in the room so that everybody understands how many supporters a candidate needs in order to be viable in the first round.
The number of people in precinct 67 are counted.
As soon as this counting is over, this room will likely erupt in noise as people try to convince undecided voters and supporters of seemingly non-viable candidates to come support their candidate.
PARTICIPANT 1: I’m caucusing for Chris Dodd.
PALEVSKY: And what happens if he doesn’t get 15 percent of the vote?
PARTICIPANT 1: Then I’ll go to Biden.
PALEVSKY: And what if he doesn’t get 15 percent of the vote?
PARTICIPANT 1: Then I’ll go to Richardson.
VOICE OF PARTICIPANT 2 (OFF-CAMERA): There are only three people who are for Kucinich. And I’m not allowed to vote in this state.
PALEVSKY: Both Richardson and Edwards are down. Also Dodd doesn’t have enough. And so each candidate’s group is going to the smaller circles, especially the Dodd circle, which doesn’t have nearly enough to be viable, to try and get them to come over and make their candidate viable for the elections. How many of you are there, the Dodd supporters?
GROUP 1: Eight.
PALEVSKY: How many did you need?
GROUP 1: Seventy. We’re sixty-two short, which is not bad, really. We can get ’em. We’re optimistic. Right.
PALEVSKY: So you’re going to try and make them up now? You’re going to try and convince people?
GROUP 1: I think that’s probably a long shot. So, yes, we are.
GROUP 2: We need ten. Edwards needs ten. Come on. Richardson.
A large group chants “Obama” loudly.
PARTICIPANT 2: We want him to come and get us.
PALEVSKY: Why is that?
PARTICIPANT 2: If they want us, then they should come and get us.
PARTICIPANT 3: John Edwards needs ten more to be viable.
PARTICPANT 2: Oh.
PARTICIPANT 3: That’s important.
PARTICIPANT 2: That is important. We’ll have to think about it.
PARTICIPANT 3: We need to talk to them. He needs ten more. He has fifty-nine. So he needs ten more to be viable.
PARTICIPANT 2: We might do the swing votes here.
PALEVSKY: So you were going to go to Obama, but are you thinking of going to Edwards now?
PARTICIPANT 2: No, I’ll help Edwards out.
PARTICIPANT 4: Just did a recount on Biden. We were over seventy, and somehow somebody left the room, and we’re at sixty-nine. So we don’t know.
WOMAN’S VOICE (OFF-CAMERA): What happens if we get to seventy?
PARTICIPANT 4: If we get to seventy, then we’re viable, ’cause that’s the 15 percent. I don’t know how we lost a person, because you heard the big uproar when everybody was cheering—we had gone over. So now we don’t know.
WOMAN: So one more vote?
PARTICIPANT 4: We need one more vote.
PALEVSKY: I’m right now in the Biden corner. They were one person short of being viable in this caucus forum, and now every other candidate—Obama, Edwards, and Hillary—each corner is yelling to get their supporters to their corner.
PARTICIPANT 5: When that count was being made, there was an undeclared woman who had also been part of Richardson. She’s a near neighbour of mine. She had been trying to come in to Biden at that moment. The chair said no, you’re not allowed to come in. We’ve finished our timing or whatever it is. The secretary, within two or three minutes after that, vocally told the entire group of Biden supporters on the bleachers, you can go to whoever you want. And I said, wait, how come you can go out but you can’t come in? And after twenty minutes on the call with the Democratic chair, whatever, in the county, they said it is up to the chairman to give more time if somebody makes a motion to do that.
PALEVSKY: Had the Biden people already dispersed?
PARTICIPANT 5: In the meantime everybody was going somewhere else, and in a group like this there’s no way you’re going to get them back.
PRECINCT SECRETARY: Ask the caucus to allow the Biden people, if you choose to, more time to find one more person. If the caucus says yes, then we allow more time.
If the caucus says no, then we go where we’re at. All those in favour, in favour of letting Biden have more time, say aye.
SECRETARY: All those opposed.
PARTICIPANT 6: I feel like I got kicked. We came so close, and we worked so hard. And I really feel that we had enough to be viable. Somehow or the other somebody slipped out, and we didn’t make it. And I feel like we let Joe down.
PALEVSKY: And what does this make you feel about the caucus process?
PARTICIPANT 5: This is absolutely, you know, for a process that I think in principle is much more democratic than what we have nationally, this is closer to Athenian democracy of ancient Greece in process, much more close than what we have typically. This particular day, it has been absolutely trumped by an overzealous secretary.
PALEVSKY: What are you doing to make sure that these Biden people come over to Obama?
PARTICIPANT 7: Every once in awhile I yell “Obama” with the rest of the crowd, and I hope that works.
PARTICIPANT 8: I’m a John Edwards supporter.
PALEVSKY: And what are you doing to make sure that these Biden people come over to John Edwards?
PARTICIPANT 8: People I know, I’m going to talk to each one of them, convince them that John Edwards is the right man for president. We’re going to get him over here.
PALEVSKY: Hillary Clinton supporters?
PARTICIPANT 9: Yeah.
PALEVSKY: What are you doing to make sure the Biden people come over to Hillary?
PARTICIPANT 9: Kidnapping most of them. You know what? A lot of times chloroform, and you knock them out, you can drag them over. By the time they wake up, they don’t know where they’re at.
PALEVSKY: And what’s your particular tactic?
PARTICIPANT 10: Oh, you know, just friends, invite them over, bribes, little things.
PALEVSKY: What kind of bribes?
PARTICIPANT 10: Whatever it takes. Free drinks after. A little dinner.
PALEVSKY: Has it worked yet?
PARTICIPANT 10: You know, a little bit, yeah.
An informal debate.
PARTICIPANT 11: A fresh start, a chance to really have health care for everybody, no matter who you are. When the baby boomers start retiring, they say we’re retiring one every eight seconds.
PARTICIPANT 12: What’s Obama’s approach to health care? Is it government-controlled health care? Is it privately run?
PARTICIPANT 11: It’s a national program.
PARTICIPANT 12: Or is it government-run?
PARTICIPANT 11: No, it’s not government-run.
PARTICIPANT 12: Okay. I just don’t want a government-run—.
PARTICIPANT 11: No, it wasn’t [inaudible]. But what was Hillary’s program that didn’t go through? And she had the insurance companies with her.
PARTICIPANT 13: Obama won’t even say the pledge to the allegiance of the flag. He won’t even raise his hand to America’s—. I got a picture of him. I got a picture of him not raising his hand to the United States of America’s flag. And he wants to be the president of the United States.
PARTICIPANT 11: That’s not true.
PARTICIPANT 13: That is very true, ma’am. I’m sorry.
PARTICIPANT 14: Do me a favour. Give him a valium.
PALEVSKY: Buy anyone drinks after this caucus to get them to come over to Obama or anything like that?
PARTICIPANT 15: No, this is Iowa. We’re pretty honest down here.
PALEVSKY: What about the person who you offered for them to be a delegate for Biden?
PARTICIPANT 15: If you come over. We’ll give you one of the spots for the convention to be a delegate. You can stand for him there. I can guarantee you that.
PARTICIPANT 4: I can stand for Biden?
PARTICIPANT 15: Yup, once you get to the county convention you can do that.
PARTICIPANT 4: Alright.
PARTICIPANT 15: Alright. [inaudible]
PARTICIPANT 4: If I can keep my conviction with him.
PARTICIPANT 15: Yeah, you can.
PARTICIPANT 4: Because your guy is my second choice.
PARTICIPANT 15: Yeah. Alright.
PARTICIPANT 4: Yeah, I can stand up for Joe.
PARTICIPANT 15: Yup. Are you coming with us?
PARTICIPANT 4: Yup.
(OFF CAMERA): If she goes, I go.
PARTICIPANT 15: Okay, come on.
(OFF CAMERA): Are you going to be a delegate for Biden?
PARTICIPANT 4: I sure am.
PALEVSKY: The caucus has ended, and Obama as won by one vote, 173 to Clinton’s 172. Edwards picked up 109 votes. That means that both Clinton and Edwards [sic] will take home four delegates from this caucus, and Edwards will take home two. Caucuses like this one are taking place in over 1700 precincts around Iowa tonight, and they will be held in thirteen states as this primary season continues.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.