Weathering the Caucuses: For Voters And Candidates, the Outlook Is Variable
Monday, December 31, 2007
There are few better places to witness the messiness of democracy than at the Iowa caucuses. After months of campaign stops and ad wars, after millions of dollars spent, Thursday night will come down to the tiniest of details:
A plate of cookies.
The state of the sky.
A guy named Terrence.
This is democracy by inches. It's not easy, like pulling a lever or pressing a button; it's messy, because it's public and because it varies from precinct to precinct and because every little thing matters.
The weather can make a difference. A single person can make a difference -- and not in that corny way politicians talk about, but for real, because of how the caucuses work. They have complicated rules and complicated math and a period of haggling during which folks try to persuade other folks to support their candidate. It's fluid. It's a process.
It can seem less like presidential selection and more like "The Price Is Right." At the caucuses four years ago, John Edwards supporter Terrence Neuzil told a neighbor who was undecided: "If you vote for Senator Edwards, you can borrow anything out of my garage."
And so it was.
"And I will tell you this," Neuzil says. "He moved and took my grass spreader with him."
Iowa: where the rootiest of grass-roots politics takes place, where men are men and presidential candidates are easy, where a candidate (Barack Obama) is actually pleased to earn the endorsement of a woman whose life mission is to sculpt life-size cows out of butter. Should any one state get all the candidate love that Iowa gets?
If Iowa deserves it -- and really, who is equipped to answer such an existential question? -- it's because its citizens care about presidential politics. More precisely, a small number of Iowans really, really care, enough to show up at a prescribed time and stay put for an hour or more. Enough to publicly declare during the caucus which candidate they support and maybe even try to sway their neighbors. Caucusing is not easy. Iowans earn it.