Not Everyone's Moved by the Caucus Spirit

By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 3, 2008

DES MOINES -- The Iowa caucuses, stripped bare, are all about numbers. Let's start with 99, the number of counties in the state. Then 1,781, the number of precincts where caucusing takes place. Followed by 230,000, the estimated number of caucusgoers (some 150,000 Democrats and 80,000 Republicans). All of this has given rise to a numeric lexicon within the various campaigns, which describe caucusgoers by numbers: A "1" is a solid, reliable supporter; a "3" is still undecided; a "5" is definitely caucusing for someone else.

But campaigns didn't make room for citizens who could be called "0."

That would be Jim and Diane Redfern.

Somehow the inescapable campaigns for Thursday night's caucuses barely made it to the Redferns' trailer park in Val Vista, just 15 minutes south of downtown, not too far from the headquarters of Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama. It's the Other Iowa. The Iowa of the uninterested and disengaged, of people who won't bother to show up because they work nights or they're cynical or they simply don't care.

Only a handful of mailers arrive at Val Vista. Automated phone calls from candidates rarely come. And not a single Clinton or Obama or Huckabee poster, button or bumper sticker can be seen. It's where you knock on five, seven, 15 doors -- up an icy hill, then down a snow-covered cul-de-sac -- and get a variation on the same response: "Nope, sorry, not caucusing."

The Redferns, both native Iowans and both retired, struggle to remember if they've ever caucused.

"Once, I think," Jim, 75, finally says.

Adds Diane, 72: "Sometime in the '70s."

"Every four years the candidates roll in here, saying this and that. When I see ads on TV, it comes in one ear and out the other," says Jim, a registered Republican.

"There's more to Iowa, you know, than the caucuses."

* * *

There are really two kinds of Iowans. The Iowans who immerse themselves in the caucus process, breathing every moment of it, and the Iowans who'd rather do without the whole thing and can't wait for the caucuses to end.

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