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Election 2008

Caucus in the House

Bill Radke

Kyle Gassiott

Marc Sanchez

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County Delegates
(Courtesy Jim & Gracia Willis)
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Jim Willis: It's sort of a placid group. The people who were here had mostly made up their minds. There were four preference groups, and they were Obama, Clinton, Edwards, Richardson and one undecided person.

Desiree Cooper: How did the undecided person decide which group to join? Did you guys talk with them? Were they courted by the Clinton people and the Obama people in your living room to join them?

Gracia Willis: Not necessarily.

Jim Willis: I was the Obama precinct captain, and I talked to them and indicated that we would be happy to have them join the Obama group. And they had heard the letters from each of the candidates that Gracia had read earlier as she was the precinct chair.

Gracia Willis: One of these people said, "Well, I will not join such and such's group."

Which group did that person not want to join?

Gracia Willis: Oh, I'd rather not say.

Jim Willis: I'll say it. She didn't want to join the Clinton group.

I'm just wondering. By having a caucus in your home, and you're precinct captains and you're active in particular campaigns. Both of you were Obama supporters going into the caucuses, correct?

Gracia Willis: Yes, but I don't think we were threatening at all because we had several people call and say they were coming, and we knew they were supporting other people, and everybody was just fine with that. We didn't realize that having a caucus in the home was so unusual.

What time did they arrive and what was the process like?

Gracia Willis: Well, the first woman arrived at 5:45 p.m. with her hair in curlers. After she made herself comfortable, she had to go into the bathroom and comb out her hair. And then people started arriving a little after 6:00 p.m.

And she had her hair in curlers because she wanted to look her best as the caucus ...

Gracia Willis: I think so!

Jim Willis: That's right!

What time did people leave?

Gracia Willis: Oh my. 8:30?

Jim Willis: Any where from 8:30 p.m. to after 9:00 p.m.

I'm a little surprised that people wouldn't hang around to see what happened and to hear the speeches at the end of the night.

Gracia Willis: Well, this was a group of mostly old and young, and they wanted to go home and watch on their own TVs.

Jim Willis: We were pleased that in addition to the older people that traditionally attend the caucus, there were two high school students and a college student. And then there was a mid-twenties family, one of whom became a delegate to go to the county convention and quite interested in wanting to go the next step and probably the first caucus they've participated in.

When I think of this process, and especially, I think in Iowa, where the story in my mind are people who are pleasant neighbors, who are very polite, and would welcome someone into their home, I'm thinking a party atmosphere, but you're describing an all-business atmosphere.

Gracia Willis: Well, actually, we had hot cider, coffee and cookies in the kitchen.

Were they homemade cookies?

Gracia Willis: Yes.

Well then, I think I'm right about Iowa.

Gracia Willis: Yes.

Jim Willis: Yes you are. Some previous caucuses have been more active or people have wanted to argue and debate. I thought there wasn't a lot of conversation going on beforehand. But afterwards, people were visiting neighbors. It wasn't exactly "party-like" but at least some people stuck around to visit and catch up on their neighbors.

Now, are you guys going to be watching the debate on Saturday?

Jim Willis: I don't know. It's kind of a toss-up, because it's likely that we heard everything that will be said other than the celebratory remarks of Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama.

Notes from Reporter Kyle Gassiott in Iowa City

It seems like I always end up rushing to the caucuses, and last night was no different. I got home from work and made sure I got to the recreation center by 6:30. I walked confidently through the snow with democracy burning in my heart, talked with my neighbors in line, strode up to the table to check in and then was denied. I had left my wallet at home. So then I ran, with a little less pride, back home and returned before they stopped letting people in.

I shouldn't have worried, though. The place was still packed, and people weren't hurrying into the gym. They were too busy grabbing the free food and campaign literature at the door. So I did my part as well. I took a bottle of water from the Clinton table, a muffin from Edwards, and M&M's from Richardson. What I really wanted was a sandwich, but sorry that evidently constitutes as vote-tampering, because no one was allowed to provide us with one. Roast beef might have swayed me. I signed in and get a check marked on my hand, the Iowa City equivalent to the Iraqi purple finger.

The place was really crowded, double the amount of people from 2004. When I got in the gym I learned that we had around 400 people in attendance, which meant we get about eight delegates. Our precinct captain read caucus directions and a letter from the governor on a microphone in the middle of the room. It was kind of like a really bureaucratic comedian warming up the place. She then directed us to get into lines of 20 before we made our first choices. It looked and kind of smelled like gym class. Even the group of caucus-observers were benched off to the side.

At our first count Obama is obviously the big winner with a number close to 170. Next, each candidate group gets to make a one-minute speech to rally for their candidate. You hear stirring speeches from Clinton and Edwards supporters and from four people for Obama. I'd like to say the most impassioned came from the undecideds, who were also offered a one-minute speech, but no one stood up to speak. I imagine it would have gone like this, "Like you, I got a million phone calls and my mailbox was stuffed with junk and now, I don't know who the heck I'm for!"

The smallest groups are Biden, and then Kucinich, whose group sign was his name written on notebook paper. Everyone else had fancy yard signs. Next the large group members either eye the smaller ones hungrily or look tired and bored, and some pull out books or magazines. Some yelling and coaxing happens, but it's the friendly kind, the type you reserve for a disagreement at the PTA. By the end of the night, the smaller groups have been absorbed into the larger ones, and Obama gets four delegates, Edwards and Clinton get two, and 14 people leave undecided. We all went home happy to TIVO over the last of the political ads on TV and ready to once again answer phone calls from "unlisted" on our caller-IDs.

  • Music Bridge:
    Thriftstore Jewelrey
    Artist: The Bad Plus
    CD: Prog ((Do The Math))
More stories from our Election 2008 series


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