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Organizing in an Iowa Caucus

2020 Big Grove precinct caucus results

I’m running behind because I slept until 4:20 a.m. this morning. I’m usually up getting dressed about 3:30.

It’s not because I still tired from the run up to the Iowa Democratic precinct caucuses, although that is a factor. It’s because I woke before midnight and couldn’t get back to sleep, thinking about the phone application we used to report our results to the Iowa Democratic Party.

This post is not about the process that kept me up last night. I learned a lot about the application over the last few days, but have little more to say than what I’ve already posted in social media. I thought this would be a short post before I get ready for my shift at the home, farm and auto supply store.

It’s about how campaigns organized in our precinct.

We had nine groups after the first alignment. Let’s call the bottom four the second tier (Bennet, Bloomberg, Steyer and Yang). The top tier, each of which have had substantial showing in Iowa polls, was Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders and Warren. Second tier first.

None of the second tier had much ground game here. They benefited from nearby rallies, mailings, and media coverage. The Steyer group created the largest number of spoiled ballots after they weren’t viable, crossed out his name and wrote Biden over it. A strong local network is necessary to be viable in our precinct and the lower tier didn’t have one. For perspective, in 2008, Bill Richardson, Biden and Chris Dodd all had local caucus organizers. Tulsi Gabbard was the only candidate who held an event in our precinct so it was surprising she had no alignment group. Her host was snow birding in Florida and not on my satellite caucus list.

Bernie Sanders was not viable on Monday. Their group posted a respectable 23 in the first alignment but were unable to persuade others to join them in the second alignment. Viability was 26, so it was a heart breaker. Sanders had a telephone campaign, but as I told one of the county campaign leaders, I hadn’t heard of anyone supporting Sanders. They assured me they would win our precinct and the state. Support didn’t materialize. They parachuted an organizer in the week before the caucus and without a perceptible ground game it was game over. Sanders’ numbers were halved from 2016 when Hillary Clinton dominated the caucus here.

The Biden campaign was similar to Sanders. A long time activist said they were the precinct captain for Biden and proceeded to take a two-week trip out of state before the last weekend. Biden parachuted a precinct captain in for the last week and they achieved viability in the first alignment getting 26 of 26 needed. In 2004 the parachute method of campaigning worked for John Kerry, but in 2020 it was a failing tactic.

The lesson here is a local organizing presence makes a difference. Some of us learned that from Howard Dean. While Dean had few, or maybe zero supporters in the 2004 Big Grove caucus, it was clear some campaigns learned the lesson of his and campaign manager Joe Trippi’s work since then.

The top three in the first alignment had strong local organizers and finished in a narrow band. Warren led first alignment with 39, Buttigieg was second with 35, and Klobuchar was third with 34. In second alignment no one joined Buttigieg or Warren and five joined Klobuchar who was the second choice of many. End result was Klobuchar and Warren on top with a delegate each, and Biden and Buttigieg also getting delegates.

A Warren organizer was working in the precinct for more than six months before the caucus.  The top three were in a tight band but their support was strong and if there is a winner, Warren won our caucus. The numbers show it.

A couple notes. The Klobuchar precinct captain was a strong leader who started early in the Warren camp but switched to Klobuchar. She knows who to call and called me to say I should switch to Klobuchar like she did. Her efforts are the reason Klobuchar tied Warren with the largest number of people in their group. The two of us faced off in 2008 when I was precinct captain for the John Edwards campaign and she was precinct captain for Hillary Clinton. We tied at 75 people in each of our groups and they won the coin toss to determine who would get a second delegate. Barack Obama had 97 that year. The precinct had more Democrats and delegates to award back in the day.

There was a surge in support for Klobuchar here in the final month. She started with a base of people who knew her already or had relatives in Minnesota, and grew that base. As Klobuchar said on caucus night, she was punching above her weight.

This needs to be addressed: Our precinct has some of what one of my Facebook friends called functional homophobia, “which means straight folks who are just fine hanging around gay folks — as long as said gay folks know their place, which isn’t in the White House.” A few Democrats railed about the gay candidate during the long run up to caucus night, saying to me, “I’m not going to vote for a homosexual.” I don’t know what this means except our prejudices run deep and even long-time Democrats can be biased or bigoted.

The Buttigieg and Warren precinct captains represent the next generation in Democratic politics. It was their first time getting so active and each had a strong organization behind them. If they are our future, I’m ready for it.

Gotta get ready for work. More on the caucus coming soon.