Just in case any of you missed the news, today is the day of the Iowa caucus. Contrary to what you may have believed, the American presidential campaign has not started yet. It will begin tonight, in public buildings throughout all 99 of Iowa's counties.
I participated in the Iowa caucus in 2000. Since I had to register as a member of one of the two major parties to do so, I registered as a Democrat. Some states, such as Virginia, hold open primaries, meaning that one does not have to be registered in a party to vote in the primary. That's good, because I'm currently registered as an independent voter with no party affiliation. Now, a caucus is not a primary. A primary election is simply one in which people vote for the candidates that they want to nominate to run in the upcoming general election. Thus, party membership need not be a necessary condition for participation in the primaries, although it is in some states.
A caucus, on the other hand, is the venue in which lots of party business gets done. In addition to selecting nominees for the general election, caucus participants elect delegates to the party's state convention and assign people to work on various election committees. I will confess that I was appointed to some committee in which I never participated after caucus night. My dissertation got in the way of my politics. I did, however, act as a voting place monitor on election day later that year.
Anyway, on the night that I participated in the caucus, I ventured up the hill to Jonathan's high school and met with several hundred other people from my voting precinct. We broke up into groups of 50 or so and met in classrooms throughout the school to conduct our business. The two principal Democratic candidates at that time were Bill Bradley and Al Gore. There may have been other candidates, but I can't recall who they would have been. In my classroom, about 13 people lined up on one side of the room to declare support for Bill Bradley. The remainder, 25-35 people or so, lined up on the other side to show their support for Al Gore. The totals from each room were tallied, and by the end of the evening, we knew that Gore had won our precinct's caucus by a substantial margin. That part of the meeting, which took about 10 minutes and was the only reason I wanted to participate in the caucus at all, was the most interesting portion of the evening. The excitement and interest factors plunged quickly from that point. For the next hour or so there was lots of talk about the state convention and its delegates, and even more talk about committees. After all of that excitement, I went home and shared my experience and any wisdom gained thereby with Dave and the boys.
If I still lived in Iowa, I'd be registered with a party and attending the caucus again this evening. This time, I would also be able to accept a committee appointment more responsibly. Since I live in Virginia, I will participate in our state primary next month instead. Joshua and Dave are looking forward to participating and I think we may be able to get Jonathan to come along too.
One last word: when the football game goes on commercial breaks tonight, flip the channel and take a peek at the Iowa caucuses. After all, tonight is when the campaign really begins!