I experienced my first Iowa caucus yesterday, in the town we live closest to – Lovilia, Iowa – a town with a whopping population of 512 residents. 30 people showed up (67 came to the Democratic caucus 4 years ago), and was mostly a group of over 65-year old, rural residents who have lived in the community their whole lives.
The caucus was mostly a chatty, neighborly event where people greeted each other and repeated “oh, you are Leroy’s son,” when they ran into John. In the community center room, tables were set up, some with representatives - for Bernie, Warren and Buttigieg – others where people sat who were “voting” for other candidates, namely Biden, Steyer and Klobuchar.
Klobuchar and Steyer were not viable (meaning they had less than 5 people a piece). But the rest of the scene was exactly not what the polls had predicted. 12 people sat at the Pete table, 7 at Warren, 5 for Bernie and 5 Biden supporters. At least one of the person at the Biden table said she was there because she believed he was the most electable (not because she liked him best). This same woman said she would not support Warren because she did not know if a woman could win. “Warren might start crying in a debate with Trump,” she told John.
This morning the media is in an uproar about what a “disaster” the caucus was. Because the results are not completed in a media-friendly timeframe (immediately), therefore the caucus was not valid? What a bunch of media hoohaa. But more than the time delay, the question if Iowa should even be the first state to have a caucus keeps surfacing. Iowa is not relevant, I have heard again and again in the past week on the radio. It is not diverse enough, it is not populated enough.
Which is all true enough. Except that everyone seems to be forgetting that the people who put Trump in office were those in the rural areas. Yes, people of color in urban areas should have their say, and perhaps earlier in the process. But the 30 people we sat with last night in very rural Iowa could also hold many clues as to what the supposed “Trump base” thinks, what the concerns of our rural citizens still are that Trump has done little to remedy, and who they would vote for.
The overwhelming support for Pete in the room surprised everyone, especially to the Bernie precinct captain (who drove in from Illinois). It seemed too that the talk was that the Bernie and Warren supporters would be fine with Pete too if that was the decision Democrats made in the end. It was also surprised me that so few older, rural folks were there to support Biden, the supposed shoe-in for older voters.
The fact that less than half of the people who attended the caucus 4 years ago arrived last night also concerned me. Are the people who came to the last caucus now content Trump supporters, or do they not prefer a particular candidate and have decided to vote for anyone who is nominated? If there were generally less caucus goers this year in rural communities, it seems crucial for Democrats to analyze what exactly were their motivations for staying home.
But perhaps most interesting to me was who supported and did not support Elizabeth Warren. Two old white men proudly sat at her table – one who had forgotten his teeth who told us great stories about how he bought a plane “back in the day” and taught himself how to fly while we waited for paperwork to be done. The only person in the room who was vocally anti-Warren was not a man but an older woman, afraid that men would not vote for Warren and Democrats would lose the race.
The irony of Elizabeth Warren has been fascinating for me. Repeatedly I have heard the argument that a person likes Warren, but worries she is not electable, because “other people” would not vote for her. This is a losing game (the same ones that caused Democrats to lose the last election), a game in which we all try to figure out not who we like best or someone we all love, but the person least offensive to all. What a fascinating world we live in where Democrats don’t actually nominate a candidate they want to run the country, but instead choose the person everyone won’t hate.
In the end, we met some new comrades in the area, and I even ended up volunteering to be a delegate to our county. We might even go back for the Valentine's Day dinner at the Community Center - lasagna for $9.