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Precinct 17

When we arrived at Hoover Elementary, the line into Iowa City’s 17th precinct Democratic caucus snaked down two hallways and out the door. It was 40 minutes before I got my number, 453, and made my way to the Obama crowd, which was already too big to fit into the corner it had been delegated to. More than 200 more people were to squeeze into the gym behind me for a final count of 661, certainly more than the fire code would allow. (K heard that only 90 people showed up for the Republican caucus, and they were done before the Democrats’ first counts were complete. Damn their efficiency!) It was hot and sweaty; one man standing next to me shouted, “This is what Democracy smells like, people!” We laughed, then collectively gasped from lack of oxygen.

Needless to say, the number of people in the room made caucus business difficult to conduct. As we sweated, we elected a chair and a secretary; as we sweated, motions were made to speed the process along. So we did the first count to check for viability. Candidates needed 100 supporters to be viable. The results:

Candidate Count
Gravel 1
Undecided 6
Dodd 16
Kucinich 18
Biden 38
Richardson 53
Clinton 123
Edwards 126
Obama 280

With Clinton, Edwards, and Obama eating up so much of the total, there was no way any of the other groups were close enough to viability. That left 132 people to be picked up in the second round. So we broke for a half-hour to do some persuading.

Most, however, just broke to get out of the gym. The entire Edwards contingent was shuffled out of the room, as was the Richardson group (a fact that caused no small amount of trouble later). I stepped out to get a drink of water, then I returned to survey the Obama group. Like Yglesias, I had been skeptical that Obama would really get students and new caucus goers to show up. It’s a goal that many candidates aim for, but few actually hit. But as I looked around, I realized that, indeed, many of the people standing around me were younger than 30. (According to NPR, which I’m listening to now, that was the case across the state.) That Obama has been able to mobilize the traditionally unmobilizable is indeed impressive.

The 30 minutes passed, but not without a lot of confusion. Some campaigns were counting wrong; others were poorly led. The Obama precinct captain, for example, couldn’t explain how to find “outside” when he was standing by the door. Eventually the counts were complete:

Candidate Count Delegates
Clinton 129 3
Edwards 182 3
Obama 307 6

The 43 others, who had been trying to form an “Undecided” group, weren’t viable and didn’t get counted. Edwards picked up by far the most votes in the second round, while the fact that Clinton was nobody’s second choice was made painfully evident.

There was more precinct business to conduct—including the election of delegates—but by that point everyone was hot and cranky, and we all began to file out of the room. Before we left, however, someone nearby received a phone call and announced that most precincts had already reported: We knew Obama had won before we even left the room.

All in all, caucusing has its charm—even if it is smelly—but it’s a lousy process.



Lynda Waddington’s liveblog of her caucus reveals the potential value of the second recount—i.e., the banking of supporters and the push and pull for delegates. I think that’s more representative of the experience than ours, which was just too congested (as far as I could tell) to play numbers games.

Well, the game was certainly played. We just couldn’t witness it. I almost went with the Edwards people who were going to try to win over the not-viables just to get out of that hot, stinky gym, but I wasn’t feeling much passion (something about being on the brink of fainting), so I didn’t.

And I know the author of the above linked piece!