A lot has been written about the Iowa Caucuses in the days since the voting ended (although the Democrats managed to have the Des Moines Register call for an audit of their voting process, claiming that “something smells” in the Democratic Party), but not too much has been written (at least to my mind) about what had happened at the hundreds of voting locations throughout the state, so I’m going to try to remedy that slightly.
After having spent all summer in Iowa working for Marco Rubio, I decided that it would annoy me to no end if I watched the results come in from Iowa from…anywhere other than Iowa. I remembered all too vividly watching the results in 2012 from my sofa at home. I went to bed thinking that Romney had won, and was as shocked as everyone else to see that in fact, Rick Santorum won them (although it was far too late for him to seize any momentum from him winning).
So with all of that said, let’s look at what actually happens at a caucus site in Iowa.
I was sent to the Anderson Elementary School, which had not one but two voting locations in it. One was in the Old Gym and one was in the New Gym. What shocked me was that even though there were almost 1,000 Republican polling places in Iowa, Jeb Bush’s campaign assigned my friend Adam to represent Jeb! in the New Gym. Two separate townships from Bondurant, Franklin and Douglas, were voting there and the line to check in was constantly out the door. Trust me, I know, because I had taken it upon myself to tell people which gym they had to go to. Unfortunately, there was only one door so at times people were stuck waiting outside, no matter how many times I tried to tell them to snake a line inside the building. Fortunately, despite the fact that a massive storm was predicted, it was much warmer than expected, although I was still relatively cold since I had foolishly left my jacket at Rubio’s headquarters (what shocked me was that two people offered me their jackets for the evening, which is classic Iowa, as anyone who has ever been there would know). As people were filtering in, the line to register to vote on the spot was also remarkably long.
Once everyone had arrived, each location selected a Chair for the evening, however there was a problem! I think that the school had been expecting only one caucus location, because the Old Gym didn’t have an American flag for the Pledge of Allegiance and the New Gym didn’t have a microphone, so I used some problem solving skills. I asked someone who worked at the school if they knew where a microphone and there was not a single one to be found. However, we did find a megaphone in the principal’s office that I brought to the New Gym (although for some reason we never used it).
Since I was the first speaker in the Old Gym, I was there when they noticed that there was no American flag, so someone in the audience pointed to my American flag tie and said that we could use that for it, which we decided to do. Needless to say, this put me in a great position to be giving the first speech of the night. From there I gave my speech to them, and I decided to simply tell them why I’m supporting him, because I felt that they had heard enough of the ads, so if I told them something they hadn’t already heard it would likely be a little more memorable, so I did. At the end of my speech I thanked them all for showing up tonight, and told them that they were inspirations for participatory democracy. When someone shouted back to me “You’re an inspiration!” I figured that I had at least done a decently good job with the crowd. I then rushed over to the other room where I filmed Adam’s speech on Jeb’s behalf and then I gave pretty much the same speech on Rubio’s behalf to this room. The supporter for Cruz spoke after we had gone and she had the opposite philosophy that I had had. She defended his constitutional eligibility to be president and responded to charges that hadn’t been levelled that evening about his opposition to ethanol. To me, this suggests that these were the two biggest issues that his campaign believed that he faced in Iowa.
Once the speeches were done, the voting commenced. People were given slips of paper on which they wrote simply the name of the candidate they wanted for President. That was all. It was that easy. In the Old Gym, they actually ran out of voting slips since turnout was so high and they had to improvise on other pieces of paper. When the votes were in, they were counted by hand, and then recounted by hand. Each candidate was allowed one supporter to count the ballots to ensure nothing had gone wrong. To my elation, Rubio came in first in the Old Gym and second in the New Gym! I don’t remember what the vote totals were but I think he may very well have won the elementary school as a whole.
Once the vote totals were announced, most people left and the more dedicated activists stayed to write the platforms of their precincts, which slowly get fed up the food chain and will form the basis of the state party’s platform later on.
After I was picked up, we headed to our party that was in the same location I had been at at 5 in the morning helping to set up for the big event. You can see me in the Rubio box down below!
Once we’re there, the crowd is enormous and we slowly wait for the results to filter in. At one point, the crowd starts cheering and I see that we surged to within one percent of Donald Trump, where we would remain for the whole night. Shortly after that, Rubio came out and wisely gave the only prime time victory speech of the night (Cruz’s speech was so long that Fox actually stopped airing the whole thing), and the crowd slowly dissipated, but I stayed for several more hours. Finally, on the first day of February, my summer truly came to a close at the Marriott in Des Moines, Iowa.
I also have a few more general comments to write about here:
The results of the caucus clearly show that Trump made a disastrous error in skipping the debate that was in Iowa right before Iowans voted. This might seem like common sense but at the time he was hailed as one of the winners of the night. To me, his candidacy seems to be over. After all, he didn’t even win where he had been expected to, and he said he would never speak to Iowans again if he doesn’t win.
As if that wasn’t enough, he asked “how stupid are the people of Iowa?” to a crowd full of Iowans!
A lot has been made of the Cruz campaign telling Iowans not to caucus for Ben Carson, but I personally didn’t see any of that at my location. That’s not to say that it didn’t happen, because it seems like it did, I just didn’t witness it in person.
Iowa prides itself not on deciding who the nominee will be, but on winnowing the field, and that they certainly did.
Iowa is also a lot about beating expectations, which is why Trump did so poorly in its aftermath and why Cruz and Rubio won the night (although I think Rubio did a lot more to capitalize on his momentum than Cruz did).
All in all, I think Iowa made it increasingly clear that Cruz and Rubio are the two main contenders for the nomination at this point. I won’t deny that Rubio had a terrible 25 seconds in the debate last night but remember that Cruz was thought to have lost the debate right before Iowa and Trump was thought to have won it. How did that work out? Not like it was expected, since this cycle has been anything but predictable.
My final thought on the matter of Iowa having now voted is that I’m beyond glad I was there and wouldn’t have missed it for anything else.
Additionally, the fact that I got interviewed by Georgetown’s Institute of Politics (one of our rival IOPs) made the trip even cooler.