Iowa Caucus yields host of winners

By Carol / February 3, 2016 /
Des Moines, Iowa, caucus goers stand to be counted. Action of great interest to media. Photo courtesy of Robin Fortney

Iowa caucus goers stand to be counted. Action of great interest to media. Photo courtesy of Robin Fortney

I woke this morning with a profound sense of peace. In spite of blizzard force winds raging overnight, it was remarkably quiet. Political ads no longer filled the airwaves. Campaign text messages no longer flooded my phone. Local coffee shops are devoid of TV cameras and candidates. Can it be true? Are the caucuses really over? Is it safe to go back in the water?

The Iowa Caucuses – a rather quirky political event – begin the process of selecting the next president of the United States. This year was particularly exciting with spirited competition in both parties. 

You can read ad infinitum about the caucus results, who won and who lost and what happens next, elsewhere. As I participated in the caucus, I saw winners of a different ilk.


Celebrity Spotters. During caucus season, if you don’t add to your life list of personalities seen up close and personal, you made an effort not to. I stopped for coffee one morning and ran into Chris Christie. Another day, I set up my computer at a coffee shop to write and was completely distracted by a CBS TV crew filming Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett interviewing average Iowans. A friend planned to see all of the candidates this season. Her only requirement was that they come to her part of Des Moines. She tagged more than 75%.

Iowa Tourism.Caucus tourism” is a real thing. People from all over the country and all over the world come to Iowa in the dead of winter to see democracy in action. And to participate. Tourist volunteers from across the country arrive individually and in small and large groups to knock on doors and staff phone banks for candidates. Some visit just to enjoy the rallies and soak in the energy.

The Candidates – Iowa’s grassroots approach forces candidates to leave behind the soundbite, look voters in the eye, and explain their positions. Hillary Clinton is stronger because Bernie Sanders forced her to engage at a level she may not have otherwise. Ted Cruz held events and talked with voters in every Iowa county while Donald Trump opted for large events where he controlled questions and blocked media. Look who won.

Both Parties, New voters, Future voters. Caucus participation was record breaking this year in part because candidates brought messages and style that attracted voters young and old who didn’t think the establishment spoke for them. Nothing but good in all those new, enthusiastic voices. May they stay engaged. Caucusing is a family affair and many families bring their children who grow up seeing their parents involved in democratic action.

The Rest of the U.S. – Already the field is tightening up as non-viable candidates drop out. Believe me, after watching political ads ad nauseam for months, I know you want to thank us for taking one for the team.

And losers?

Every caucus, the inevitable Why Iowa? question surfaces. The complaint is that Iowa doesn’t represent the country so it doesn’t deserve the honor. I  suggest Iowa does represent the country in the best possible ways.

  • Intelligent people who take the time to learn about the issues and engage the candidates.
  • Engaged people who can gather with neighbors, stand in public representing vastly different candidates and views, and go on being good friends and neighbors at the end of the night.

I am prejudiced, but I gauge the Iowa Caucuses a success. In any case, we happily pass the baton to New Hampshire while we enjoy peace and quiet for a couple of months knowing it won’t last. Soon after the November election, we’ll start seeing people again, potential candidates testing the water for the next go round.

Did you caucus in Iowa or watch the event from afar? What did you think?

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  1. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on February 4, 2016 at 1:27 am

    I’m Canadian, and we have our own election issues, but I have followed the American election with interest, as the result will certainly affect us, your neighbours!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on February 4, 2016 at 9:06 am

      We trust we put on a good show for our friends around the world. We had a special Canadian connection this year since Ted Cruz was born there. I wondered if Donald Trump would call him on it since Trump was such a leader in the “Birther” movement against President Obama. He held off until Cruz took the lead. We haven’t heard the last on this yet, I expect.

  2. k rawson on February 4, 2016 at 4:52 am

    Great post, Carol. This nicely captures the caucus in general and also this crazy caucus season. I’m with you–I’m glad it’s over. But it was exciting while it lasted!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on February 4, 2016 at 9:09 am

      Close contests and clear differences among the candidates made this Caucus particularly exciting. Now we open the paper each morning with special attention to what news we get since the Caucus doesn’t demand every inch. What has been happening in the world for the past few months?

  3. Nan Johnson on February 4, 2016 at 7:19 am

    Hooray for the Iowa Caucuses! I was raised and still have family in MN to the north, and now reside in MO to the south. Over the years, we’ve become quite familiar with Iowa (particularly the north/south roads, and on rare occasion, your highway patrol officers). I agree that Iowa Caucuses should be gauged as a success for all the reasons you stated and DO thank you all for taking one for the team. Iowans never disappoint – they show up, informed, ready to be counted, and take the process seriously and reverently. You show the rest of the country how it should be done. Enjoy the well-earned peace and quiet.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on February 4, 2016 at 9:17 am

      Living to the north and south of Iowa, you may see almost as much Caucus coverage as we do and are close enough to get to events if you wanted to. The media regularly shared stores of people coming from surrounding states to attend the rallies. The Caucuses feel somewhat like a big gather family – Exciting and exhausting while it’s happening but leaving you lonely after everyone is gone.

  4. Shirley Hershey Showalter on February 4, 2016 at 9:54 am

    Carol, I love this back fence view of the famed Caucuses! I can understand why there is Caucus Tourism. Makes me all misty-eyed about democracy to see it in action through you and other Iowa friends. My son’s business partners also participated, but in Iowa City. They wrote about it in this post, which includes an amazing picture of the crowded gym and explanation of how the process works. They also created a product with their ed tech software that allows teachers to conduct their own caucuses in the classroom. Isn’t that neat?

    • Carol Bodensteiner on February 8, 2016 at 8:47 am

      Thanks for sharing your son’s blog on how his caucus worked, Shirley. I caucus in a much smaller country precinct, so though we had a good crowd, nothing like those who caucused in urban areas saw. I like the approaches they used for giving voters a card. Each of the precincts is managed by volunteers, so each one does it slightly differently. Lending to the quirky nature – and no doubt to the questions about outcome. Since I plan to be involved in our caucus again in four years, I’m saving up these ideas to share with our caucus organizers.

      I think it’s great that your son is helping teachers conduct caucuses in classrooms. There were at least a couple of kids at our caucus writing reports for class.

  5. Susan Weidener on February 4, 2016 at 10:02 am

    Thank you for your views of the Iowa caucus from a front row seat. I also enjoyed reading Mary Gottschalk’s impressions about the chaos and pandemonium that attend caucus night. From what I’ve read, the caucus process is antiquated and can lead to confusion, errors and possibly misleading results. For example. a Des Moines Register headline posed; “Iowa Nightmare Revisited: was the correct winner called on caucus night?” and the article detailed how vote counts, coin tosses, lack of volunteers add up to a disturbing picture.That said, I watched all that led up to caucus night with great interest as I am hopeful we are seeing a true political revolution in the making with the election of our first woman president. It must be have been crazy, as you describe, to be bombarded 24/7 by robocalls/ text messages, etc. ” As a former reporter, I also think the media is way too much into the horserace and not enough into reporting the issues. That said, I can imagine it’s pretty cool to run into candidates at a coffeeshop. No doubt local businesses and Iowa tourism profits greatly from the madhouse, beginning as you reported with the Iowa State Fair last summer. I am one of the believers, however, that probably too much emphasis is placed on Iowa; yes, there is diversity in the state, but from what I gather the state is largely white and liberal and with 40 percent of residents as self-described “socialists,” is tailor-made for some candidates; and as the state has picked “winners” in the past like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum . . . anyway, looking forward to seeing how the candidates do in places like South Carolina, Nevada and my home state of Pennsylvania.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on February 8, 2016 at 8:37 am

      Thanks for sharing your observations, Susan. The problems with counting four years ago in the Republication caucus led to changes in their process. The confusion coming this year out of the incredibly tight race in the Democratic caucus is already causing changes. Today’s Des Moines Register (Feb. 8) detailed the final count/re-count with corrections, which resulted in Hillary still winning by about half a percentage point. One of those really too close to call.

      I’ve not heard that 40% socialist thing, so cannot respond to that other than to say I question it. The Republication party leans heavily to Christian conservative leading to them choosing candidates like Huckabee and Santorum – and for that matter Cruz. A quite different matter than socialism. We’re all eager to see how the elections go in other states!

  6. Mike C Smith on February 4, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    Loved your take on how you saw things happening in Iowa. Even many of us in New Zealand took a keen interest and we look forward to see what happens in New Hampshire.
    For the American peoples sake I hope the people select the right leader, one who is for the people.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on February 8, 2016 at 8:25 am

      It is fascinating for us in Iowa to have media from around the world converge on Iowa for the caucuses. For our sake and for the sake of the world, I hope we get it right. Democracy is often messy, but we have to trust the process.

  7. Marian Beaman on February 6, 2016 at 1:34 am

    Both you and Mary have done exemplary posts on the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucus. I’m especially tuned in now because of the peculiarity of this particular election cycle. A Floridian from afar, I am fascinated by the process as is my grandson Curtis shown boning up with an election handbook for kids on my Facebook page

    • Carol Bodensteiner on February 8, 2016 at 8:21 am

      This election cycle has raised the interest of many – people who may not have felt the issues touched them or that their voices mattered. Sanders is convincing many young people that they can make a difference – as Obama did eight years ago. Trump has done the same with a different demographic. Good for your grandson for digging into the process. We need more young people doing that.

  8. Merril Smith on February 6, 2016 at 5:45 am

    Hi Carol! It all sounds very interesting. I’ve never met my own governor, Christie, but I am perfectly OK with that. 😉

    • Carol Bodensteiner on February 8, 2016 at 8:18 am

      My sense is if you meet any of these folks one-on-one, they make more sense when they’re in the spotlight. Christie is a blustery guy, but that’s been part of his charm.

  9. Sherrey Meyer on February 6, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    Thanks to you and Mary I feel I have at least had a bird’s eye view of this year’s caucus in Iowa. I have never been resident in a state which held caucuses and, therefore, I have never attended one. But between you partners in Iowa, I feel as thought I’ve received a fairly thorough overview and education on how efficiently Iowa handles this process.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on February 8, 2016 at 8:15 am

      Glad Mary and I can be helpful, Sherrey. Our system is not without its flaws – as you can tell from reading follow up news reports – but it has served us well for some time. With the increase in voters, some changes are necessary and are already happening.

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