Political Pooper Scooper

Tom Schaller at DailyKos has a pretty good account of his caucus experience. Todd Dvorak of the AP offers an account similar to my own. In fact that is my precinct, and my wife, Sharon, provided the quotes for his lede.

This has been a pretty hectic week, and I've been trying to digest everything that happened. Our caucus was pretty bitterly fought, and I think it would be useless to deny that there's hard feelings. I've been coming up with my own spin on what happened, trying to accentuate the positives.

Those positives? Well, he did better than Gephart, which seemed to be a large part of our organizational goal. Did that, though the price was pretty high. Turnout seemed pretty high, which is a great thing to see if you are "small-d" democrat. Both Kerry and Edwards are taking it more strongly to the president, including some of the ideas that Dean promoted.

But still, even though Dean came in second in Johnson Country, you can't but feel like you got your butt whipped. I found my old Night of the Mary Kay Commandos Bloom County book just before the caucuses. Milo looked pretty wrecked the day after the election, as Opus, the "political pooper scooper" carried him off. Okay, I felt more like Milo than Opus.

UPDATE: Schaller's expanded on the "how" Kerry won in Iowa in this piece for The American Prospect Online. The question is, though, does Kerry have similar operations in place for the rest of the country? Does he have the money and time to set them up? Part of what drew me to the Dean campaign was their approach for using technology to recruit and organize their volunteers, but the technology game that Kerry's folks played was far smarter, and also very interesting. Also updated to a better link for the AP article.

Precinct 9: A Grizzly Lesson in "Caucus Math"

What went wrong? Well, I was defninitely one of those arm-folded semi-passive Dean precinct captains that Tom Schaller described. I'm not enough of an extrovert to go out and try and make the hard sell. That said, when everybody in the room seems to have an "Anybody but Dean!" attitude, it is hard to get past that.

Dean people got recruited to do the registration, which mean none of the hard core Deanies were in the main room to keep things running tight, or to keep up persuasive pressure.

304 people present in the precinct meant that 46 supporters were necessary for a candidate to be viable. From what I could tell, the dozen or so Gephart folks were kept in line by a pretty good whip who snarled at us any time we came near. She attached her group to Edwards instantly. The handful of Clark people split between Edwards and Dean. The big chatter of the night was over the Kucinich crowd. Dean got a couple, three coudn't stomach moving to Edwards and just left, while the rest went to Edwards.

I can't say that we didn't try to get some of the Kucinich people from Edwards, but we didn't try very hard, and since they were willing to overlook Edwards' sponsorship of the authorization resolution, there didn't seem to be much point. So, at 8:00, when the secound round of counting was to occur, we stood at Kerry with enough for 3.64 delegates, Dean 2.61, and Edwards with 2.55.

What follows was the ugly and acrimonious. According to "Caucus math," we are to determine actual delegates by rounding up, but since this meant we had allocated one extra delegate, a loser would need to be found to lose their extra delegate. The Edwards captain figured that three more supporters would put him over Dean. So he went to the Kerry people and convinced them to release three of their supporters to Edwards, as this would still allow them to round up.

Us Dean people protested, since this happened after 8:00, but before the end of the realignment period was officially called. Resentful of this anti-Democratic measure, Kerry and Edwards supporters protested our protest, and the caucus chair made a call to the county chair. After about 15 minutes, the caucus chair announced that the post-8:00 count would be used. Now, Kerry was at 3.55 delegates, Dean 2.61, and Edwards with 2.63.

Now, caucus math is tricky. The actual rule for determining the loser when too many candidates are rounding up for their delegate count is that the one with the fraction closest to .5 is the one that loses out. So, in giving up their three supporters to Edwards, the Kerry crew ended up giving up much more. A caucus that was going 4-3-2 Kerry-Dean-Edwards, ended up going evenly three ways. I don't know if that was what the Edwards captain was hoping for, but I know the Kerry people were ticked off. They challenged the outcome, and lost. Apparently, the Kerry people were afraid that someone's head was going to roll in their camp over this.

A note on the math: some people have observed that Dean's people were ill-trained and poorly prepared for the caucuses. I think this is fair. Pre-caucus strategy seemed mostly focused on getting our '1' into the caucus, but the campaign seemed to be oblivious, or unconcerned about the fact that many of our supporters were finding themselves disenchanted by our nearly assaultive wave of phonecalls and doorknocking.

Furthermore, the Kerry people showed up with a spreadsheet to figure out just how many supporters they would need to "round up" to the next delegate. I believe the Edwards people had this information as well. I calculated these numbers as soon as I found out the official caucus attendance, but that was time that I should have been doing something. I don't know, being persuasive I guess.

The fact that all three of our teams had these numbers probably contributed to our little drama at the end, because I don't think any team really planned strategy to that level. I can figure the math to find the minimum number of supporters to round-up to the next delegate, but, when other precinct captains asked about this at our training, we were told not to worry about it -- "just get your people in the door. If you can do that you'll be fine!"


Rally Tally

As I commented before, in Iowa City, the campaign offices are pretty close together. And the first local hires seemed to be students (or recent grads) taking the same political science courses. So, the young staffers seem to be more into the "my rally was bigger than your rally" chatter.

Still, the Dean political veterans that normally appear to be above this stuff seemed pretty proud of the effort when they packed the Main Lounge at the Memorial Union tonight. This is where mid-sized musical acts play, and there were so many people there that they asked the Perfect Storm out-of-state volunteers to step outside so that actual Iowans (and potential caucus-goers) could get in.

The crowd was pretty excited, too. Joan Jett performed and sounded great. We had speeches from Janeane Garofalo, Tom Harkin, and somebody from the SEIU, and then Dean. All in all, there were an alarming number of high-fives. I did get to shake Jett's hand, so I thanked her for her support of Home Alive. She had a sticker for The Gits on her guitar. Oh, tomorrow's the big day, and I'm exhausted.