Adventures of a Liberal Democrat at the Iowa Caucuses Part 2

Iowa caucuses C-Span busSunday 31 January

After a rather dramatic and delayed journey to the US,  I’m finally in Iowa. Most folk on my flight from Chicago are either news reporters covering the caucuses or members of the US Congress stumping for one of the candidates.

The buzzword is ‘turnout’. There’s hope the numbers turning up to tomorrow night could break all records. Folk seem most excited about the weather….or the lack of it. At this time of year, Iowans are normally wading through feet of snow. Not this year. It’s cold but not painfully so and there are no snow storms predicted. “It’s perfect caucusing weather” my car rental guy told me.

The latest polls suggest a tight race on the Democrat side with the respected Des Moines Register poll showing it too close to call. There’s some scepticism about whether all these young students who have gone nuts for Bernie Sanders will actually turn out. I remember hearing something similar in 2008 about the supporters of some guy called Obama…

My two hour drive shows me Iowa for what it is, a vast, flat and overwhelmingly agricultural land. Campaigning outside the main towns must be painfully difficult and shows why candidates must raise the millions of dollars for the TV and radio advertising which dominate the airwaves.

In Waterloo, one of Iowa’s largest towns, I firstly (and entirely accidentally) come across the O’Malley campaign office. Now, Victoria Marsom always taught me that the best campaign offices are the emptiest with all the volunteers out campaigning. The depressed look on the face of the sole person in O’Malley’s office suggests there may be other issues at play.

I then find the Clinton office, teaming with folk. The young organiser is extremely efficient, getting folk sorted with canvass sheets and having them out the front door within minutes. I meet the office manager Lorrie who tells me she’s been there “since the beginning”. “When was that?”, I ask. “Oh I can’t even remember!”, she responds. She’s optimistic about tomorrow. When I ask why she’s not for Sanders, she simply retorts “cos he’s a wacko!!”. I also meet a state congressman being sent to a poorer neighbourhood to try and drum up turnout. His demeanour is less bullish than Lorrie’s, memories of 2008 perhaps still in the memory.

Bernie RallyOn to an eve of caucus Sanders rally where a sticker is patted onto my chest and a poster thrust into my hand on arrival without even a question asked. “Power to the people” booming out on the loud speakers, it’s a pretty diverse audience of around 500. Few non-whites (this is Iowa) but old and young, some military folk too.

It’s difficult not to get caught up in the frenzy that surrounds Bernie. Yes there may be worries about his electability but he’s authentic and sincere. There are times you feel like you’re being lectured to by your grandfather. Yet it’s one of those lectures where you nod and agree with every word. Tackling climate change, healthcare for all, affordable universities, fairer taxes, it’s a platform which would be middle of the road back home yet here, at least in some quarters, Sanders is thought of as a dangerous socialist. The audience lap it up. It’s difficult to know how many are undecideds waiting to be convinced or whether this is just a lecture to the converted. Sanders voice is already croaking and I’m left wondering whether he has the stamina to fight all the way to November. One thing is certain though, his supporters sure can.

Hillary Des Moines 31 Jan 16I return to the state Capitol and Iowa’s biggest city, Des Moines for Clinton’s rally. The queue to get in, more than two hours before the event starts, is massive. Security is far tighter with full airport style scanners. Inside and you can see the excitement of the chance of finally electing a female US president. Chants of “it’s time to put a woman in the White House” break out.

Not many candidates get a former president as their warm up act. Bill Clinton gives a storming opening speech, reminding us why he remains one of the all time great political communicators. His anti Trump remarks get by far the biggest reaction when he says the job of a president is to bring a country together, not tear it apart.

Bill and Chelsea Des Moines 31 Jan 16He then gives a warm tribute and introduction to his wife as Hillary emerges to a thunderous reaction. Her speech is polished, her demeanour looks presidential and her theme is experience. She stresses how she can get the job done, not just talk about ideas which look good on paper. She speaks of the dangers of taking a risk and letting in a Republican president. She also covers pretty much all the issues I heard from Sanders earlier in the day (albeit more tempered) and you realise there’s more that unites the two Democratic hopefuls than divides them.

I finish the day feeling that Bernie spoke to my heart and Hillary spoke to my head. I think it’s a feeling shared by many caucus goers. We’ll see which they follow tomorrow.

* Kevin Lang is a Councillor for the Almond ward which George Grubb represented from 1999-2012.

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  • John Mitchell 1st Feb '16 - 6:16pm

    Very interesting. Go Bernie!

    I’d like to see Rand Paul do well on the Republican side who I see as the best candidate there. Paul is addressing issues that Republicans have ignored for decades and indeed those same issues his father targeted. Rand is just not quite as isolationist as the neoconservatives such as Christie, Rubio and Cruz make out.

  • Bitsy Shephard 2nd Feb '16 - 5:30pm

    Terrific, Kevin. As an American and a lib demmer, this was absolutely riveting for me. I especially appreciated how you said Sanders’ policies would be middle of the road over here. I hope my family in the States reads it.

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