Diary Entry of an Iowa Caucus Virgin: January 19, 2004
Issue #67, April 2004
The whole country is waiting for me. I could go out the back, but instead burst through the front door into the 15 degree weather, a shameless announcement to my street — "Caucus me! Caucus me hard!"
I don't see a soul.
Six blocks down, two to go. I hear young voices chanting about being a rainbow, rainbow, rainbow and voting for Dean yeah Dean yeah Dean yeah. I cross the street and I'm right on top of them. They ask if Dean's my man. I say Dean, yeah. But really I don't know. That's going to be the fun part. I plan to be undecided.
Everyone will fight for my cherry.
I arrive at my caucus site: a campus building with a big line inside. I go to the front and ask where I need to be. A large bearded fellow points to the back of the line — a line where about a hundred skull-capped college students mingle with my contemporaries. A Young Republican-type kid is talking about Edwards. He had dinner with Mrs. Edwards, you know. Dinner and what, I wonder. I eye him up and down.
Will he be the one?
Another large bearded fellow tells me I'm in the wrong line. I shuffle across the room to a desk with no line. Nope, yet another large bearded fellow tells me, my recently registered name is not on the antiquated registered voter list. He wants me to fill out some forms. I sign my name on them as if I've done it before. A lot. A lady (not large, no beard) behind the desk tells me I'm in.
Hey, isn't this thing supposed to start?
Two college students next to me are discussing whether they should go for Dean or be undecided. I tell them I go both ways — Dean and Edwards.
They ignore my advances.
All right. Definitely too much foreplay. Can't anyone read my signals?
Yoo hoo, Dean Sticker Lady, don't you want summa this?
The meeting is called to order by an exuberant Ward 4 Precinct 2 Temporary Caucus Secretary. She announces that there are 181 of us and somehow we get four delegates. We cheer but I don't know why. She introduces the other woman up front, the Ward 4 Precinct 2 Temporary Caucus Chair. The Chair solicits us to nominate a Permanent Ward 4 Precinct 2 Caucus Secretary and a Permanent Ward 4 Precinct 2 Caucus Chair. Some guy says, "I move that you two do it." Everyone seconds it and thirds it.
The (Permanent) Chair tempts us with a table in the back of the room covered with Iowa Democratic Party materials. Nobody goes to the table. The (Permanent) Secretary passes an envelope for donations to the Democratic Party and says it covers stuff like clean-up of the room after the festivities.
This is no slatternly Roman orgy. I ignore the envelope.
The Chair starts to tell us where supporters of each candidate should go in the room, and some guy suggests a show of hands to get an idea of which camp will need the most room. The Chair says sure. Hands go up, and from my seat it looks like lots of Dean, some Edwards and Kerry, and even a healthy dose of Kucinich granola.
I scan them coolly and wonder — who will have me? My loins tingle.
Camps divide up, but nobody claims the undecideds. I walk up to ask and find 18 more like me. Immediately, a well-spoken Dean supporter asks me what I need to know to back Dean. Ooh, she wants me!
I say I'm not sure how strong he is on renewable energy sources. She says very. Ethanol, ethanol, and other junk. I realize I don't have many questions about Dean. So she tells me Bush will eat up any of the other candidates in debate because of their congressional voting records, and that Kerry had to sell his six million dollar mansion because his campaign is running bone dry. She wants me too much, seems — ugh — desperate even. I turn to another undecided and ask if I'm allowed to move around the room. She says yes.
I head for Edwards' camp.
That Young Republican-looking kid I saw in the wrong line is erect, ready for me. Edwards has a great blurb on renewable energy sources in the pamphlet the kid is wielding. I take it away from him and read about some other issues. Then I ask if Edwards is tough enough to hold up in debate with President Bush. He says yes. I say can he win the kids' vote? The kid says yeah, look at me. I say, are you typical? He says yeah.
I don't believe him. He never even gave me a once-over.
Votes are tallied and Dean is at 44, Kerry 42, Edwards 38, Kucinich 25, Gephardt 7, and Uncommitted 19. Gephardt is not viable. He hasn't enticed the 15 percent of participants — 27 people — he needs. Even if he got all the undecideds, he'd be short. Gephardt supporters have to prostitute themselves, or go home.
A representative from each viable camp — Dean, Kerry, Edwards, and Kucinich — gives a short speech. It's mostly rah-rah stuff, not very seductive at all, with Kucinich's rep actually talking about issues and contrasting them with the other candidates' positions, eliciting a "Show some respect, man" from a surly Dean supporter. I return to my Young Republican.
A large bearded fellow touting Edwards tells me time's almost up. I ask how much time do I have? He says not much. I jog, Baywatch style, over to the Dean camp. I quickly decide Dean can get the young vote. Clinton did it. With interns. I succumb to the courting of Dean's concubines. They slap a blue Dean sticker on me, upside down.
The final tally is announced: Dean 51, Kerry 51, Edwards 42, Kucinich 31. Each viable candidate has enough supporters for one delegate. Someone explains to me that a delegate counts as one "vote" for the state tally. So it's really Dean 1, Kerry 1, Edwards 1, Kucinich 1. Post-coitus disappointment sets in. I walk the eight blocks home and go in the back door.
I don't even light up a smoke.
Mary McInnis writes essays, fiction, and poetry that advocate discomfort. In her pre-literary lives, she was a faltering saxophonist, a merciless aerobics instructor, and an unwelcome automotive plant "foreman." Her work has appeared in obscure independent publications, but she hasn't made nearly enough people uncomfortable.
Credit: Photograph by anonymous, circa 1895 from V. Kahmen, Art History of Photography (Viking Press, 1974). Color by Bad Subjects.