This was the big day we were all working towards. I started the morning diligently calling potential stump speakers on our rp2012 lists who I didn’t get to the night before. After a couple hours of calling people from the laptop in my hotel room, I went over to the campaign office in Coralville to see what work still needed to be done. There I met Sherry, one of our out-of-state volunteers from Kentucky, who asked me if I wanted to take a precinct they had just found out about in Iowa City the week before. Originally I was planning to fill in as a precinct captain for a location on Jun’s list, but I figured I’d take this one since it was closer and we knew for sure it had no precinct captain. My assignment was for the precinct of Union Township, which encompassed some farmland on the edge of Iowa City. Last caucus they had 33 people show up and this time they were expecting close to 50. I happily accepted my assignment and was then given a brief training overview about what my responsibilities. I was also given a bag of materials I would need to bring that night such as campaign literature and stickers, voter registration forms, and a vote tally sheet to be used to report to the campaign.
After my assignment, I had a quick bite to eat for lunch and then ran back to my hotel to help conduct a caucus training session with our out-of-state volunteers coming in from Illinois that day. There were about 14 people at the meeting, and I essentially passed on the information that I had just learned that morning. Everyone was very eager and excited to participate in the Iowa cuacus and help Ron Paul in any capacity they could. After I was done talking, Jun Dam arrived with the caucus packages and was able to dole out precinct assignments to the new volunteers. There were several people who offered to take precincts over in Des Moines despite it being another two hours west because they knew that’s where Ron Paul was going to be throwing his after party and they didn’t want to miss it. Thus when our meeting ended, those volunteers had to book it in order to make it to their caucuses at a decent time. I proceeded back up to my hotel room to change into my suit so I’d look all professional and legit.
Tonight was the big night I had prepared for the last couple weeks and I was psyched. I decided to head over to my precinct location a little early to check things out and mentally prepare. After fifteen minutes of driving I found myself on a little dirt road out in the middle of nowhere and started questioning the accuracy of my phone’s GPS directions. It seemed like the only thing in the area were scattered farm houses, but eventually I noticed a little church on top of the hill and the address validated it was the right spot. Also beside the entrance of the parking lot was a Rick Santorum sign and besides the church doors I noticed another one. It appeared the Santorum Surge had even reached out to these parts. I immediately placed my Ron Paul yard signs on opposite sides of the entrances to offset the evilness.
After marking my territory, I decided to wait around a bit until I started seeing the first people trickle in and then I made my entrance. I proceeded to the main room of the church where the registration table was setup and was greeted by the temporary chair woman, Barbara, as well as her secretary. I let them know I was a volunteer on behalf of Ron Paul’s campaign and graciously offered to help them in any way I could. They also asked me if I was from the area, and I came clean and told them that that I was an out-of-stater. Since it was such a small precinct, I figured there was really no way I could hide the fact I was an outsider so it would be best to be honest. They were glad to have me as a guest and asked me if I wanted to observe the vote tallies and greet people at the door. Besides my speech, both of these tasks were exactly in my mission plans for the night, so I was glad Barbara brought it up so I didn’t have to impose. Feeling like a welcome guest, I then went back to my car and grabbed my bag full of materials and placed the super-brochures, copies of Ron Paul’s Plan to Restore America, slim-jims, and stickers on the table next to the cookies and coffee in the lobby. I was hoping to be the only one with campaign literature, but soon thereafter I noticed Santorum’s literature popping around my stuff, including some more signs inside the lobby! I could have busted out my 2×6′ Ron Paul banner from the car to outdo the Santorum supporters, but I figured my time would be better spent talking to people to get a feel for their politics.
As one would expect, the two youngest voters there revealed themselves as Ron Paul supporters and they happily accepted my stickers to wear as a badge of honor. One of the supporters, Carson, was a nice young man in his mid twenties who was an independent re-registering as a Republican to participate in the caucus. Coincidentally, he had lived briefly in Lompoc a while back, so this was quite the surprise. Up until the caucus started, I was able to talk to a good majority of other voters, but had a hard time figuring who they were supporting (unless they had an shirt on saying their candidate’s name on it, which a number of them did). Even though I had arrived an hour and a half early, the time before the start of the caucus flew by and before I knew it they were starting their meeting. There ended up being 41 total voters who arrived at the caucus, and unfortunately I was only able to identify two Ron Paul supporters. I had a feeling this might be a rough crowd for my message.
The very beginning of the caucus started with a pledge of the allegiance, and then it went right into the presidential preference poll. The chair woman said that each candidate could have one person speak up to five minutes on their behalf, which included time for questions. With the exception of Newt Gingrich, every candidate had someone stand up and speak for them, even Michelle Bachmann (the church’s pastor vouched for her, even though he lived outside the precinct and was just acting as a caucus observer; despite that, no one still voted for her). When it came to Ron Paul’s turn, I graciously offered to speak on his behalf and no one else seemed to object. I proceeded to the front of the church and gave my rehearsed two-minute speech without any kinks or stumbles. I was actually more nervous practicing it than actually giving it, and once I was up in front commanding everyone’s attention, I began to feel somewhat relaxed. I made sure to keep good eye contact with the crowd and by the end I built up enough confidence that I was eagerly ready to handle any questions they would throw at me. Ironically, the only question I was given came from the mother of a young woman who was one of the two Ron Paul supporters I identified, and she asked me to clarify Ron Paul’s foreign policy. I gave a frank answer, stating that Ron Paul believes we are over-extending ourselves around the world militarily, and that our nation’s biggest threat is from our crushing debt. After the lady’s question, another person raised his hand in the crowd and asked if he could say some words on Ron’s behalf. I was a bit thrown off because I hadn’t identified or figured him to be a supporter, but unfortunately the chairwoman couldn’t allow him speak to since the rules only called for one speaker per candidate (I felt a little bad for taking his chance, but afterwards when I talked to him I found out he supported both Ron Paul and Rick Santorum so I think it was probably a good thing I spoke for Ron Paul). Since there were no more questions, they proceeded to the next speaker for Mitt Romney. After he was finished, I was happy to see Carson ask the man to clarify how exactly Mitt Romney plans to fix the economy, which I thought was a great question myself. I have never seen any concrete plans from Mitt which explains how he’d cut spending or incentivise business. The speaker gave a pretty weak explanation stating that because Mitt Romney was a CEO of a couple companies and knows business, he would know how to fix the economy (which never really answered the question).
After everyone spoke for the candidates, then came the moment of truth when all the voting slips were passed out. I walked back to the lobby to grab my tally sheet, and was met by Barbara and her secretary after they had collected everyone’s votes. Once the counting began, it became pretty clear that Santorum and Romney were the clear favorites. I still had hope that Paul could have a respectable finish and garner more than two votes (from my identified supporters). Halfway through the counting I was vindicated as Ron Paul staged a late surge. The more times I ticked Paul on my tally sheet, the more I had hope that my message hadn’t fallen on deaf ears. At the end, the final count was 16 for Santorum, 13 for Romney, 9 for Paul, 2 for Perry, and 1 for Gingrich. Later on I would find that these results were mirrored those from the overall state. Given that I had only identified two Ron Paul supporters at the beginning, I was pretty satisfied with Paul’s finish at 22% of the overall vote despite the demographics. Thus, my trip to the caucus might have had an effect on the undecided voters.
Another great victory from the night was that out of the two delegate spots the precinct was allocated, Carson was elected to one of spots and would be attending the county convention in the spring. In addition, he also got elected to the county central committee, so that was great to see a young Ron Paul supporter willing to get active and carry the message of liberty. After the election of delegates and committee members, came the party platform voting and this was an very interesting exercise in democracy. All sorts of different people ended up submitting planks, which were then argued about and ultimately voted on. For the most part, the ideas were generally conservative and smart, including support for a balanced budget amendment, term limits, and a sunset clause on regulations. All of the planks that passed a majority vote would go on to represent the precinct in the county convention in the spring and have the potential to go all the way up to the state level. Caucuses like this, where a neighborhood takes part in direct democracy, makes me feel like this was what politics used to be like in America back in the days of our Founding Fathers. Sadly, most states like mine in California now have impersonal primaries, which I feel disenfranchises people more than empowers them.
Concluding the Night
When the caucus had ended, I thanked Barbara once again for her hospitality and I also congratulated Carson for his nominations. Then I cleaned up my literature and pulled out my signs, and left without any trace. As I drove back to the campaign office, I couldn’t help but listen to CNN on my rental car’s Sirius/XM radio for live coverage of the results. It sounded like there was a three way race between Santorum, Romney, and Paul and they were neck to neck. Once I arrived to the office, I turned in my results to the county coordinator, Randy, and shared my experience. Most of the other volunteers and precinct captains had already made their way back to report and it seemed like most people’s experiences were somewhat similar to mine. However, compared to other counties, ours did better than average for Ron Paul and he was in the lead for a good while as the counts were coming in. Sadly, he was eventually overtaken by Romney by a close margin. Once all the tally sheets were turned in, we went next door for a celebration party at the Tailgate Bar and Grill with all the volunteers and to watch the final results. I will be honest and say that there was a general feeling of disappointment in the air as we saw Ron Paul slip further away from the top two lead and settle into third. However, I could also sense the hope and camaraderie among fellow patriots who had worked and given so much to the cause. Despite not placing first, Ron Paul did earn a projected 7 delegates (the same as Romney and Santorum), and our local supporters also won many delegate and committee seats in their precincts. Since the presidential preference poll at the caucuses are non-binding, our organizational efforts to get people elected as delegates was the true victory that night and it will likely go unnoticed until the spring convention.
To conclude, the Santorum Surge was definitely a shocker, but at the same time it also made sense. Rick campaigned the old fashioned way, by driving around in a pickup truck to every county in Iowa. He had the most face time with the voters of Iowa than any other candidate and was the favorite among the social conservative Huckabee supporters from 2008. However, as Ron Paul stated in his speech the night of the caucus, there are three tickets out of Iowa. Ron won one of the tickets, and is one of two candidates who can mount a national campaign. Essentially, Santorum is not going anywhere after Iowa due to his sole focus on the state and his lack of funding. He is a candidate who is running primarily on social issues, and this will not gain him any traction in New Hampshire which votes next week. On the flip-side, exit polls from the Iowa caucus showed that Paul won over 41% of the Independent vote and a huge majority of the youth vote. Thus, he has crossover appeal to voters in all states, and this is one of the reasons Obama was elected in 2008.
I will end by saying that overall I had a great experience in Iowa and it’s something I won’t forget. I was honored to meet so many other supporters from around the country fighting for what they believed in and doing anything in their power to get Ron Paul elected. One of these days when liberty finally triumphs over tyranny, I will be proud to say that I was there in Iowa doing my part to fight with the other “winter soldiers.” Remember the words of Sammuel Adams, “It does not take a majority to prevail… but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.”