Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Why Iowa Matters and Why It Doesn't

Here's something you might now know about the Iowa Republican caucuses, even though the event has consumed political reporters and bloggers for the last eight days.

No matter who comes in first tonight, none of the candidates will have a lead in the number of delegates needed to win the Republican nomination for the presidency. That's because tonight's "balloting" has no connection whatsoever with the actual awarding of delegates for the nomination. Zero. Zip. Nada.

The Republican caucuses are merely a straw poll of the presidential preferences of those who attend the party meetings held in every voting precinct in Iowa. They don't count in the awarding of the state party's delegates to the Republican National Convention. Not at all.

That's different from the Democratic caucuses that Iowa also holds every four years. Democrats in Iowa use the caucuses to start the process of awarding delegates to candidates. Republicans don't.

Either way, the caucuses still matter because they demonstrate whether a candidate has put together an organization to carry him or her the distance. The caucuses give candidates a chance to test drive that organization, their message, their appeal to voters, and so on. And since Iowans traditionally responded more to retail, face-to-face politics than to big, expensive advertising buys, candidates who had few resources could campaign in Iowa and hope that lightning would strike.

That's changed somewhat this year, as most candidates made little attempt to woo voters in person or build a grssroots organization to get supporters to the caucus sites and chose to spend big on advertising. Ron Paul and Rick Santorum were the exceptions and late polling shows it is paying off for them.

While Democrats don't have a contested caucus this time around, they are still having party meetings in every precinct in the state in order to begin electing the delegates who will officially nominate President Obama next September. This is a chance for them to build their organization for identifying supporters and getting them out, a dry-run for next November.

The Obama campaign reminded its supporters of that with an email Tuesday (Jan. 3, 2012) that included a video done by the New York Times highlighting the work of Obama volunteers in the state. You'll have your chance to turn out for Obama in Michigan on May 5, when the Michigan Democratic Party holds its caucuses so mark your calendars.

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