Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Caucus Night

I walked up through the crowded hallway at 7:42 with my little square of neon red paper in my hand. It listed all the democratic presidential candidates. I had not checked a box, but the ballots were due at 8:00, and it was time. As I came to the table, I chose, and handed it to the woman sitting there.

I don’t feel great about it. I don’t think I would have felt great about it either way.

But what I do feel great about is that 348 people cast presidential preference ballots at my precinct caucus. I don’t know how many the other precincts had, but we packed the Hancock School, and it was excellent. I don’t have any memory of the 2004 caucus, though I went, and I continued as a delegate to the district convention, but I will remember this one.

Our presidential preference results looked like this:

82 Clinton
260 Obama
6 Undecided

The greater results from the state reflect the same thing. People turned out in record amounts, and I think it had a lot to do with Senator Obama, judging by the numbers, though Hillary Clinton received more votes than any Republican candidate by a substantial margin.

In Minnesota, you attend your party’s caucus at separate locations. On the Democratic Farmer-Labor side (DFL, Minnesota’s Democratic Party), you can come and cast a preference ballot and leave, or you can stay and participate in the resolutions and delegate selection section of the night. The great thing is that your preference ballot actually relates to the number of delegates awarded to a candidate, it’s not just a straw poll. I am not sure how many people stayed around, but the hallways were full of people sitting and standing, and numerous people brought resolutions, only one of which was not passed. All the resolutions will be compiled and brought to the District convention on March 8. I signed up to be a delegate, which is another bustling event that I enjoy. That will be more concentrated for our Senate race, where we are trying to win back Paul Wellstone’s seat from Norm Coleman.

We got home at around 9:00, and I turned on Jim Lehrer. Governor Huckabee was the first to speak, and it seems that he wants to abolish the IRS. Popular with people who don’t think things through, no doubt, but... does Governor Huckabee want to get paid if he is president? Next up was Governor Romney, who I privately refer to as “Chompers” because of his remarkable teeth and newscaster aura. He seemed to think he was still going to be in the race. Senator Clinton gave a good speech, from notes, and I thought she was very personable. She was the first to mention that there had been a tragic weather occurrence in Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky, and it surprised me that Governor Huckabee had not brought this up. Senator McCain read from a teleprompter and reiterated how conservative he is, while praising his two opponents. Senator Obama, surrounded by his red and blue Change signs, gave what I guess is his regular speech and did it very well. He also mentioned the disaster in the south (the weather, not Huckabee). I did not hear Ron Paul speak.

The most startling thing that I discovered before I went to bed, aside from states being called with 1% of precincts reporting, which I will always find appalling, was that Governor Romney had won Minnesota. People here are just so... lutefisk. I did not think a flashy Mormon would win, but I guess the caucus system tends to favor the more conservative candidates on the Republican side (sorry, Mr. McCain), and it turns out that Governor Huckabee’s results were close to Senator McCain’s. Neither Mr. McCain nor Mr. Huckabee campaigned in Minnesota; Mr. Romney came here on Saturday, which was dwarfed by Mr. Obama’s rally.

By the time I walked up that hallway, my ballot was curled and rather damp. John Edwards’ name glared out at me, confusing me. I checked the box next to Hillary Clinton, and handed it in. I cannot get over the possible problems with Barack Obama’s healthcare plan.

30 minutes later, I was wishing I had just checked John Edwards.

A few notes:
So far, with 89.18% of precincts reporting, there are 212,287 votes. It is estimated that the final count will be near 250 thousand (DFL only). My brother and sister-in-law went home without voting or even parking because the crowds were so large, and I imagine that plenty of people did the same thing.

The 2004 caucus number was 56 thousand. No wonder I was a delegate. The all-time record was around 80 thousand, during the Viet Nam war.

Our precinct and many others ran out of preference ballots, and people had to write on scraps of paper.

The caucus system was reinstituted in Minnesota in the 1950’s because the party bosses thought that they had lost control over the nominating process to the masses. They thought that a caucus would restrict the number of people participating in the process. They were right, but this year may cause some people to revisit that decision. And in fact, it has. The DFL is considering a change; the GOP is not. I would be in favor of a process that includes a primary vote throughout the day with a 7:00 caucus for resolutions and delegates, for those who want to be personally involved. It is a great way to see and meet neighbors and make your voice heard.

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