Iowa Caucus Diary

"A record of my time with the Edwards campaign"

By Dave M. Campbell


Friday Jan.16th 6:30pm: I depart for Davenport, Iowa in a steady rain. Along the way thoughts of the upcoming weekend raced through my head. Could Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) survive Iowa by finishing at least third? Would the people of Iowa see what I had seen in this man for so long? Is this trip worth it, or am I blinded by my passion for his candidacy and unable to come to grips with polls that show him standing at just under 10%? Do the people see something I don’t?

Friday Jan.16th 7:30pm: Arrive at the Edwards Headquarters on Main Street. I touch base with campaign coordinators Mike Edwards and Oliver Gottenfield, both of whom I had met earlier during the summer on a previous trip to Davenport. We talked about the upcoming caucus weekend and how nervous all of us were about it.

Friday Jan.16th 8:30pm: After marching the troops down the street to a large conference room at the Social Security building, Mike and Oliver inform all of us about the game plan for the weekend. One thing that was emphatically stressed from the start was the code of conduct as Edwards volunteers. During the weekend we would have contact with workers from the other campaigns (Dean’s HQ was one block from Edward’s HQ), and we were to conduct ourselves with courtesy and class. We were forbidden from engaging in argumentation and sniping with opposing volunteers. This word came down from the top. Straight from the top. We interpreted this to mean from the Senator himself. Also at this meeting we had a mock caucus and the very confusing "caucus math" was explained. Fifteen percent was considered "viability" for your candidate and guaranteed them at least one delegate to the county convention. Everyone was going to be a precinct captain and viability was the word of the weekend.

Friday Jan.16th 10:30pm: Walked the two blocks to Boozies Bar and Grille. This is the bar recommended by Paul Begala of "Crossfire." It was a popular hangout for the Clinton campaign staffers in 1992. I had a beer and a "Boozie Burger." Between bites of my sandwich I carried on a conversation with bartender Ian King. I asked him what Iowans thought about the quadrennial circus that comes to the state and to take a shot at handicapping the race. Ian said that Iowans take the "responsibility seriously" and that "Kerry was the guy to watch." CNN should hire Ian as an analyst. If you ever want the straight scoop, ask a bartender.

Friday Jan.16th 11:45pm: I make my way four blocks to the Davenport YMCA. The Edwards campaign had made arraignments for their supporters to sleep on the floor of the gigantic aerobics room. The floor was cold and hard. Before I fell asleep, I could not help but wonder about the accommodations the Dean volunteers had. Compared to the money the Dean campaign had, the Edwards campaign was a pauper.

Saturday Jan.17th 8:00am: After a 7:30am wake-up call from an Edwards staffer turning on the lights, everyone made their way down to the men’s and women’s shower rooms. I took my overnight kit and a towel with me, leaving my suitcase in the aerobics room. This assured my being the first in the showers as the college kids took the extra time to move their luggage to rooms across the hall designated for each sex. After a brisk shower (all those other losers would have cold water I mused to myself) I wrapped a towel around me and shot up the back stairwell to retrieve my suitcase and a change of clothes. I was just in time for the 8:00am yoga class for pregnant women. As the back door of the room leads to the showers, and naturally my suitcase was at the front of the room, me and my flip-flops slapped the full length of the room very wet and very embarrassed. I cannot stress enough how bizarre this scene was with the mystic Indian music permeating the air along with a heavy dose of estrogen and my cheap cologne. After my apologies and much snickering from the ladies, I retrieved my property. Before I departed, I went into full "sell John mode," explaining that I was with the Edwards campaign and that the future of their soon-to-be newborns was very important, and that they should caucus for John Edwards on Monday night. The giggles stopped and they all seemed interested in what I was saying and appeared to give a brief moment of pause and reflection. I hope my words had the desired effect.

Saturday Jan.17th 9:00AM-4:00pm: Because I had a vehicle I was assigned a group of people to drive to the 43rd and 44th precincts for canvassing. Our group of volunteers consisted of a professor from Wheaton College and three of his students, as well as myself. Once we were at our respective precincts, we would split up and go door to door talking to people who had been listed on contact sheets as Edwards supporters or leaning Edwards. The purpose of this was to ensure that all potential Edwards supporters knew where their caucus site was and to find out if they had transportation to it. Everyone met back at my car at12:00pm so we could go somewhere for lunch. The Hungry Hobo on Locust Street was our eatery of choice. During our lunchtime conversation (we had been talking about electability and the South) one of the students mentioned that she was from Arkansas and her father was an attorney. She then went on to tell us that one of her father’s law professors at University of Arkansas Little Rock was none other than Bill Clinton. According to her father, the students found Clinton’s class to be boring, but found Clinton the instructor to be favorable. This was because he gave good grades to all his students. It appears that at the time Clinton was running for State Attorney General and missed many of the required lectures. To compensate for this he gave out a healthy dose of A’s and B’s.

Saturday Jan.17th 4:30pm: Arriving back at the HQ on Main Street we were greeted by Elizabeth Edwards, wife of the Senator and candidate. The students were thrilled to have their photo taken with Mrs. Edwards. I had a brief conversation with her and I mentioned how well she and John did during their interview on "60 Minutes" a fortnight past. She asked me, "What does it look like out there?" —a reference to the vibe out in the neighborhoods. I told her the truth and said the leaning and undecided voters were "torn between the Senators John," Kerry and Edwards. Mrs. Edwards was very nice, and her southern disposition made a favorable impression on me.

Saturday Jan.17th 6:00pm: Finally made contact with my nephew who lives in Davenport with his fiancée. The couch in their apartment was like the Paris, Hilton compared to the floor at the YMCA. Jesse is a Monmouth College Graduate and a CPA. Over beer and chili we discussed the caucus math and he volunteered to help me on Monday night at whatever precinct I was assigned. The rest of the evening was spent watching a DVD of John Lennon songs and videos. I could not convince Jesse to become an Edwards supporter because of the war vote in the Senate. He was a Kucinich supporter and nothing was going to change that.

Sunday Jan.18th 10:30am: All of the supporters and other citizens of the Davenport area gathered at the YMCA for a campaign rally for the Senator. The highlight of this would be a "stump speech" by the candidate himself. As is the case with most political events, the candidate’s arrival was running late. In order to counter balance the previous night’s hospitality at my nephew’s, I had been drinking coffee all morning. Eventually the time had come to purge myself of some of the Columbian refreshment. I walked out a door on the east side of the room and proceeded down a narrow hall to a men’s room. Opening the door and entering I was stunned to be standing face to face with United States Senator John Edwards, who was just "zipping up" from a trip to the single urinal in the tiny common area. I said, "Hello, Mr. Senator" and lightly slapped him on the shoulder. He replied, "Good morning." It was a telepathic "guy thing" that a handshake was obviously out of the question at that particular moment. After moving in to take my turn at the urinal, Edwards moved to the adjacent sink that was separated from the urinal by a small partition. A campaign aide was helping him get his battery pack and lapel microphone attached properly. All this time the candidate was oblivious to the busy work going on by his aide and worked to fix his hair while looking in the mirror. I took this time to initiate a conversation with the potential President of the United States. After explaining where I’m from and that I am running as a delegate for him from the 17th District, he said, "Thank you" and I replied, "No, thank you for giving me a choice this year for President." After this, the conversation turned to education and Edwards stressed that it is "Very important as a nation that every young American have the opportunity to go to college." After the aide whispered in his ear, the candidate was whisked out the door and across the hail to a thunderous roar from the 200 or so people gathered to hear him speak.

Sunday Jan.18th 11:30am: James Carville has said that "John Edwards is a better stump speaker than Bill Clinton." No truer words were ever spoken. The Senator’s speech was absolutely flawless and it transferred a kind of energy to the people gathered in a circle around him. The camera lights from the herd of national and local news media was blinding at times. Afterwards my brother sent me an e-mail and said that he had seen me in the crowd on C-Span. This was starting out to be a really awesome day.

Sunday Jan.18th 11:30 am: After the Senator’s speech he stayed around awhile longer to sign autographs and talk to local news media. I ventured downstairs and out the main door. At the entrance to the parking lot a pile of about 16 Dean supporters had dumped themselves on our event. They had a 4x8 Dean sign that they used to cover the 4x8 Edwards sign that had been placed there that morning and were chanting "Dean, Dean, Dean!" One of the Edwards staffers walked by them with his credentials hanging around his neck. The Dean group booed him. Mike Edwards and myself approached the obnoxious gathering. Mike explained that what they were doing showed "no class." I reasoned that Iowans would view this as a violation of "mid-western hospitality" and that they were "not doing Howard Dean any favors." One of the Dean group began shouting that "it’s a free country," as if somehow John Edwards was encroaching upon their First Amendment freedoms. I gave them an applause and observed that, "Desperation has finally set in, ladies and gentleman, desperation has finally set in." You would be hard pressed to find a bigger bunch of jerks. If Howard Dean gets the nomination I will soldier into the booth and vote for him...but not until I puke first.

Sunday Jan.18th 12:00-3:00pm: Spent the rest of the day canvassing with Marty, the attorney from Youngstown, Ohio. Marty was excited from the rally, as he had gotten the Senator to autograph a copy of his book "Four Trials." Also he had persuaded Edwards into talking to his wife back in Ohio on Marty’s cell phone. Everything we observed that day indicated a groundswell of support rising up for Kerry and Edwards.

Sunday Jan.18th 10:00pm: The precinct captains are called downtown to the Main Street HQ. The captains were informed that the Kucinich and Edwards campaigns had reached an agreement that if Kucinich was not viable at any caucus site, then his supporters were supposed to come over to the Edwards group. We were instructed not to tell anyone, but the press had already been discussing it on their broadcasts. Besides, its common knowledge that Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards are close personal friends outside all the election year hoopla.

Monday Jan.19th 9:30am - 5:30pm: Marty and I spent the day canvassing and locating our specific caucus sites. My precinct was actually a rural township 10 miles outside of Davenport. Buffalo Township was a stone’s toss from Blue Grass, and the school where the caucus was to be held was located on "Coon Hunters Road." Being from a small town myself, I felt comfortable with my chances at convincing the good folks of Buffalo Township into voting for a man from the small town of Robbins, South Carolina.

Monday Jan.19th 6:00pm: Arriving at Buffalo school, I proceeded to the gymnasium where the caucus was to be held. After introducing ourselves to the caucus chairperson, all the precinct captains from the respective campaigns were assigned specific areas of the gym to set up their camps. The people began filing into the cold gym around 6:15pm and sat down in chairs that had been arranged in the middle of the court. The total number of caucus goers, or as it is officially called, "the count," was announced. One hundred exactly; that was sure going to make my math easy. Before they were told to split into groups, a little old lady said she wanted to hear a stump speech from a representative of each of the campaigns. By a unanimous vote her proposal was approved. Now I was legal and could address the attendees.

Monday Jan. 19th 7:00pm: After the people were told to stand with their candidate of preference, they picked up the folding chairs they were sitting on and proceeded to do so. On the first split the count was as follows: Kerry 54, Gephardt 16, Howard Dean 14, John Edwards 8, Dennis Kucinich 3, and undecided 5. A random draw determined the speaking order of the captains. When it came my turn I went to the middle of the gym and spoke about Edwards being from humble beginnings and about the whole electability issue. On the second split two Kerry supporters defected to our side, Edwards was the only group to gain after the speeches. After allowing for fifteen more minutes of cajoling, a final count was taken. I could not convince the Kucinich people to break to our group. Even after politely informing them of the agreement between the two camps and offering one of them a delegate spot to the county convention, they would not budge because of Edwards vote on SJR 46, or as it is better known, "the war vote." One of them finally bolted to the Dean camp with about a minute remaining in the scheduled time in order to give Dean viability. Of the 7 delegates offered at this caucus, 5 went to Kerry and one each to Dean and Gephardt.

Monday Jan.19th 9:00pm: Because of a short in my car radio I could not get any of the radio news broadcast during my trip back to Davenport. I prayed that my site was not indicative of the statewide contest. On my way past the Dean HQ on 2nd Street I could not see any celebrating going on. This was a good sign. Turning onto Main Street and approaching the Edwards office, it was a scene of absolute pandemonium. Volunteers were dancing in the streets and the beer flowed freely. After parking my car I was mobbed by my newfound brethren who asked if I had heard the news that we "finished in second place." I inquired about the percentage: "Eighteen or nineteen percent?" I asked. I could not believe my ears when I was told 32%. Wow! Nobody would have dreamed of that high a figure 72hours ago. Inside the HQ I managed to corral an Old Style and made my rounds at saying goodbye. Handshakes and hugs were plentiful as I said farewell.

The trip back to Illinois was certainly more enjoyable than the trip over on Friday night. Crossing the bridge that spanned the Mississippi, I could see Davenport in my rearview mirror and watched it disappear into the night. I shall never forget my experience in Iowa and all the people I met there.