It’s Iowa Caucus Time (Already?)

February 6, 2018

Snow blanketed Iowa Monday, contributing to a 70-car pileup on Interstate 35 near Ames, but traffic and snowfall totals of up to seven inches didn’t stop lots of political junkies from showing up to their midterm caucuses.

“This is what snowflakes look like when they come out on the day of a big snow storm!” caucus site leader Ruth Thompson shouted to a packed auditorium at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines.

Every four years, Iowa leads the nation in the presidential nominating process and often winnows the field of candidates. Compared to those presidential years, midterm meetings like Monday’s are lesser-followed but they can point to momentum.

Last night Republicans and Democrats discussed resolutions to their party’s platforms and selected delegates for state conventions. They also addressed some issues.

Drake University political scientist Rachel Paine Caufield flags labor rights as something on Democrats’ minds. Republicans took control of both chambers of the Iowa legislature in 2016 and stripped many bargaining rights from public sector unions.

She also suspected moves by lawmakers in the capitol would echo in the meeting rooms across the state as the partisans considered resolutions for their political platforms.

“Right now we’re having legislative debates over transgender rights,” Paine Caufield said ahead of Monday night’s caucuses. “I think we’ll probably see some of that come up.”

Exact attendance numbers are not yet available but Democrats are happy. They say their turnout exceeded 9,000, which they say “far eclipses” the 5,000 attendees in 2010 and 6,500 in 2014.

A spokesman for the Iowa Republican Party says they won’t release any numbers until later this month. He did stress that these caucuses are strictly party business and not candidate-centric.

Republican leaders in the state have offered full-throated support for President Trump. Iowa went big for Trump in 2016 after helping Barack Obama to victory in 2008 and 2012.

In addition to picking delegates (in Iowa, a primary can go to a state convention if no candidate gets 35 percent of the vote) and hearing from candidates themselves (Gov. Kim Reynolds faces a Republican primary challenger and seven Democrats are running for their party’s nod), Iowans offered their own ideas.

“We had a lively a ‘drain the swamp’ platform,” says attendee Jess Mazour. She says the conversation in her caucus centered around the idea that once out of office, politicians should not be able to lobby Congress.

But even at this year’s midterm gatherings, the 2020 presidential race wasn’t far from mind. Iowans who watched the Super Bowl got a peek at the first official presidential challenger. Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., who’s been campaigning in Iowa for months, spent $20,000 for an ad during Sunday’s game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots.

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