A couple days after Christmas, I went to Iowa to help Ron Paul’s presidential campaign in the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses. I’d never been there before, and I like traveling, but mainly it was just something I felt like I needed to do; that how well Ron Paul did in that caucus could be a real game changer. And I confess it was a downer that he didn’t take first place, even though he made an excellent showing. But overall it was a positive experience, and I think I did some good. I was surprised however at how disorganized the operation appeared to be, especially given that the media was reporting (as seemed to be true) that Ron Paul had the most extensive ground campaign in the state.
Even before I left, I was trying to find the answers to three important questions — Where should I go in Iowa in order to do the campaign the most good, where should I plan on being on caucus night to speak on behalf of Ron Paul, and where could I sleep during my trip (either at the homes of local supporters, in accommodations obtained by the campaign, etc.) I brought a sleeping bag so that I could crash on the floor of a campaign office or something if needed. I never really was able to get answers to these questions, although I did end up finding free places to stay all but two nights (one of which was sort of my own “fault” as I misread my departure time and missed my return flight out of Chicago, necessitating staying in a motel there an extra night).
I didn’t see a lot of organized precinct-walking. People were doing a lot more phone calling. It was winter in Iowa, after all — though not nearly as cold as I’d been afraid it would be. Some of the activists almost seemed to think I was a little nuts for wanting to spend my time out on the streets putting up fliers and stickers and such. But I’d flown out from California, dammit, and I wasn’t just going to sit in an office making phone calls when I could do that from home! I wanted to go out and be visible and talk to people. Actually I think I spent about as much time driving around as out campaigning on foot, but with my rental car decked out with Ron Paul yard signs in the windows and a “rEVOLution” sticker prominently affixed to the bumper, that didn’t really seem like a waste of time. And it let me see a bit of the state.
I had brought with me some copies of a flier I’d made from the Blue Republicans essay ( Huffington Post ), and was able to make some more copies at the Ron Paul grassroots office in Davenport. This is probably the best written material I’ve seen for convincing people on the left to consider Ron Paul, and my goal was to put it up in liberal-leaning parts of the state. Along with Davi Barker’s “24 Types of Authoritarians” cartoon (see attachment), which wasn’t specifically campaign-related, but is one of my favorite pieces of outreach material and something that everyone should see and grok.
Iowa City, the place I drove to initial my first stay-over in Davenport, turned out to be an excellent area for this mission. It’s a college town with a fairly extensive downtown shopping area, lots of little shops and restaurants, definitely a bit more character and alternative/bohemian flavor than the strip malls and big box stores evident in many parts of Iowa which could be pretty much interchangeable with similar strip malls and big box stores in any other state. To give mainstream corporate conformity its due, the pedestrian-friendly downtown Iowa City scene could have been transplanted from pretty much just about any college town in the country too, but to make a perfectly valid generalization, the long-established haunts of university students are to typical suburban sprawl as a hand-painted coffee mug is to a styrofoam cup, or a delicious creation from Ike’s Sandwich shop down the block from me is to a Big Mac. These truths are no less self-evident than those cited in the Declaration of Independence, and I firmly believe that history will one day shake its head in wonder at the cultural ostriches of our era.
But you are no doubt eager to hear about the actual caucuses, and I digress. The place I ended up caucusing was a little town called Hedrick, in Keokue County. It wasn’t until the day of the caucuses, calling around and trying to find a precinct where they didn’t have someone prepared to speak, that this location was recommended to me. I’d been doing get-out-the-vote stuff in the Fairfield area, a relative libertarian hotbed (Jefferson County, of which Fairfield is the major town, was the only county in Iowa that Ron Paul won in 2008), and they had their precincts pretty well covered. So I drove up to Hedrick, but when I got there it turned out there was a local woman prepared to speak on Dr. Paul’s behalf after all, so I didn’t end up giving a speech for him. It wasn’t a wash however, as I did coax two RP supporters into volunteering as delegates who I think probably would not have done so otherwise.
The caucus process itself, at least where I witnessed it, was a bit disappointing (although even what it was still made me jealous as a Californian where we don’t get to caucus at all). Only three candidates (Paul, Santorum, and Bachmann) had people speaking for them, and as soon as those speeches concluded, the voting began. I’d expected more time for people to discuss the merits of the candidates with each other, but there was very little opportunity for that. Although I understand that the process varies considerably from precinct to precinct, and some people I talked to went to caucuses where people were more engaged. At the Hedrick precinct there were 41 voters, and Santorum ran away with the bulk of their support, garnering 19 votes. Paul and Gingrich were tied for second with 8 votes each; Bachmann got 4, Perry 2, and Romney, interestingly, got none. If only South Carolina voters could be so accommodating!
After the voting, the Hedrick townsfolk chose delegates, and the chair had to practically beg people in order to get enough volunteers to fill out the 8-person delegation they were entitled to submit. That was eventually accomplished, but I think only 2 of 4 alternate slots got filled. Then they took suggestions for changing the Republican Party platform. This process was really disappointing. In the LP, of course, we look at the existing platform and debate and iron out the language of actual plank changes. In Hedrick, there were not copies of the existing platform on hand, and people proposed only broad suggestions, like “Require term limits for Congress”, “End birthright citizenship”, etc. There was no voting; people just called out their ideas, and the two dozen or so suggestions were written down on a list, purportedly to be forwarded along with the delegation, to the state convention.
On the bright side of this procedural informality, no one objected to my contributing three ideas to the list — one was “Equal ballot access rules for all political parties”. 🙂 The other two were to have the platform endorse a couple excellent pieces of legislation listed on the website of the libertarian non-profit Downsize DC the “Read The Bills Act” and the “One Subject At A Time Act”. This was the most specific that any of the platform suggestions got.
Another notable thing about the Iowa effort was that the official Ron Paul campaign only had one office, near Des Moines in the center of the state. I never actually made it to that office, and in fact a person I spoke with there did not seem very interested in wanting people to come help, let alone being able to try to answer any of the questions I had (see above) and suggested I try contacting the grassroots folks instead. Which is probably just as well. Paid campaign staffers who have been given any significant level of responsibility tend, in my experience, to behave like fearful, over-protective mothers and are a drag to work with.
Grassroots supporters, meanwhile, had opened at least four additional offices on their own, and had a generally more welcoming vibe. I spent time at three of those offices, in Fairfield, Davenport, and Iowa City. In Iowa City I ran into Richard Campagna, our 2004 vice-presidential candidate, and in Fairfield I stayed at Roger Leahy’s place. Roger has been a very generous supporter of Dr. Paul, and was no less generous toward me, giving me the run of his charming guesthouse for three nights! I don’t recall physically meeting any other people who were specifically Libertarian that I was aware of, but most of the RP supporters seemed fairly libertarian, from what I could gather. There were several other active Libertarians in Fairfield who I somehow never managed to run into, including Clyde Cleveland who ran for Congress on the LP ticket.
I did have a great conversation at the 2nd Street Coffee House (the place to eat if you’re in Fairfield, imho!) with a couple guys from local radio station KRUU — thoughtful liberals who had some reservations about Ron Paul, but were friendly and invited me to be a radio guest sometime. So gotta follow up with that!Starchild is a long-time Libertarian activist from San Francisco. Ron Paul is currently running for President as a Republican, but he was the LP’s candidate in 1988. There continues to be discussion in the media that Dr. Paul might go third party if he doesn’t get the Republican nomination.