by Mark Scheinbaum
Angel Falls, N.M.
January 9, 2011
FAREWELL TO IOWA
ANGEL FALLS, N.M., Jan. 8, 2012 -- In my one stint covering the Iowa caucuses, I pretty much scratched my head at how a few voters, doing so little, could get so much media coverage with, ultimately, so little correlation with the rest of the country or the campaign.
When I arrived in Des Moines, Al Gore's flunkies had just leaked the "report" that former NBA star and New Jersey U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley - an opponent that year - had a "heart condition" that he was hiding and that would keep him from serving as President.
After picking up various credentials at the campaigns' HQ hotels, I took advantage of a fine editor's long leash and decided to hit rural areas and smaller cities and scope out this caucus mania.
The clue to the whole thing, confirmed again last night, was the big hand-painted sign which welcomed me to Iowa Falls on a sub-zero night as I drove to my motel:
DON'T FORGET: SCHOOL BOARD MEETING TUESDAY NIGHT!!
There were a few campaign posters around town, but most people at the motel and local coffee shops told me that on Tuesday they might go to the all-important school board meeting, where some local tax issues were coming up.
The school district did not reschedule their meeting because of election (caucus) day. My contacts, mostly what seemed solid folks, thought the caucuses were a hunk of insider crap in which political wannabees showed up in hopes that in the "after meetings" they would get elected as a convention delegate for a free, all-expenses-paid party trip to the national convention.
I dropped in on two or three caucuses from each party. The Democratic caucii were loaded with out-of-state AFL-CIO union reps leading local members in hush-hush strategy sessions.
The GOP meetings were dominated by local ministers giving sermons to parishioners (honest) who they brought to the meeting, delivering small blocks for the clergyman's favorite candidate. Few party "rank and file" undecided or independent-thinking folks were there.
When 122,000 "votes" can create an eight-vote "winner" - as it did last night - it affirms the interest in South Carolina.
That year, I joined the lemmings in New Hampshire, where, I think, the "open" primary allowed people to cross party lines, leaving the results and trends useless for pundits.
South Carolina - blemishes and fundamentalists and all - thus became the first meaningful vote of the year.
Bye-bye Michelle. Good luck, Rick!