Edwards Supporters Will Still Play Role in Iowa
National news media are reporting an Iowa national delegate count of Obama 16, Clinton 15 and Edwards 14 as if it’s a set-in-stone statistic. But with the exception of the superdelegates, Iowa is three months away from electing its first national delegate. The supporters of former candidate John Edwards have multiple options that may affect the final Iowa split between surviving candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
The percentages reported by the Iowa Democratic Party on caucus night are based on county convention delegates. Outside reporters look at those as simply a number. But those delegates are real people, with real, shifting opinions and motives. And those county conventions are real events, scheduled for March 15, and are only the first of three levels of convention.
The 99 county conventions elect delegates to congressional district and state conventions (the same people serve as delegates to both). The national delegates are not elected until the congressional district conventions on April 26. Most are chosen at the district level, but additional national delegates are chosen at the state convention on June 14.
“Lord knows I've tried to explain it to my share of national reporters,” said David Redlawsk, a University of Iowa political science professor and Edwards supporter. “They don’t get it. But now that the caucuses are over, no one really cares, and given the size of our delegation that's probably not all that surprising. There are bigger fish coming up,” most prominently next Tuesday's primaries and caucuses in 24 states plus American Samoa that are being called Super Tuesday, Mega Tuesday, and Tsunami Tuesday.
The first factor in settling Iowa’s final delegate count is simply who decides to show up on March 15. Just like caucus night, you have to show up to vote, though alternates can be seated. Things as simple as the weather may matter, as the first nice spring day or a late blizzard could keep people away. Some Edwards delegates -– indeed, some Obama and Clinton delegates -- will undoubtedly drift away, choosing to spend their Saturday on human being stuff.
“Presidential politics is a sideshow to life,” said Edwards supporter Paul Deaton, chair of the Johnson County Board of Health. He still plans to attend the convention, but said, “Now I am getting on to the main events, which for me are wellness, family, learning, my career and public health.”
Other Edwards delegates may shift to other candidates, and are already hearing from those camps. “I'd have to say how amazed and impressed I am at how quick the Obama and Clinton organizations have responded,” said Johnson County Supervisor Terrence Neuzil, a county co-chair for Edwards. “In less than 24 hours of the news that Senator Edwards was dropping out, I've been approached to join in with each of their campaigns,” he said. “At this point though, I am now undecided. I plan to remain that way, even if Senator Edwards endorses one candidate over the other.” Neuzil noted that he was impressed by Obama’s winning totals in Johnson County.
Flip Arkulary of Iowa City has already decided. “I'd like my delegate vote to go to Barack Obama, because I believe his message is closer to John's,” said Arkulary. “Obama wants to be a leader in the same way as Senator Edwards. This country is over-managed and under-led, and we don't need another Manager-in-Chief, such as Hillary Clinton. We need a visionary and leader like John Edwards, and I think that person will now be Senator Obama.”
Garry Klein of Iowa City is a former City Council candidate who now runs the Popular Progressive blog. He’s also switching from Edwards to Obama. “He has been my second choice and most likely to pick up on the issues that John Edwards pushed to the front, bringing people up from poverty, strengthening the middle class and reducing the influence of corporations in Washington,” said Klein. “Also, he doesn't carry the baggage of the Clintons to move things like national health care.”
In past years, supporters of defeated candidates have sometimes stuck together, in an effort to elect their people to the district and state, or even the national, conventions. This most prominently happened in 1992, when most of Iowa’s national delegates were elected under Tom Harkin’s fallen banner. Harkin turned his delegates over to Bill Clinton the day after the state convention.
Motivations for sticking with a defeated candidate include local political alliances, unhealed wounds, an interest in platform issues or simply a wish for a trip to the national convention. In 2000, 122 of 147 delegates for Bill Bradley showed up at the Johnson County convention a week after he dropped out, and all stayed with Bradley. De facto nominee Al Gore also seated 122 delegates, which was 100 percent of what he earned on caucus night.
"The Johnson County for Edwards group has not reached any conclusions yet, but we agree that our goal is to elect some Edwards supporters as delegates to the national convention," said Tom Carsner, a Johnson County Edwards leader. "This is our way of honoring the message and the work of John Edwards and the diligent work of the staff and volunteers and everyone who helped make this one of our best political experiences. We are only beginning to determine whether this goal is best accomplished by sticking together as an Edwards group, forming an Uncommitted group, or joining with Obama or Clinton."
The 15 percent viability threshold candidates had to meet on caucus night also applies to the conventions. Withdrawn candidates Bill Richardson, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd were viable in scattered precincts, but not in any county. Edwards, however, could be a force to be reckoned with in many counties and districts, even in defeat. "Since Edwards polled around 30% of the Second District precinct caucuses, we think we can hold together at least 15% at the county and district conventions to remain viable as an Edwards group, if we decide to go that route," said Carsner. "We have not heard any direction from the Edwards campaign or from Edwards himself, so we are using our best judgment at this time."
"I am a county delegate for Edwards and plan to stay an Edwards man," said Doug Eden of Hills. "Maybe the state delegate will switch to Barack or Hillary, but you won't see me changing midstream."
"Regardless of the outcomes, I will NOT be found in Hillary's group under any circumstances," Eden said. "If by chance the main election came down to McCain vs. Hillary, I will have to oppose my own party to support Sen. McCain over her."
If the Democratic nomination is not settled on Überdienstag, Iowa’s county, district and state conventions could become the next battlefield. “Unless this is essentially a tie by April and/or June, our process won't end up making that much difference in the end,” said Redlawsk. “But it would still be better if the national media actually understood what we do.”
“In a close race, it will be interesting to see if (Clinton supporter) Tom Vilsack has any pull left,” said Klein.
For some Edwards supporters, it’s too soon to make a decision. “If I end up supporting another candidate I would be doing so with no illusions, well aware of their weaknesses, and with less passion than I have for the Edwards campaign,” said Carsner.
“I have not really talked to anyone about what we Edwardian people are going to do,” said Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek. “I am still in mourning.”