For all the criticism we Iowans get at this special moment every four years, we at least have the reputation for playing the game of politics fair and straight.
That's one of the reasons that the massive crossover vote from Democrats and non-party voters -- that term "independent" always seems self-righteous to me-- I expect in tonight's caucuses, doesn't feel right to me.
I've predicted that crossover votes will lead to a Ron Paul win tonight. But if only self-identified "real" Republicans were caucusing, Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum would be more likely to win.
Now we're Iowa Nice, of course, so we have a pretty open set of rules. You can change affiliation on the spot (though Republicans, to make a political point about photo ID laws, are asking for ID to re-register this year. Democrats, in part to make the opposite point, aren't.)
I've seen crossover interference for years, on a local level. We get a lot of "Democrats for a day" in Johnson County, which hasn't elected a Republican county supervisor in 50 years. Locals call it "the real election." Classic statistic: 1000 more votes for county recorder in the 1998 primary than for governor.)
Most of this, despite the complaints of party regulars like me and my evil Republican twins, isn't a calculated effort to nominate a weak candidate for the other party. It's usually a sincere effort to vote for someone, or sometimes against someone. Sorry, but in my mind that's what general elections are for. Gaming the system always bothers me. Political parties deserve the right to choose their own candidates, without interference from the other team, and that right has ben successfully argued all the way to the Supreme Court.
But that's goody-goody idealism. Here's a practical reason.
Iowa law gives party central committees and conventions a lot of power. If there's a special election, there is no primary. Delegates and/or precinct chairs (depending on the office) choose the party nominee. There's also a convention if no candidate wins the required 35 percent in the primary. It's only been a decade since a couple hundred votes at a district convention sent Steve King to Congress.
If you're a Democrat who decides to be A Republican For A Day, and your congressman dies or your state senator resigns, you're not in the room. You're not a Democratic delegate or committee member, because those people are elected on caucus night, and you were down the hall at the Republican caucus.
Johnson County is virtually guaranteed such a convention, with mid-term supervisor Sally Stutsman running for a strongly Democratic legislative seat with no incumbent.
Granted, it would be kind of fun to mess with the Republican platform committee. But other anti-war and progressive Democrats are pursuing a more honorable approach: an uncommitted Democratic effort. I'm not with them -- as we say in Obama world, I'm In -- but I wish them well.
There were problems with accurately and honestly reporting uncommitted results against Bill Clinton in 1996, but now that results are reported directly from the caucus site to the state party, rather than through county party chairs, those issues should be resolved. Sure, there's going to be a first-stage attendance Democratic "result" reported early in the evening, before the actual delegate count gets reported. I don't support that idea and will do my best to report the real result. But whatever that small uncommitted Democratic percentage is, it will stand on its own as a clear message, rather than getting buried as an indistinguishable factor in the Republican results.