Friday, December 30, 2011

Ron Paul Welcomes Democrats... Sometimes

Governmental minimalist Ron Paul is a near cinch to win the biggest bastion of the public sector in Iowa in Tuesday's caucuses, in large part with Democratic votes. But at least one Democrat -- that would be me, in my press hat -- wasn't welcomed at a Friday night training session and was asked to leave.

How is the gold standard, shutter the government libertarian cleaning up in a town where the largest single employer by a factor of ten times is the public University of Iowa? A town so liberal that its political nickname is "the People's Republic of Johnson County?"

The top three reasons are war, war, and, let's see... war. Sure, there are some legit libertarian Republicans here in Iowa City. Paul drew 15% of the Johnson County caucus vote in 2008 to finish fourth, just six votes out of third place.

But that was against a fully contested Democratic caucus that drew over 18,000 attendees, compared to the GOP's 4,000. (The county's party breakdown isn't quite that lopsided, though Obama did carry Johnson in November with 70%.) This cycle, the Democratic race is essentially uncontested, and anti-war Democrats are seeking a way to express themselves.

Three weeks ago I attended a meeting organized by Jeff Cox, a history professor and former local county Democratic Party chair. His goal with a "Healthcare Not Warfare Caucus Campaign" is to elect uncommitted Democratic delegates. Unlike the Republicans, who forego the presidential vote in re-election years, Democrats do the whole thing every time. I agreed to attend the meeting to explain the relatively complex Democratic rules, even though I'm caucusing for the president myself.

But as the two dozen or so people in attendance went around the room introducing themselves, a pattern became clear. Roughly half were not attending the Democratic caucus at all. They were crossing over for Ron Paul. Jim Walters, a longtime Democratic and union activist, gave an impassioned indictment of Obama administration foreign and military policy and urges the would-be Uncommitteds to join him at the Republican caucuses instead.

To these folks, Paul's foreign policy "gaffes" in debates, like arguing that it doesn't matter if Iran has nuclear weapons, or saying we should come home from Korea after 60 years, aren't mistakes at all. They're the reasons to support Paul. For every regular Republican he lost in the last pre-Christmas debate, Paul probably gained an independent and a Republican.

It helps Paul that the Democrats don't have a significant contest, that an Obama primary challenge never happened. A guy like Jim Walters wouldn't be crossing over to the GOP if there were a Dennis Kucinich in the Democratic race.

My perspective is likely skewed by my residence in the People's Republic. But I smell a Paul win. Super number cruncher Nate Silver of the New York Times notes that many polls only include registered Republicans. But in Iowa, crossing over is easy. You can re-register and switch party on caucus night. Some of the regular Republicans have grumbled about it a bit.

And after Paul wins Iowa, that grumbling will get even louder. (Yet the party will no doubt brag about its gains in party registration the next time the voter registration totals are updated. They did the same thing last year after their numbers were swollen by a divisive primary for governor.) And the party establishment will rapidly unite behind whoever comes in second to Paul, preferring to lose an election rather than let the libertarians take over the party.

Which they may do anyway. In fact, they kind of started to already.

The secret of the Iowa Republican caucuses, and the difference between them and the Democrats, is that the numbers reported on caucus night have nothing to do with the national delegate count.

Most people's vision of the Iowa Caucuses is the Democratic caucus, because the process is more colorful. You literally divide up into corners of the room. No ballots: Obama people over here, Edwards people over there, Hillary people on that side. The county convention delegates, who eventually choose the congressional district, state and national delegates, are chosen out of each group. (I'm simplifying it a LOT; I know no non-Iowans who actually understand Democratic delegate math.) The "votes" don't count until the moving around the room is done, and the "votes" that are reported are the delegate counts: Obama 4, Edwards 2, Hillary 1.

But the Republicans are simple. You show up, you vote. Let's say 100 people go to your Republican caucus. The hypothetical result is Romney 32, Santorum 22, Paul 15, Perry 15, Gingrich 9, Bachmann 7, Kevin Phillips Bong 0. That number gets reported to Des Moines (or, rather to the "undisclosed location," yes that's the actual phrase they used, where results are tabulated. Guess that means Dick Cheney is in charge.)

Here's the catch: A lot of people, after the vote is reported, go home. And it's the people who STAY that choose the delegates, undifferentiated by candidate preference. And the people who stay choose the committee members and write the platform and that's why Ron Paul's supporters are heavily represented on the state central committees -- because Ron Paul supporters are the ones who stay at the meeting.

And that was kind of the explanation I expected to get tonight at the Ron Paul Caucus training, one of several dozen being held sequentially across the state this week. And in best Ron Paul fashion I wanted to be the one to stay at the meeting. But they didn't let me.

There's been word of an attitude of secrecy around the Paul campaign. Out of state volunteers are asked to agree not to post about the campaign to social media, for example. The campaign announced that it was holding caucus trainings around the state but the web site listed only cities and dates, not times or locations. To get the details, you had to sign up. After signing up, you got an email that said you would get ANOTHER email before the training with the site and time. None of that was hard, but it was a bit unusual compared to the typical campaign effort to publicize date time and location as loudly as possible.

I signed myself up. Though I'm a Democrat, I've been writing a long time and I attend GOP events, openly as a writer and a liberal, as often as possible. The local Republicans know me and give me just the right amount of ribbing. and I've had a good working relationship with local Republicans on caucus logistics. We fight like cats and dogs on issues, but Iowa Democrats and Republicans are solid partners in the business of keeping our quadrennial tradition of first place. If you walk into a Republican caucus by mistake in an Obama shirt, you might get teased a little, but you'll get friendly directions to the other room down the hall.

So that's the mood I expected when I walked into the local Ron Paul headquarters. Only two candidates have a Johnson County headquarters: Ron Paul and Barack Obama. On the way in I saw an eclectic mix of bumper stickers: the Johnson County plates had anti-war stickers, a car from next-door rural Washington County had a "Stop Zoning" sticker next to the Ron Paul.

People kept arriving as I did, with the body count close to 20. I recognized a few faces from other Republican events. A few of the locals recognized me including Beth Cody, a libertarian and fellow member of the local newspaper's guest contributor group. One person asked me where my hat was; my inadvertent trademark as a blogger is a red beret that I wear to indicate whether we're on or off the record.

I dutifully put it on, as it's a well-known part of the act, and introduced myself to the two people who appeared to be the trainers in charge from the Paul campaign. They may have been staff, they may have been volunteer. Didn't get the chance to ask. I explained that I was a blogger, yes a liberal but interested in what they had to say for a story. The young woman from the campaign chatted a bit more, but her young male colleague stepped away to make a phone call. I chatted some more with the friendly local Paul supporters, but noticed the phone call.

As I prepared to take a seat next to a woman who has been registering voters for the Paul campaign, my suspicions were confirmed as the young man returned to relay his orders from state HQ. And that was that the event was volunteers only and I would have to leave. I said I understood, but added, "well, that'll have to be my story, then."

So that's my story, then. (Also featured at

Credit where it's due

Regular readers know that Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) and I have been feuding for a while. I've tried to make it clear that my issues aren't the issues, they're the tactics, but that hasn't always come across. Or we've agreed to disagree.

So here's a thumbs up to CCI for trying to do things my plain old boring establishment way: Caucus resolutions. The rhetorical style isn't my cup of tonic water, but yeah, I'd vote for these.

Though I'm thinking about voting no on the whole platform at our county convention. Even as a way to make a statement, it has its limits. Johnson County has historically chafed at the district and state imposed length limits and mushy "priorities" voting process, which leads to vague statements like "bacon is yummy" and "9/11 was bad." So sometimes our whole platform gets tossed without consideration at the district level because we did it our way and ran over the word limit. And with no way to make the elected officials actually follow it, why pass one?

I still wish well to all the folks of both parties who are about to embark on the platform process. But CCI: good luck getting any of these passed at a GOP caucus...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Real Headquarters Story

This is not a story about people getting arrested at Democratic Party headquarters in Des Moines.

It's about the phone call I got about an hour or so before that.

It was GOTC (Get Out The Caucus) Day at Obama headquarters and phone banks across the state. A rookie volunteer called me from the Iowa City office, on her own cell phone. She didn't know I was the Number Four Political Blogger In Iowa (I guess I'm number three now that Iowa Independent died) with as many as tens of readers. She just wanted to ask me in all sincerity if I would be attending my caucus for President Obama.

I assured her I was, took a moment to thank her for doing the real work of the campaign, and let her move on to more important calls.

The zeitgeist of 2008 didn't just happen. It was hard work, one phone call at a time. "Plan the work, then work the plan," my friend Sue Dvorsky says. And Team Obama is working the plan.

Blog for Iowa's Trish Nelson phone banking in Iowa City today.

Change is not easy, Obama cautioned us in that exciting year of Hope. It's hard work, it doesn't happen overnight. And frustration is understandable. Barack Obama wasn't able to turn around an economic crash 30 years in the making - thanks, Reagan! - in his first 30 months in office. He started out working with a Congress where 80 percent of Democrats were agents for progressive change, but were stymied by a handful of Blue Dogs and unanimous Republican intransigence.

And that was the good old days of 2009 and early 2010, when he staked his presidency on a half a loaf health care plan, hardly the Socialized Medicine of the scare ads, that for all its flaws ended pre-existing conditions and is already keeping millions of young adults on their parent's insurance past graduation. Yes, that was the good old days, before brinksmanship battles over once-routine votes.

Sue Dvorsky knows about those frustrations. And her way to fight those frustrations is to make one more call and knock on one more door. She'll ask you to do it, she's spent years doing it herself. She wouldn't ask you to do it if she hadn't.

And today when Sue was literally physically blocked outside her own office, while some of her staff was physically blocked inside, she listened to those frustrations, from people who believe that being loud and visible is a better way to make those changes. Unlike the Republicans, who ignore the protests, Sue and the Iowa Democratic Party met them head on and with respect, even when some of those frustrations were visceral emotions rather than specific policy points.

But this story isn't about Sue Dvorsky either.

Sure, the cops got called. That's part of the dance. Nobody got arrested who didn't decide ahead of time that that was their wish, their way to make change. That's how you make news.

Although, when the cops say on arriving, "So, how many today Frank?" does it count as news anymore?

No, this story is about that phone banker. There aren't enough stories about her. There were far more of her today than there were picketers. And this story is about the staffers who work even longer hours, because if you're getting a paycheck, you're expected to work even harder than the people who are doing it for free.

They didn't get their names in the paper. There's no glamour. There's a slice of pizza on a good day. There's persuading and listening and occasional rudeness and tedium.

But for me, today, that's news.

Dems Yet To Unleash Biggest Asset

No one will admit it, but I suspect at least part of the reason for grumbling in the Democratic ranks is that we're spoiled.

Iowa Democrats got used to seeing Barack and Hillary and The One We're Embarrassed To Mention Anymore every time we crossed the street, and we're a little jealous of the Republican activity. Sure, we have more Obama HQs than anyone in the GOP field, but that's just not the same as the real thing.

The lack of a personal presence has left Dems vulnerable to reporters seeking some story, any story, on the left to "balance" the bus tours and rallies of the Republicans. So they've fixated on the handfuls of uncommitteds and HQ Occupiers because hey, that looks like a story. They're more dramatic than the hundreds of Obama volunteers quietly making phone calls. (And for the participants, chanting Hey Hey Ho Ho Something Something's Got To Go with like-minded peers is probably more fun than doorknocking, too.)

Bill Clinton got this in 1996. He knew that Actually Being President is a bigger deal than Just Running For President, and did an Iowa fly around caucus weekend. We filled Carver Hawkeye Arena. And no, a video uplink on caucus night just doesn't cut it.

This isn't going to happen, but just for perspective: One 30 minute stop on the tarmac in Des Moines would completely eclipse the Occupy/uncommitted "story," and most of the Republican field as well.

GOP caucuses: whose votes count?

Lost in the shuffle of yesterday's drama of defections, arrests, and polls, a release from the Republican Party of Iowa on caucus counting process. Most of the mirth has focused on the votes being reported to an "undisclosed location," which must mean Dick Cheney is in charge. But here's the important part:
We will be reporting the votes for Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Buddy Roemer, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, “No Preference,” and “Other.”
Ballots are blank so everything's a write in. So what's important here?

  • A vote for a dream candidate like Chris Christie or Sarah Palin is "Other."

  • Ex-candidate Herman Cain gets counted.

  • But ex-candidates Tim Pawlenty and (remember him?) Thaddeus McCotter do not.

  • Neither does Gary Johnson, who just made his jump to the Libertarians official.

  • And attention Colbert Nation: if they do this like they did at the straw poll, a vote for Rick PArry is a vote for Rick PErry.
  • Sorenson Defection Helps Santorum More Than Paul

    My twitter feed was a regular telenovela last night, with the greatest tale of betrayal since:

    Senator Kent Sorenson, Iowa's earliest and loudest Michele Bachmann backer, deserted the sinking ship and jumped to Ron Paul. Sorenson appeared at a Bachmann event earlier in the day, then showed up with Paul in the evening, in the fastest turnaround since the Cubs and Cardinals traded Max Flack and Cliff Heathcote in the middle of a doubleheader in 1922.

    Why change this late in the game, O bald one? Here's the whole statement but the meat is:
    As for conservatives who are rightly concerned with defeating establishment Republicans Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and – even more importantly – Barack Obama in 2012, Ron Paul has established himself as the clear choice.
    But Bachmann herself offered a different interpretation: "Kent Sorenson personally told me he was offered a large sum of money to go to work for the Paul campaign."

    Does that charge hurt Paul? Naah. His support is indigestible and, as Nate Silver noted yesterday, understated in yesterday's CNN poll that showed Mitt 25, Ron 22:
    What’s wrong with using a list of Republican voters for a Republican caucus poll? The answer is that it’s extremely easy for independent and Democratic voters to register or re-register as Republicans at the caucus site. Historically, a fair number of independent voters do this.

    Most of Mr. Paul’s slim lead in Iowa comes because of these independent voters. In the Public Policy Polling survey, Mr. Paul trailed Mr. Romney 22-20 among voters who are already registered as Republicans. However, because Mr. Paul performed very well among independents (and Democrats), he held a 24-20 lead in the poll overall. The CNN poll is quite simply missing these voters and therefore will probably underestimate Mr. Paul’s support, perhaps by several percentage points.
    So Sorenson defects from Bachmann to Paul to screw Romney and Gingrich, and this helps who the most? Rick Santorum.

    Maybe it's because he worked the old fashioned grassroots route, maybe it's because he's the only one who was never Flavor Of The Month with the accompanying scrutiny. But Santorum is suddenly on the move. Yesterday's CNN poll has Santorum jumping to third with 16 percent, his highest showing anywhere in anything. The rest of the poll has Newt down to 14, Perry stalled at 11, and Straw Poll winner Bachmann slumping all the way to sixth place and 9 percent.

    (Tangent: Does Bachmann's meltdown -- and there's no other way to spin it -- kill the Straw Poll? Maybe, unless the Iowa GOP can retroactively call it a draw with Ron Paul. And the odds are they won't say ANYTHING that helps Ron Paul. They'll blame his likely win on crossover voters -- then brag about their jump in voter registration when the statistics come out.)

    Bachmann's support won't follow Sorenson en masse to Paul. Some will stay with Bachmann and Brad Zaun, of course. But if, as I suspect, the SocCons' priority is blocking Romney (and Paul) plenty of them will shift toward Santorum in the hopes of pushing Mitt into third. Strategically the social conservatives need to be united and alive through the friendly ground of South Carolina.

    Santorum himself spins it well in describing Iowa as three separate races: the Ron Paul thing by itself, Mitt vs. Newt for the Establishment crown, and himself, Bachmann and Rick Perry (an afterthought in yesterday's drama) for the social conservative crown.

    The months-long struggle to identify THE social conservative candidate seems to be shaking itself out at last in a most improbable way, in favor of the the Some Dude who lost his senate seat by 20 points. Pass the popcorn, this'll be fun to watch.

    Wednesday, December 28, 2011

    Today's Tweets

    ...with slight elaboration.

  • "3rd mass email this week from BVP at famIly leader says 'Caucusing is Easy' but because endorsement is just personal it can't say who to caucus for."

  • "One killer ad or a Steve King endorsement could win this." The BVP Not famIly leader endorsement fizzled in its own incompleteness, and Branstad and Grassley are sticking with Iowa First neutrality. Steve's really the only player who could make a difference.

  • "Bigger story of afternoon: Santorum poll spike or Mitt HQ arrests?" I go with the poll.

  • "People don't get that Paul 'gaffes' like Get Out Of Korea and Who Cares If Iran Has Nukes aren't gaffes, they're why he's getting support."

  • "Safe prediction: GOP will decry Ron Paul crossover vote, then after the voter registration numbers are updated brag about their gains."

    People don't simply change affiliation. They change when they have a required reason -- such as a bitterly divisive race for governor, where half of the primary electorate voted against a four term governor, and the loser (who never endorsed) ran against the hand picked lieutenant governor candidate at the convention. That'll boost your party registration numbers, sure. So will a splintered caucus where the winner could pull less than 20 percent...


  • Nate Silver: "Basically, the CNN poll is liable to understate Ron Paul's support in Iowa by several points." Word.

  • Talking Points Memo: "Gingrich spox on CNN, saying finishing top 5 in Iowa "wouldn't be bad."" Out of six?!?
  • Tuesday, December 27, 2011

    The Split Decision

    48 hours or so before the 2008 caucuses, a Hillary Clinton staffer was already rolling out the spin of defeat -- off the record, of course. The idea was they wanted us to focus on percentages rather than on rank order of finish. "It's a three way tie for first" was the line.

    We didn't buy it then, and of course two nights later Barack Obama's first place was far enough ahead of John Edwards and third-place Clinton that it wasn't a plausible spin. But don't be surprised if you hear it trotted out in the next few days by someone.

    We Iowans have seen big fields of caucus candidates before this year's 6.01 candidate GOP field. But the difference was, someone or some ones were always the butt monkey of the field, down in the asterisk zone: Orrin Hatch or Richard Lugar or Chris Dodd. Sometimes good things happen to these people - ask Joe Biden. Other times, we don't hear from them again (Pete Du Pont?!?)

    But this field doesn't have one of those. For ages it looked like Rick Santorum would be in that category, but he finally seems to be getting his moment.

    (Tangent: I got my second mass email today from the famIly leader, with BVP in the from: line, since his personal endorsement of Santorum. But neither of these messages say the candidate's name--because they're the GROUP's list, not BOB's list.)

    So right now we have six candidates who, in various surveys, poll between the upper single digits and the low 20s. The victory bar is unbelievably low. The closest analogy year I can see is 1996, when six candidates (Dole Buchanan Forbes Lamar! Gramm Keyes) had significant support, and three others (Lugar Dornan and comic relief candidate Morrie Taylor) split the asterisk vote.

    Dole "won" that race with 26 percent, but a candidate might not even have to do that well to finish first. Consider for a moment the 2010 GOP primary for Illinois governor (winner gets a ticket to the state pen):
    Bill Brady 20.26%
    Kirk Dillard 20.24%
    Andy McKenna 19.29%
    Jim Ryan 17.04%
    Adam Andrzejewski 14.47%
    Dan Proft 7.73%
    Robert Schillerstrom 0.97%
    Plug Huntsman into that Schillerstrom slot. But the point is we have three guys within one percent, and the top FIVE (!) all within six percent.

    It doesn't even take that much imagination to see that if the votes split just right -- and they sure seem splintered -- someone could take this thing with 19 point something, and the candidate in third place less than a point away calls it "a three way tie."

    That said, I do see a couple other scenarios that break someone into the upper 20s for a "landslide."

    1) Maybe it's just my perspective in The People's Republic of Johnson County, but I think the peace vote crossover for Ron Paul is gonna be huge. Is the rest of the state seeing that?

    2) As a 2004 Deaniac I remember this well: people getting scared at the last minute and going for the "safe" choice, Kerry. ("They can't attack him; he's a war hero!") I can see a similar, late move to Romney, accompanied by a heavy sigh and a "awww, I guess we have to settle for him, then." And a longing look at the Also (Not) Rans, just like so many Dems were looking to Hillary back in `04.

    Thursday, December 22, 2011

    My Own Citizen's Microphone

    Good Lord, I don't want to write yet another story about yet another incident of shouting at yet another candidate. But after the "mic check" of Michele Bachmann at the Hamburg Inn, and fueled by another on-line argument today, something struck me about the rhetoric of the "mic check."

    The term puzzled me for a while. Its origins and meaning, like so much about Occupy and other related and non-related left rhetoric this fall, is a bit vague, but here's how I understand the basic idea. It's in some way linked the the ban on PA systems in the New York park where Occupy originated. "Mic Check" was shouted in part as a call to attention, and the meaning evolved into the unamplified voices being "the people's microphone" against the corporate mass media.

    The term has now evolved to where a "mic check" is a shoutdown of a speaker, usually with a cliched chant involving Hey Hey Ho Ho. And indeed, "mic check" was shouted before the chants against Bachmann.

    Well, I've got a people's microphone, too. You're looking at it.

    I didn't need a corporate media platform to have a voice. It took me nine years to earn it, to amplify it to the volume it has now. It's the 21st century and the tools are free or cheap. I logged onto Blogger on the last day of 2002 and just started writing. The price tag is zero. I have the money for a computer and a connection, sure, but I could have done the same for nothing at the public library.

    After a while I learned that when I took my little hobby seriously and created some good original content, my voice was amplified. I attracted readers. Eventually the whole thing grew into a decent paying side job for a while. And even though that's gone, the audience remains.

    I came to this state as a lefty grad student with no connections to anyone or anything, much like some of the protesters plaguing the candidates. Sure, I mainstreamed myself a bit, though I still find myself wondering as I'm criticized: "in what possible universe is John Deeth an establishment figure?!?"

    I had something to offer, though: a decent mind, some original thoughts, a little bit of a way with words. Combine that with some obsessive-compulsions (Must. Write. Every. Day!), and I got a good thing going.

    So you, the mic checkers, are trying to tell me that with all the tools at your fingertips in the post-Gutenberg era, all the social media and free tools, you have NO way to find a voice other than shouting?

    The Northeast Corner Shakes Out

    A triple announcement this week resolves a redistricting pair-up for Democrats in the state's northeast corner with a comeback attempt, a retirement, and a re-elect announcement.

    The seemingly coordinated rollout began on Tuesday when former one-term representative John Beard of Decorah announced for Senate District 28.

    That one caught my attention, because the empty seat had been rumored as an escape route for either one of two House members paired up in district 55: Roger Thomas of Elkader and Andrew Wenthe of Hawkeye.

    The other shoes dropped Wednesday, with the two emails from the House Democrats landing an hour and a half apart: Wenthe, an extremely narrow winner in 2010, is stepping down, while Thomas is staying and running in the GOP-leaning House 55.

    In retrospect it makes some sense. Oelwein-based Wenthe was on almost all new turf and had even speculated about moving south to Republican Dan Rasmussen's Oelwein-Independence based House 64. (Does Wenthe NOT doing that mean that one term Democrat Gene Ficken, who knocked off Rasmussen in `08 but lost the rematch in `10, may be making a comeback?)

    Thomas will be running on new ground in Winneshiek, but the Senate map seems like a good fit for Beard. He gained the Winneshiek-Allamakee based house seat in 2008 when Republican Chuck Gipp retired. Beard was unopposed as of filing day in 2010, but Republican Bob Hager got in late and won in November.

    The new map splits Winneshiek and Allamakee between House 55 and 56 (where Allamakee-based Hager is running again). This corner of the state is historically Republican, but trended strongly Democratic in 2008.

    More Tantrums, More Headlines

    So the usual suspects yelled at Newt yesterday and got attention. Congratulations.

    But wait: who's that in the photo?

    David Goodner of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund is escorted out by security during a news conference by Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, at the Iowa State Capitol Wednesday.

    And wasn't it just one month ago that he said he was stepping back, after a dumb-mistake arrest?

    My issue here isn't with the drug arrest -- I cut him some slack then and said that what he did shouldn't even be against the law.

    No, my issue is with the disingenuousness and hypocrisy. I expect a hair-splitting response along the lines of he didn't yell at Newt as an Occupy member, he did it as a CCI member.

    KCCI (no relation) cuts to the chase: "Political experts said while some protesters claim all the shouting and booing directed to the presidential candidates is a form of democracy, it may just simply be bad manners."

    There's a difference between a genuine mass movement -- which Occupy is in many places -- and a small cluster of people who, frankly, get their rocks off by screaming and getting arrested. And no, the "corporations are people" soundbite isn't worth the degradation of the political process.

    Update: Ed Fallon says it more eloquently:
    When it comes to social change movements, I challenge each of us, myself included, to continually ask "What would Gandhi do? What would ML King do?" Neither of these role models of non-violent action yelled, heckled, or charged at their opponents. We must remain impeccably non-violent if we are to win the hearts and minds of the people.

    Tuesday, December 20, 2011

    Split Semi-Endorsement Helps No One

    Well, the much-awaited, over-rated word from on high has dropped. The famIly leader organization is not endorsing, but group leaders Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley are personally backing Rick Santorum.

    Thus ends the chance for a social conservative to win Iowa in two weeks. The only way that would have happened was with a Come To Jesus (sorry Prof. Bloom but in this case it works) united effort that drove two out of three of Perry, Bachmann, Santorum out of the race or at least down below the Johnson/Huntsman Mendoza Line.

    What this says, of course, is that BVP's hand-crafted vehicle couldn't come to a consensus. That limits Bob's ability to use those resources; the mass email from the famIly leader has yet to land in my inbox.

    Instead, BVP has very slightly boosted the weakest (in polls, not in intensity) of the three, in a classic case of People's Front of Judea/Judean People's Front/Judean Popular Front.

    This doesn't get Santorum a win. It might bump him up from sixth to fourth.

    This gets more and more like 1996 every day. No one is going to "win" this thing. Someone is going to finish FIRST with a result something like:
    Paul or Mitt 25
    Paul or Mitt 25
    Newt or Perry 15
    Newt or Perry 12
    Bachmann or Santorum 10
    Bachmann or Santorum 10
    Huntsman and Johnson combined 2
    wish list non-candidates 1
    Kevin Phillips Bong: 0
    (remember, there's no names on the ballot so everyone's a write-in)
    The split decision by social conservatives just lowers that top bar a couple points.

    But on this much I'm sure: if Ron Paul is in the top two, anti-Paul Republicans will flock en masse post-Iowa to whichever other candidate is in the top two, just to block Paul.

    Monday, December 19, 2011

    Tantrums Get Headlines

    Tonight in Iowa Democratic volunteers spent their evenings with the quiet thankless tasks of organizing. They called hundreds of caucus goers, they watched an online presentation to prepare for caucus night, they stuffed nomination papers for legislators and courthouse officials into packets.

    Yet the headlines focused on eight protesters arrested at Democratic HQ in Des Moines including one person described in an earlier draft of the Register story as "a transient from Baton Rouge, Louisiana" (the word "transient" is now off the site).

    Let's be frank. A lot of this is about a few people's personal, emotional commitment to the political theater of confrontation. We've seen them do it on the Republican side, bragging in self righteousness that "sometimes free speech isn't civil."

    And they do it because it gets attention. For their issues, sure, but for themselves as well. I can't analyze the psychological needs, but I do have to admit that the media is more likely to focus on someone pitching a political tantrum than on a well reasoned position paper. And we in the media reinforce the tantrums by giving in and buying them the candy bar.

    Despite bragging Saturday about "shutting down" Obama HQ in Des Moines and planning a "permanent occupation, the Occupiers -- or, rather, the Catholic Worker/CCI axis that has co-opted Occupy Des Moines -- literally couldn't get themselves arrested. So they went somewhere where they could.

    The sentences grip with the grammar of forced communication: "We decided to make them listen to us." “We told him we are starting an occupation." So a committed party staffer with years of experience doing real work for change, a young man with a strong union labor background, had to be the bad guy and call the cops. Nice victory there.

    It's frustrating because despite my stance as a defender of the good against the perfect, I still see myself as an idealist. I'd like to see a radical restructuring of the federal budget and the economy that would net a 50 percent military cut and single payer health care, too. And I also wish Obama would flat out support marriage equality. Dennis Kucinich ran twice on a similar platform. He got a tiny handful of votes.

    It's going to take more than one term or one presidency to change things that much. and it's going to take a Congress willing to work for something more than the destruction of an economy and a presidency. Yes, that means more and better Democrats. (We had the More in 2009 but we needed the Better.)

    I've got more respect for another approach to dissent, the uncommitted group based here in Iowa City, They're participating in a democratic process by the rules, and they accept that they're in a minority. Still, I'm frustrated by their hostility to Obama, particularly to today's announcement that he'll address the caucuses directly.

    We have a president who may not be moving the ball fast enough, but is moving in the right direction. In case you've forgotten, Obama has accomplished a lot, and has earned the privilege of speaking to the caucuses.

    A challenger emerged to Jimmy Carter. Challenges within the party drove Lyndon Johnson from office. But the overwhelming majority of Democrats are, while maybe not 100% happy with Obama, confident enough in his abilities given the limitations of the economic and political realities. So all we have in opposition is a couple dozen dissidents in Iowa City (at the meeting I spoke to half were crossing over for Ron Paul) and a transient from Baton Rouge. But tantrums get better headlines than phone banking.

    This past weekend Republican politicos were mourning the loss of Wendy Jensen, a super-volunteer first for Tim Pawlenty then for Rick Santorum. I didn't know her, had never even heard of her till the tributes started coming in. But I know people like her on my team who quietly do the grunt work. We lost one of our own too last week: our longtime county party secretary, Carl Fongheiser, who made it to every meeting and convention and barbecue that he could as he battled cancer for years.

    It's for people like Carl that President Obama fought for the best health care plan that could get the votes. and it's people like Wendy and Carl, not self-serving attention seekers, who are the real heroes of change.

    Obama to Address Caucuses

    The leader of the Democratic Party will be addressing the first in the nation caucuses on Jan. 3, the Obama campaign announced via text this morning.

    The announcement, and the two days of emailed and twittered tease beforehand, was a handy-dandy way for Team Obama to update its email and phone lists for the new election year.

    The live video hookup to most caucus sites, scheduled for roughly 7:10 PM, had previously been billed as a message from "a top administration surrogate." Doesn't get much more top than that.

    The Obama video, and the anticipated lower turnout in an uncontested nomination race, is one of the reasons Democrats are "clustering" caucus sites with multiple precincts at one location. In Johnson County the 57 precincts will meet at eight locations.

    Also from the Department of Caucus Logistics: if you're changing your registration now, be ready to do it over again on caucus night. Both parties printed their voter lists in mid-November, and (locally at least) both parties are requiring anyone not on the list because of a move or a party change to fill out a registration farm -- even if you present a newly minted voter card. So if you changed registration any time since, say the city election, get there early. You can even bring your filled out form along.

    One key difference: Republicans changing on caucus night will have to show ID and proof of address; the Johnson County Republicans are following the election day registration rules. Democrats don't require ID.

    Registering Their Support

    We always knew the Register was going to go with one of the "grownups" in the race - does anyone else miss Tim Pawlenty and his Lady Gaga fixation right about now? I though Newt might have had an outside shot but all in all the Romney endorsement comes as one of the least surprising events of the cycle.

    But does it matter? It maybe strengthens the resolve of the near-extinct Bob Ray wing of the party, but it doesn't bring anyone on board. The endorsements that matter are Steve King - which probably won't happen - and famIly leader. I'm still thinking BVP wants to go with Newt but knows his base won't stand for it, and is trying to figure out if he can get away with it. We're only 15 days out, and several of those days are holidays lost to active campaigning.

    Is it possible that after the much-ballyhooed famIly leader presIdentIal lectures and the months of waiting, Bob will not endorse at all if he can't get his way? He may be screwed either way: if he backs a fourth or sixth place also-ran, he loses credibility, but if he backs Gingrich he loses his base.

    What else I got here:

    The first Stephen Bloom response that actually takes on his well-buried thesis -- Iowa is too backwards to deserve the caucuses - comes from a longtime supporter of the Deeth Blog David Redlawsk and partner in research Caroline Tolbert:
    Why Iowa? Because despite Bloom’s underlying complaint, Iowa is actually the median state; that is, it sits squarely in the middle, not just of the country, but on a host of indicators as detailed by our colleagues Michael Lewis-Beck and Pev Squire.

    On 39 of 51 economic, social and diversity factors, Iowa is in the middle, and for most of the other 12, Iowa’s difference is in a positive direction. In this sense, Iowa is representative, though in a larger sense no one state can be, no matter how large or small.

    Even California is thoroughly unrepresentative, with much larger Latino and Asian populations, for example, than other states. In the end, representativeness is a straw man argument.
    A couple routine re-election announcements from GOP legislators: Dave Deyoe in House 49 and Dan Huseman in House 3.

    Anyone else remember these Canada/Jesusland maps from the week after the 2004 election? An interesting read from In These Times on Republican separatism:
    What has recently come to the fore within the Republican Party, but has been building within it for decades as the religious right’s influence has grown, is a new Confederacy: a nation within a nation, certain of the degeneracy of the usurper “United States,” hostile toward its institutions of education and government, and possessing a keen sense of its own identity as a victimized, righteous remnant engaged in spiritual warfare.

    Sunday, December 18, 2011

    Occupy Des Moines Occupied?

    Free Speech For Me But Not For Thee

    UPDATE: Paul Deaton has more: "Desultory demonstrations, like the one at the Des Moines Obama for America office, do little to advance the cause of any of the groups involved, and there is real work to be done in advancing the cause of social justice."

    A split in the Occupy Des Moines movement seems to have boiled over this wekend, in the wake of a Saturday blockade at the Des Moines Obama headquarters.

    Why Obama, instead of a GOP candidate? Maybe that's the issue, but it's not directly stated in a fascinating series of tweets Sunday morning from the @OccupyIowa account.

    The Des Moines group has from the beginning been more confrontational than other occupiers in the state, and the series of tweets is worth a read:
    @DMRegister how about you get one of those fine journalists to investigate how Occupy Des Moines was co-opted by CCI and Catholic worker?

    @ABC5_WOI How about some real investigative journalism into how Occupy Des Moines was co-opted by CCI and Catholic Worker?

    @KCCINews how about some real investigative journalism into how Occupy Des Moines was co-opted by CCI and Catholic Worker?

    CO-OPTED: @occupydsm succumbed to top-down authoritarian model of Catholic Worker and CCI.

    Those formerly and currently a part of @occupydsm deserve to know the truth. Time for individuals in charge to come clean with intentions.

    Puppet on a string - @occupydsm controlled by a former catholic priest, a paid activist, and a paid organizer for the Democratic Party.

    It isn't really consensus when less than a dozen people make up General Assembly. Awfully easy to ram through personal agendas @occupydsm

    CO-OPTED: @occupydsm should have a caveat. *Occupy Des Moines - wholy owned subsidiary of Catholic Worker.

    CO-OPTED: @occupydsm should have a caveat. *Occupy Des Moines - wholy owned subsidiary of CCI.

    #CO-OPTED Dissenting voices have been pushed out of @occupydsm;now two or three authoritarians call the shots.

    #CO-OPTED: with latest move, it's now obvious that @occupydsm is nothing more than an extension of CCI and Catholic Worker.

    It's unclear which "a paid organizer for the Democratic Party" is being referenced; I suspect any Democratic staffer involved in blockading Obama HQ would already be an ex-staffer.

    Also worth a read, the self-congratulatory quotes from the AP/Register article

    DES MOINES, Iowa — Occupy Des Moines activists on Saturday vowed to shut down President Barack Obama’s campaign offices and set up a camp outside they plan to maintain around the clock.

    “We have every intention to keep this place closed down until we are satisfied,” said Frank Cordaro, an activist and founder of the Catholic Worker group in Des Moines.

    A handful of activists went to Obama’s nondescript office in a downtown strip mall after larger rallies to mark the three-month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York. They had hoped to read a statement demanding Obama cut military spending by half and “dismantle our U.S. military empire ... so we can create jobs, balance the budget, meet our peoples’ needs here and help the human community to heal our dying planet.”
    Not that I'm against military cuts, but this sounds like the platform that elected President Kucinich.
    When they arrived, they found the doors locked.

    “You wouldn’t even have known this was a campaign office,” said Julie Brown, an activist who recently moved to Des Moines.

    To highlight its tenets, the protesters put up a hand-written sign on cardboard: “Obama’s Former Headquarters.”
    Don't forget: one of the C's is for counterproductive.

    Friday, December 16, 2011

    Debate Tweets and Retweets

    Everyone else in the known universe is wrong. Sure, Ron Paul's Iran answer alienated the Dick Cheney wing of the party, but he's not looking for their votes. For every actual Republican he lost, he gained two independents and bicurious Democrats (who'll come back to Obama once the Republicans nominate someone else).

    That said, here's my backwards, as it happened take.

    Audience member shouting about Federal Reserve, looks like Security Dudes are on the case

    Having to say "I'm a serious candidate" undercuts yourself

    James Pethokoukis
    JimPethokoukis James Pethokoukis
    Now, in the last 30 seconds, let's turn to jobs

    Who will come out for mass deportations?

    Time running really short for BVP or King to endorse

    Perry goes Tenther

    good newt zinger flinging #zany back at Mitt

    ENtire rest of commentariat wrong that Paul lost that exchange. Lost votes from actual Rs outweighed by peacenik crossover vote

    Bachmann vs Paul, wouldn't have picked that one

    Santorum: #BombBombBombBombBombIran

    @TheFix and gains crossovers

    Paul speaks the unspeakable: Israeli nukes

    Paul doubles down

    We need some John McCain #bombbombbombbombbombIran

    Electoral college ad? Interesting placement

    Doctor understands law better than lawyer

    Caroline Horn
    CNHorn Caroline Horn
    For those keeping count, Gingrich now has compared himself to Reagan, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln and FDR. #iowadebate

    But then I'm just a clerk not a lawyer

    Bachmann obviously got her law degree out of a cereal box - but gets biggest applause yet for bashing the Varnum judges

    It's answers and applauses to questions like this that make me recoil from the GOP so hard. So hard. #iowaddebate

    Newt recovering his mojo, too bad his jurisprudence is #fos

    Mitt: USA USA USA

    Santorum: Repeal all of the things!

    The Fix
    Huntsman gets a China question. Hello hanging curveball! #iowadebate

    Jon who? Good reference to Chine dissidents - but note: that's a fundamentalist dog whistle

    The drop in the bucket of cutting congressional pay gets biggest applause of night

    @johndeeth Fear and Loathing on the Missouri

    this debate needs some Jimmy McMillan #rentistoodamnhigh

    This audience doesn't want to hear "bipartisan" from Newt they want Obama bashing

    Newt: I am not a crook

    Facism! Drink!

    The Fix
    Newt makes the case for government. And no one claps. #iowadebate

    Mitt namechecks Staples #thatwaseasy

    Strawn bragging up registration stats yet again #BVPneverendorsedBranstad

    Jon who?

    Perry uses Tebow as dog whistle

    Paul not answering Will You Support Nominee question

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    Politics In Stereo

    The Deeth Blog has picked up a new affiliation with Politics in Stereo, spearheaded by Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report:
    Politics in Stereo is the place to get state-based political news from the Left, the Right, and non-partisan sources, all in one place. We’re launching with five states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada) and building out the rest of the country next year.
    This isn't a job thing like the late great Iowa Independent was; I just keep doing what I've been doing for the last nine years and get some link love and some traffic. So hello, national readers. You should also check out Bleeding Heartland and Blog For Iowa, and glance over at the right channel of the Stereo mix for TheIowaRepublican. Balanced in the middle is my Pied-à-terre in the mainstream media, the Register.

    (While we're using audio metaphors, congrats to my bro Jeff Deeth for his latest credit: sound work on the new U2 film From The Sky Down)

    And a always happens anytime I get national traffic from a new source, I get writers blocked or (in this case) busy so I have little to offer but The Clip Show:

  • Tuesday night I spoke about caucus process to some uncommitted Democrats (I'm staying with the presidnet myself) and Ron Paul Republicans. There was some... venting, and I responded by asking "where's the primary challenger, then?"

    Well the answer, noted at the end of this piece that puffs up the bubble of Americans Elect, is that there's no base for a challenge:
    “[Obama] has a much more solid base of support than either Romney or Gingrich would have,” Jensen told TPM. “Only about 35% of voters like either of them, but Obama’s absolute worst case scenario would be something like 45% of the vote…if the opposition to him gets split in any meaningful way between two other candidates he gets reelected and probably with a huge number of electoral votes.”

    This helps explain why there hasn’t been a serious primary challenge on the Democratic side.

    So unless something changes dramatically for Obama’s left flank, it’s all really that simple — Democrats are united behind the president, while Gingrich and Romney each have a major chunk of Republican-leaning voters that would consider a protest vote if one became available.

  • Perennial candidate Steve Rathje, loser of GOP primaries in 2008 and 2010, quits the 2nd CD race against Bruce Braley.

  • Is Mitt the Hillary of 2012? Well, much like Clinton, he doesn't seem to get the caucuses.

  • Republican readers - especially female Republican readers - what do you think of THIS from Kos:
    Molly Gordon should be a Michele Bachmann supporter. But in a cruel, ironic twist of fate, the very voters to whom Michele should have the most appeal—the uber-conservative uber-evangelicals—are the exact same voters who believe, as Molly Gordon does, that a woman doesn't have what it takes to be president.

    The reality is, despite all that Mama Grizzly nonsense, Republicans really don't want to send a woman to do what they firmly believe is a man's job. Which is why (among the many other reasons), neither Michele, nor any Republican woman, will ever get anywhere near the White House.
  • Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Bloomsday in Iowa

    See, I'm not a dumb hick. I made a literary reference.

    Despite my birth out of state, I call myself an Iowan, my only residual affection to my first home state being my loyalty to the Green Bay Packers. (There's nothing I hate more than a bandwagon fan whose "favorite" team is whoever won the last Super Bowl. I survived the 1980s with the Pack and I earned it.)

    I came here 21 years ago, right around the same time Stephen Bloom did. And as an Iowan by choice, who made that choice at the same time so many Iowans by birth were choosing to leave, I have perhaps a stronger love of this state.

    My culture shock may not have been as great as Bloom's was and, judging from his controversial piece in the Atlantic, still is. He came here from a series of major metropolitan areas; I came to Iowa City from similar size college towns in Wisconsin. (Biggest difference I noticed: the lack of corner "townie" taverns in residential neighborhoods that pop up every four or six blocks in Cheesehead Land.)

    I intended my stay to be short and academic. But I got sidetracked by journalism and politics, never did finish that degree, and I fell in love with a gem of a city. It breaks my heart sometimes, as love often does, but I've never felt more at home anywhere.

    I was welcomed immediately by a tribe of like-minded liberals. They taught me the basics of ward heeling, let me add some refinements to the system, and have treated me like family all this time. (Sometimes treating you like family means you're grounded for two weeks.) Four years ago I married a wonderful woman who was more than happy to return here from another state. We've chosen to raise our children here, with Iowa City excitement and Iowa City values.

    Here's what I don't get: How can Stephen Bloom live in the People's Republic of Johnson County for 20+ years and be so isolated that he can't acknowledge that the state is not all monochrome East Jesus and Pole Bean Center? My Iowa -- my home --is the Ped Mall on a Friday night and the Writer's Workshop and RAGBRAI and a world class teaching hospital and one of the most Democratic counties outside a major metro area and yes, Hawkeye football Saturdays. It's a place where I can have a football field sized yard with a vegetable garden four blocks from my office. A three to five minute commute on my bike depending on if I hit the red light (we have more than one in this county). Try that in Chicago.

    I recognize some of the insularity Bloom talks about. I spent two of my years here in one of the outlying small towns of Johnson County, and I recognized the We Didn't Know Your Grandpa Look we'd get sometimes at the corner store. I also spent enough time looking at population statistics while I wrote District Of The Day to know that small town Iowa is losing population and jobs, to see an entire rural county's worth of population move into Ankeny in a decade.

    A decade and a half ago I door-knocked 20 small towns, in the meatpacking corridor, running unsuccessfully for the legislature. Some of which had lost their school, and you could tell they'd lost their spark with that. Some places, every door that was answered was elderly, and the doors that weren't answered were likely scared that an Anglo man talking about registering to vote meant trouble. Those two trends are long term and Bloom has eloquently documented them in his career here.

    Yet these same small towns would throw a potluck fund-raiser (starring the casseroles Bloom so loathes) for a family with a house fire or a critically ill child. Those same people would show up at six in the morning to help you sandbag your house as the flood waters were rising. How does Bloom not remember that from three short years ago?

    The mistake Bloom makes in the Atlantic piece is that he paints with too broad a brush. Many arguments start out in the fair and the familiar. But in aggressively pushing his agenda -- and that agenda is very clear, that a state this white and rural, even though we sent the first African American president to the White House, is unworthy of its key political role -- he takes the overgeneralizations about a notch and a half too far. Take for example this paragraph:
    But relatively few rural Iowans are employed in the business of wind energy. The bulk of jobs here are low-income ones most Iowans don't want. Many have simply packed up and left the state (which helps keep the unemployment rate statewide low).
    So far so good. The analysis of the rural meat-packing economy in the piece is excellent. But keep reading...
    Those who stay in rural Iowa are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in educated) to peer around the bend for better opportunities...
    Wait a minute. Some validity, but seemingly worded in a deliberately condescending and judgemental way. assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth...
    Nice sensitivity to the devastation of addiction, there.
    or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Annie, that "The sun'll come out tomorrow."
    And here we are at paragraph's end, in full contempt of the small-town heroes who try against the odds to keep their communities alive.

    Bloom falls victim to something I'm sometimes guilty of: letting passion about a topic carry me over the line. All the legitimate points about young people abandoning the state for city jobs and Steve King's politics of xenophobia will be lost to Iowans, and to many others outside the state, because he called Keokuk a skuzzy depressed, crime-infested slum town. The insults -- which they are -- will be remembered instead of the analysis.

    Iowa seems to stands guilty, in Stephen Bloom's eyes, of not being Manhattan or Chicago or Berkeley, even if some legislators would have you believe we were.

    Two decades ago in Wisconsin I was a TA. I hadn't moved to Iowa City yet but I'd been accepted into my graduate program, so I knew I was on the way. One of my undergrad students was an Iowa native and gave a speech about the beauty of native prairie. I can't phrase it as eloquently as he did, but he said: some scenery, like mountains and oceans, shout at you with their beauty. But the prairie whispers.

    After two decades, the beauty of Iowa is a steady sound in my life, a part of me. But sadly, for Stephen Bloom, he seems not to have been listening.

    Announcements and Openings

    Three weeks (!) till caucus night and bunch of mentions worth mentioning:

  • The Newt will be in the People's Republic tomorrow with a 2:5 stop on the medical campus.

  • The famIly leader continues its Gypsy Rose-like tease, announcing that they'll decide -- not announce the endorsement, just decide -- by next Monday. My read between Craig Robinson's lines: BVP really, really wants to go with Newt to block Mitt, but his base won't stand for the two divorces and is holding out in equal measure for Santorum or Bachmann.

  • The first GOP candidate opens a Johnson County HQ: Ron Paul. (Fair warning: the TV clip will auto-play). What good an Johnson County HQ does with three weeks, including finals and the holidays, does, I'm not sure.

    Looking ahead and moving down the ballot:

  • Wayne County supervisor Amy Sinclair in Senate District 14. That's the seat where deposed leader Paul McKinley is retiring. A narrow GOP registration edge. Wayne County is a small piece of the district, so I won't be surprised if other Republicans get in.

  • Also in the Iowa Senate, attorney Dorothy O'Brien joins fellow Democrat Rita Hart in the open Senate 49 race. The predecessor of this seat saw a four-way 2010 primary. All things being equal, the Democrat would be favored over Republican Andrew Naeve, but Naeve made it extremely close against Tod Bowman (holding over to the north) in `10.

  • And here in the People's Republic, four of five courthouse incumbents are on record as running for re-election.
  • Monday, December 12, 2011

    Peace Caucus Training On December 13

    From the in box, Jeff Cox has the following:
    Nonpartisan Peace Caucus Training On December 13

    Iowans who plan to vote for peace at the presidential caucuses will hold a Nonpartisan Peace Caucus Training meeting on Tuesday, December 13, 7 p.m., Iowa City Public Library. Sponsored by the Iowa Healthcare Not Warfare Caucus Campaign, the training will focus on caucus procedures at both the Democratic and Republican caucuses to be held on January 3. The Healthcare Not Warfare Caucus Campaign encourages caucus attenders to support delegates at the Democratic caucus who are not yet committed to any presidential candidate, but who support (1) removing all troops from Afghanistan within President Obama's first year in office and (2) the enactment of national health insurance (medicare for all) during President Obama's second term. Others will be in attendance to explain their plans to support a peace candidate at the Republican caucuses.
    I'll be on hand to explain Democratic caucus process.

    I'm In for the president, and yeah, I have some self interest. I want the Uncommitteds on board with Obama in November. But more than that, I want to be fair in January. These are the Democratic Party caucuses, not the Barack Obama caucuses. The Dems made a big mistake in 1996: there was considerable pressure from outside to report a unanimous Bill Clinton result. We didn't get that in Johnson County. So some results got "delayed" until after the news deadlines, and in effect flushed down the memory hole. After a lot of digging I finally found the real numbers (254 to 5).

    That won't be allowed to happen again; results now go straight from the precincts to Des Moines with no intermediate steps. And Sue Dvorsky gets it better than past state chairs have.

    Friendly advice: even if Uncommitted is below the magic 15 percent threshold, there are still those platform and committee seats to go for. And you'll make a lot more progress on those platform issues on the Democratic side than you will with the Republicans.

    Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Time for Social Conservatives to Choose or Lose

    It's getting almost too late for Steve King or Bob Vander Plaats to make an endorsement, but there may yet be one way that movement social conservatives can play a significant, if not winning, role in the caucuses.

    Look at these polls (cribbed via Daily Kos). Look CLOSELY, beyond, just the "Newt winning big" part. DO you see what I see?
  • IOWA (ABC/WaPo): Gingrich 33, Paul 18, Romney 18, Perry 11, Bachmann 8, Santorum 7, Huntsman 2

  • IOWA (CBS/NYT): Gingrich 31, Romney 17, Paul 16, Perry 11, Bachmann 9, Santorum 4, Huntsman 1

  • IOWA (CNN/Time): Gingrich 33, Romney 20, Paul 17, Perry 9, Bachmann 7, Santorum 5, Huntsman 1

  • IOWA (Des Moines Register/Selzer): Gingrich 25, Paul 18, Romney 16, Bachmann 8, Cain 8, Perry 6, Santorum 6, Huntsman 2

  • IOWA (NBC/Marist): Gingrich 26, Romney 18, Paul 17, Cain 9, Perry 9, Bachmann 5, Santorum 5, Huntsman 2

  • IOWA (PPP):: Gingrich 27, Paul 18, Romney 16, Bachmann 13, Perry 9, Santorum 6, Huntsman 4, Johnson 1

  • IOWA (We Ask America--R): Gingrich 30, Romney 16, Paul 14, Bachmann 13, Perry 7, Santorum 4, Huntsman 3
  • In a few of these Bachmann alone is ahead of Perry, but in all of them, (Bachmann + Santorum) > Perry.

    What's paralyzed the movement conservatives in Iowa is the inability to choose between Santorum and
    Bachmann. If one would bail on the race and endorse the other, the supporters might not automatically follow suit, but the natural inclination would be toward that second choice.

    It happened naturally in 2007: Mike Huckabee knocked Sam Brownback out of the race post-Ames, and emerged as the united choice of social conservatives. But Michele Bachman actually got a negative bump out of her Ames win, as Rick Perry's entry into the race completely stepped on the story.

    But let's hypothetically say it happens. Santorum or Bachmann drops out and endorses the other, and the supporters follow. That would bump her or him up past Perry and very close to the second tier of Paul and Romney. At that point, the survivor, Bachmann or Santorum, is a live round, and starts peeling support off of Perry and even Newt.

    I'd say the odds of that scenario are slim, but it's an opportunity the social conservatives are missing.

    Thursday, December 08, 2011

    Rep. Chambers to Retire

    The only chambers in the Capitol next year will be the House and Senate, as Representative Royd Chambers (R-Sheldon) is retiring.

    Chambers got paired up in redistricting with fellow Republican and good friend Dan Huseman. I know little of GOP politics in northwest Iowa, so not realizing these guys room together during session, my first guess was a primary. My second guess was that Huseman, who missed most of the end of session after suffering a heart attack, would be the one to step down.

    But with Chambers leaving, re-election looks easy for Huseman. New House 3 is basically Chambers' O'Brien County (population 14,398) and Huseman's Cherokee (12,072), with a few townships in eastern Sioux and Plymouth thrown in.

    In 2008, when his district ran south to the Sioux City limits, Huseman was held to 58%. But he failed to draw an opponent in 2010, and with a GOP registration edge of over 6,000, this one won't be on any Democratic target lists. So the Chambers retirement is the most excitement we'll see here.

    Wednesday, December 07, 2011

    First Dem Announces in Senate 49

    The only no-incumbent odd-numbered Senate district in the state has its first Democratic candidate, as teacher Rita Hart announces in Clinton-area Senate District 49.

    This was a mystery seat for a loooong time after Map Day. Democrat Tod Bowman won a 71 vote squeaker last year over Republican Andrew Naeve in old Senate 13. That seat was dominated by Clinton County, and went north into Bowman's Jackson County base.

    The new seat went south into rural Scott. Jackson County went north toward Dubuque, and Bowman was paired up with Epworth Democrat Tom Hancock. Several months went by with no word from either Democrat. Bowman could have moved into new Senate 49 and prevented an election--but the rumor mill said he didn't want to move. Hancock, last elected in 2008, had to run either way.

    Naeve, meanwhile, announced he was running again, even before it was clear what would happen. But when Hancock announced his retirement, it was clear Bowman was staying put in Maquoketa and holding over till 2014. So District 49 goes on the ballot next year for a two year term, then gets back on the four year cycle in 2014.

    The open seat in 2010 was inviting enough to draw a hot four way Democratic primary when it was open in in 2010. (One of the contenders, Brian Moore, jumped ship and ended up in the House, as a Republican). So it's not clear yet whether Hart will have the field to herself.

    The seat has a pretty strong Democratic edge - 3385 registration last April - but the old seat was better. Naeve actually won the Clinton County part of the district by about 500 votes, while Bowman rolled up his winning margin in the Jackson County areas that are now out of the district.

    Tuesday, December 06, 2011

    How Ron Paul Nominates Newt - And Elects Obama

    This started as a tangent in the Senate 42 post but now needs its own space.

    Ron Paul, now running in a dead heat for second with Mitt Romney in Iowa, may do just well enough to nominate Newt Gingrich.

    Scenario: an Iowa finishing order of Newt, Paul, Mitt. Quite likely. The flavors of the month, Bachmann and Perry and Cain, all tanked because they were full of surprises. After all these years, you think Republicans, especially active, caucus-type Republicans, are going to learn something NEW about Newt Gingrich?

    Yeah, they all know about the three wives. And they don't care. He literally wrote the playbook and the language of the present Republican Party and the modern post-congenial era of government, all from a backbench seat in the House a decade before he was Speaker. He's still the Contract With America guy who won back the House after 40 years. Even in his downfall, caught in a trap of his own hypocrisy, he was STILL a conservative hero, escalating the dynamic of Politics as Total War to include impeachment.

    (And by poisoning "impeachment" with partisanship so it couldn't be used when Bush and Cheney actually did impeachable stuff, he indirectly saved them, too.)

    All that stuff still makes Gingrich a hero to the base, in a way that winning one election in Massachusetts doesn't. It also excuses decades of flip flops more than having to run in Massachusetts does. Remember, despite the wave of 1994, the only two Republicans who lost anything that year were Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush.

    No, the only thing that sinks Newt in the next 27 days is if he trades in Calista for Wife #4. And as for Paul, he's going to overperform. He might even win if the weather's bad enough. (The other candidate who'll overperform is Santorum, but that only gets him from 5 percent to 8.)

    So after that third place in Iowa, Mitt starts to tank in New Hampshire. The entire GOP establishment throws him overboard and flocks to Newt to block Ron Paul, because they'd rather lose than let the libertarians and isolationists take over the party. You think the neocons will sit still for a guy who only wants to send troops to congressionally declared wars? And don't even get me started on the gold standard...

    So it's gonna be Newt, and the opposition research takes care of itself. 35 years of outrageous on the record quotes for Davids Axelrod and Plouffe to play with. The only hard part is choosing which ones make the top ten list. And the real winners are the comedians. Four more years. Watch it happen.

    Three Way Democratic Race in Senate 42

    I know, I know. 27 days till the caucuses. I should be saying something about the presidential race. Keep reading, you'll get there. But where else are you going to hear about the looming three-way Democratic primary in Senate District 42?

    The scene: The bump on the bottom of Iowa, Lee County, with Henry County and bits of Washington and Jefferson added. Our story begins when longtime Sen. Gene Fraise announces he won't seek re-election.

    Our players are:

  • Fort Madison Mayor Steve Ireland.

  • Also from Fort Madison, electrician and party activist Bob Morawitz.

  • And from Mount Pleasant, Rich Taylor, recently retired working more than 26 years at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. Does that mean he's the AFSCME guy in this race? If so, Representative Todd would sure welcome him to the Taylor Caucus.

    So with three we're theoretically in the zone where no one gets 35 percent, thus forcing a convention, but the votes would have to split exactly right. (Nearly happened statewide in the `02 governor primary: just three candidates and Doug Gross only got 35.6.) Still, you should go to your own party's caucus in case that convention happens.

    The winner faces Republican Larry Kruse, a Lee County supervisor, who got in before Fraise announced his retirement. Party registration favors whichever Dem gets through the primary; Henry County is solidly Republican unless your name is Vilsack, but Lee is even more solidly Democratic.

    Contests like this often become friends and neighbors races. Lee County makes up 59% of the district, with Henry making up 33% and the rest in the other counties. But the two Lee candidates could split that vote. Just one of many dynamics to watch.

    That Tangent got too long, needs to be a new post.
  • Now Official: GOP's Rozenboom in Senate 40

    This first surfaced back in September, now official:
    Mahaska County Supervisor Ken Rozenboom has announced his run for the Iowa Senate.

    Rozenboom, 60, of Oskaloosa, is a Republican and former sales and production management employee for Wake’s Inc. He was elected as a supervisor last year.

    Rozenboom is running for Senate District 40 in 2012. Due to this year’s redistricting, the seat will include all of Mahaska, Monroe and Appanoose counties, western Wapello County, and the city of Pella in Marion County. It also includes Sen. Tom Reilly, D-Oskaloosa, who has not yet announced reelection plans.
    The rumor mill also wondered if paired-up Rep. Betty De Boef might be interested in moving back here, but she's now announced her retirement.

    This will be an extremely tough hold for the Democrats: a GOP registration edge of nearly 5000, and other than his Oskaloosa base, almost all new turf for Reilly. Number two on the target list behind Governor Gronstal himself.

    Monday, December 05, 2011

    Crowded Field in House 37

    It's already been determined the the prize open House seat for Democrats is House 36 in northwest Des Moines, where incumbent Janet Petersen is decamping for a safe Senate Seat. Four Democrats ahev already announced and two more may yet jump in.

    The seat that's numerically next, across the county in north Ankeny, appears to be the primary battleground for Republicans. I dubbed this one "This Is Where Your District Went," in honor of all the rural House Republicans who got paired up.

    Ankeny has grown enough in the past decade that, for the first time, it gets split into two House districts. Old House District 70 was, basically, the city of Ankeny, which with its 2000 population of 27,000 was about 90% of a House seat. By 2010 Ankeny had grown to more than 45,000 and now dominates two House seats.

    Incumbent Kevin Koester is in the south Ankeny District 38, a near-even swing seat. Open District 37 has a GOP registration edge of 2368 (as of April; I'll update all those numbers sometime post-caucus. They'll all get more Republican, and the Republicans will act like that means something more than one party having a contested caucus and one not.)

    Candidate Jim Robidoux, a middle school Spanish teacher, is kind enough to list five potential primary opponents on his web site:

  • Tea Partier Stacey Rogers, best known for getting in the President's face with cohort Ryan Rhodes, was first in.

  • A pair of attorneys: Jacob Mason and Jeff Wright.

  • First time candidate John Landon.

  • Ron Paul backer Matt DeVries took his first shot at the legislature last year at the convention for the Senate 35 special, losing out on the seat eventually won by Jack Whitver. (Remember: Koester, the sitting state rep, not only lost the nod but was the second of the five candidates eliminated.)

    And that's the larger point here: the convention. State law requires 35 percent in a primary to win a nomination, otherwise it goes to a convention. For legislative seats, the deciders are county central committee members from the precincts in the district. For county offices, it's the county convention delegates. Either way, the deciders are chosen on caucus night. One more reason to stay in your own party's caucus in Polk County (see also House 77 in Johnson County), and to stick around past the "voting" and through the delegate and committee electing.

    See, the way GOP caucuses work, there's no direct connection between the "straw vote" count that's reported and the delegates that are elected. You can go to your caucus and "vote" for Mitt or Newt, and then go home. But it's the people who stay behind (mr subliminal says Ron Paul) who elect those delegates and committee members. So in June when your six way primary is indecisive, the votes go to the people who stuck around.
  • Friday, December 02, 2011

    Two Incumbent Faceoff in Sioux City

    Sioux City was ground zero in the battle for the legislature last year, with the entire Woodbury delegation stepping down and five open seats. The Tri-State Area looks to again be a battleground, with an open seat and what looks to be our first definite D vs. R two-incumbent House race.

    Thursday saw dual announcements from the two freshmen in the core SUX seats: Democrat Chris Hall and Republican Jeremy Taylor. They will face off in House District 13, which more closely resembles Hall's old seat and had an April registration edge of 848 for the Democrats.

    (All those registration margins will shift toward the GOP next year. Republicans will try to claim that as momentum on their part, when it's really just a function of which party had the contested caucus this cycle.)

    The odd thing here is that there's an open seat right next door in House 14. Democrat Dave Dawson, who lost to Taylor in 2010, has announced again. That's the more Democratic of the two seats.

    Based on party and turf, give the early edge to Hall, though the seat is close enough that field work and the larger political climate make it winnable for either side. Taylor won in a more Democratic seat last cycle. Expect both sides to make a big effort. Woodbury is historically one of the lowest turnout counties in the state, and it's the centerpiece of the Steve King-Christie Vilsack race.

    In a mostly routine re-elect announcement, Greg Forristall is running again in safely Republican House 22.

    Thursday, December 01, 2011

    The Noon News

    In the fine tradition of University Hospitals, some short mid-day clips:

    Joe Biden said again that he's open to a presidential run in 2016, explaining in an NBC interview that it would be "foolish" to rule out a campaign years in advance.

    "I am never ready to close the door on anything. That's just a foolish thing to do," Biden told the "Today" show's Ann Curry, during a visit to Iraq.

    Said Biden: "I am intent on reelecting Barack Obama president of the United States of America. The rest will take care of itself."

  • "America has some issues with race, according to a new paper from Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a Harvard University Ph.D. candidate in economics":
    His research found that “racial animus” cost Mr. Obama three to five percentage points of the popular vote in 2008.

    If the whole country held the same views as the most racially tolerant communities, the researcher found, Mr. Obama would have earned between 56.7% and 58.7% of the popular vote, compared with the 53.7% he won in 2008.

    “The cost of racial animus was not decisive in the 2008 election,” the paper states. “But a four percentage point loss by the winning candidate would have changed the result in the majority of post-war presidential elections.”

  • Kos, still bummed about how we spiked Howard Dean, does some more Iowa bashing.

  • Also at The Great Orange Satan, Which swing state is the most swingin', baby? Depends on how you define it, but Iowa's still pretty high on the list. How shagadelic is that?

  • And as the candidates sling mud, remember it could be worse:
    A lot of people who have gone to the zoo have become the targets of feces thrown by apes or monkeys, and left no doubt wondering about the so-called intellectual capacity of a beast that would resort to such foul play. Now however, researchers studying such behavior have come to the conclusion that throwing feces, or any object really, is actually a sign of high ordered behavior.
  • Bachmann lifts list?

    The most important story that the least people will understand:
    The Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators (NICHE) has sent out an email to the groups members that says that Michele Bachmann’s campaign uploaded the groups email list into their campaign database without the permission of the group.

    "NICHE has never shared or sold the use of the NICHE contact list in the entire 20 years of NICHE’s existence – and we will continue this policy. Moreover, NICHE does not endorse or support any candidates."
    The followup from NICHE (an apt acronym) says Team Bachmann has deleted everything, but what has been seen cannot be unseen. In the ground war of the caucuses, this is way more important than the candidate saying she'd close the embassy in Iran (which has been closed since the Hostage Crisis Era) or Kent Sorensen tweeting about "moving vans" at Cain HQ which turned out to be delivering yard signs.

    In the ground war of field politics, the list is your life. The staffers and volunteers make tens of thousands of phone calls -- if you're an Iowa Republican, you got one over dinner last night -- to separate the "ones" (supporters who absolutely will vote or caucus for your candidate) from your "leaners" and your "fives" (absolutely supporting someone else). Any tool, any list, that makes this task less tedious is priceless. But it always has a price, and groups who own such data make significant sums from it. Some lists sell for six figures, so an unauthorized use of a list not only implies an endorsement, it costs the organization money.

    What would be the Democratic list of comparable value to a home school list for Republlicans: absolutely solid, absolutely proprietary, and impossible to get? Big picture I'll say labor, but depending on your location there may be something else. In the People's Republic of Johnson County, I'd say the New Pioneer Co-op membership list would be the most valuable.

    That or race data in the voter registration files. (Those are public and available to campaigns for a fairly modest price, but can't be used for commercial purposes.) Iowa doesn't have that data, but some southern states with track records of discrimination do. In the Mississippi governor's race last month, where a white Republican beat a black Democrat, the results were almost entirely polarized on race. And with African Americans still polling for President Obama in the mid-90 percent range, that piece of data would be even more useful than party affiliation.