Monday, April 08, 2013

Caucus Date? News To Us

Iowa Republicans have announced a 2014 caucus date -- to the surprise of Iowa Democrats.

The Republican State Central Committee met Saturday and chose Saturday, January 25 as the 2014 date. Party chair A.J. Spiker followed up with a Monday evening announcement.

"I was surprised to have seen they set it," Iowa Democratic Party Executive Director Troy Price said. "We had been talking with them about getting together to set a date that would work for both the RPI and the IDP, but apparently they decided to set a date before we had a chance to meet."

In late 2011, Democrat Sue Dvorsky and Republican Matt Strawn, the then-party chairs, worked closely together to keep the two parties both first and on the same date and time. The key difference this time, I'd guess, is less about the transition from the Dvorsky Administration to the Tyler Olson Administration, and more about the switch from Strawn to Spiker.

Staying first isn't as critical in a non-presidential year, though both parties stuck with January dates in 2002, 2006 and 2010 just to be on the safe side.

The parties chose weekday evenings in 2002 and 2006, but went with a Saturday afternoon in 2010. In part that was to address criticism of the traditional weekday night schedule from Hillary Clinton supporters in 2008. The Saturday daytime schedule drew some criticism from the Jewish community, but just anecdotally I heard more complaints on the two occasions the caucuses were scheduled on the Martin Luther King holiday. No way to keep everyone happy, I guess.

Historically the non-presidential caucuses have been low key events attended by just the most faithful of the faithful, the precinct captains and platform geeks. There was a little excitement on the Democratic side in 2006, when Ed Fallon supporters led an effort to break into preference groups.

But this year should be different as Iowa Republicans are looking at a factional fight for control of the party between social conservatives, Ron/Rand Paul type libertarians, and the business/Branstad branch of the party.

Caucus night is the first step in the process of choosing the state party leadership, and the die was cast on Caucus Night 2012 when the Romney and Santorum supporters "voted" in the non-binding presidential straw poll and left, while the Ron Paul supporters, with a keen grasp of the rules, stayed late to elect convention delegates. End result: the Paul Faction, led by Spiker, controls the party machinery, and Paul got the votes at the national convention.

The convention delegates could also play a key role if we see a wide-open primary for the US Senate or a congressional seat. The delegates chosen on off year caucus night 2002 (well, the delegates chosen BY the county delegates to the next-tier conventions) nominated Steve King when no candidate topped the required 35% in a four way congressional primary. That same year Republicans almost had a statewide convention for governor, as Doug Gross won a three way primary with just 35.6%.

All that stuff is the Republican's problem. What about us Democrats? "We are still talking with folks both here in Des Moines and across the state to make sure the Party selects a date that will ensure the highest attendance," said Price, "and hope to have a date selected at our next central committee meeting" May 18 in Ft. Dodge.

But the Republican decision ties the Democrat's hands a bit. No one outside the state cares that much about Iowa's off-year caucus. But it could be dangerous, even in an off year, to set a precedent of splitting the dates, because it increases the chance of splitting dates in a presidential year.

We occasionally hear the case for splitting the nights; the biggest complaint is the logistics. I hate caucus night. It's loud and crowded and long. Parking and physical space at caucus sites are stressed beyond the breaking point, and with both parties having open fields in 2016 the problems will be maximized.

Yeah, I hate caucus night. You know what I like? The year before the caucuses. The year when any Iowan with the will to do so can walk up to the next president and ask a question, shake a hand or get an autograph. And we only get that because we're first.

Mistakes in our process - not blaming one party because to the nation it's IOWA's process not the RPI's process - did us some serious damage in 2012. And the national media does not really get that the caucuses are a party meeting, not an election.

Let's say the Bull Moosers caucus on a Saturday afternoon and the Know Nothings go on a Monday night. (I use dead parties to be nonpartisan here. Besides, Bull Moose and Know Nothing are inherently funny.) There is number one no possible way the Bull Moosers can get the caucus attendance list to the Know Nothings in time and number two why on earth would you give your most valuable collection of data to the other team when you're charging the candidates of your OWN party big bucks for it?

All it would take would be ONE jerk going to both caucuses and then having a loud press conference to brag about it, and we'd be done. No more hanging out with Joe Biden at the Hamburg Inn, just a vote in a June primary between presumptive Know Nothing nominee Millard Fillmore, Jerry Litzel, and Lyndon LaRouche.

The only real choice Iowa Democrats have here is to go along with January 25, 2014, and maybe suggest 1) an evening event to address the Sabbath concerns (Spiker didn't mention a specific time in his release) and more importantly 2) hey, guys, let's talk a LOT more before we do this again, okay? AMENDMENT: If the GOP wants to try again and talk to the Democrats this time, that'd work too. I don't care about weeknight vs. weekend. I care about one thing: FIRST.

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