Caucus Intrigue

2 January 2008

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Kucinich Backs Obama as Second Choice

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has instructed his backers to throw their support to Illinois Senator Barrack Obama in the event that Mr. Kucinich doesn't reach the 15% support threshold needed to secure delegates in tomorrow night's Iowa caucuses. He stressed this applied to Iowa only, but stated, “in those caucus locations where my support doesn't reach the necessary threshold, I strongly encourage all of my supporters to make Barack Obama their second choice.” This just proves that caucuses are a different kind of democracy altogether.

The caucus is not just one night's meeting in a living room, firehouse or strip mall office. The process actually goes on for weeks. Tomorrow night, Iowans will meet at the precinct level (the smallest electoral unit in America) to select delegates for the county caucuses, which will be held in a few weeks. The county caucuses will select delegates for the state convention, and there, the parties will make their final selection of delegates to the national nominating conventions.

At each level, backers of candidates who come up shy of 15% can join someone else's caucus, and can even be selected as delegates to the next round of meetings – pledged to their new candidate. At the precinct level, neighbors are going to be arguing and persuading each other to move from the fireplace where a failing candidate's supporters are standing to go over by the couch or by the dining room door where a more successful campaign is. There is no secret ballot – a voter has to publicly make a choice.

Because of the territorial considerations, a candidate with 10% statewide isn't necessarily out of luck. If that 10% is located in just a few counties, he or she will almost certainly win delegates to the national convention. Moreover, there is no rule that says the caucus goers have to accept any candidate. Undecided delegates are common, and as the process moves along, their leverage increases.

What is significant about the Kucinich “endorsement” is the validation it gives to the Obama campaign on the left. There are a great many progressive Democrats who aren't sure of the Illinois' Senator's genuine progressive approach. Their preferred man is Mr. Kucinich (and in other cases, former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel). Given the populist campaign of Senator John Edwards, one might have thought that Mr. Kucinich would throw his weight (such as it is) behind the North Carolinan.

Tomorrow night and Friday morning, there will be a lot of postulating and analysis about the significance of Iowa. In the end, Iowa won't mean very much – it's too small in terms of population. It may kill off a few campaigns that never caught fire but with Wyoming caucusing this week-end, and New Hampshire's primary on Tuesday, one would be surprised if anyone quit solely based on Iowa. What is significant is that the progressives in the Democratic Party just might be a little more comfortable with that “skinny kid with the funny name.” In the end, they will decide the important races.

© Copyright 2008 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Fedora Linux.

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