Iowa Caucuses: Taking “First in the Nation” Status Seriously

For most people in the United States it may be hard to fathom what happens to everyday people in Iowa before the presidential caucuses. For example, in 2007 I had dinner at a local restaurant with Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and five other people — just me, five other people and Madeline Albright (Madeline Albright, folks!). She was trying to garner support at the caucuses for Hillary Clinton and did her best to arm us with facts, anecdotes and arguments we could use in the caucuses to help Clinton win.

Photo courtesy of WEBN-TV2

It’s hard to believe that spending two hours with six people could be an effective use of anyone’s campaign time, especially someone of Secretary Albright’s caliber. It’s because the Iowa caucuses are more involved that a simple primary. A small group of well-informed individuals go out on a snowy January night and talk frankly, listen carefully, argue intensely and decide which candidate best represents the consensus in the room. Therefore, persuading even one passionate person to “caucus for” your candidate can have a much broader effect than convincing an individual in another state who only gets one solitary trip to a voting booth.

As impressive as Secretary Albright was, I still caucused for then-Senator Obama. At the time, he had fewer flashy friends to woo me, but my Iowa sensibilities kicked in and I was not swayed by free wine and one of the most interesting conversations of my lifetime.

Photo courtesy of IowaPolitics.com

Fast-forward to 2011: I am not a Republican and I have really only ever paid attention to their presidential politics from afar. But after witnessing the shift in Congress in 2010 and the simply toxic political environment which we are trudging through at this time, I’ve decided to try to face my fear of Republican ideology and see if I can find any common ground with the leading candidates. So when Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain are in the park down the street I will go listen. When I see an article about Mitt Romney’s appearance at the Iowa State Fair, I will read it. When I see a clip from Rick Perry’s appearance at the library I will watch it with an open mind instead of frantically searching for the remote. And I will even visit Ron Paul’s (gasp!) website in my quest to be informed.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Though I will not be attending the Republican caucuses in January, I will try to be educated about the choices my contemporaries are making because I truly believe the Iowa caucuses work as a first-in-the-nation litmus test of presidential candidates. Iowa caucus-goers see through the insincere, are confident in their beliefs and generally respectful of the views of others. I fully expect that, unlike at the straw polls recently held in Ames, caucus-going republicans will not be bought with free food and booze, or ridiculous claims of a return to $2 per gallon gas. My hope is that by January a moderate candidate, capable of a civil and intelligent, debate with President Obama will become the front runner.

I guess I’m a glutton for punishment; it would be much easier to blog from the cheap seats and take shots at the gaffes, extreme statements and gotcha moments every campaign serves up. Darn.

This was written by guest contributor, Gina Malloy Primmer. Gina is the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Council Bluffs, Iowa and a graduate of Boston University. She is mother to Jon, 4,   and Dori, 2, and wife of Chad. Originally from Iowa, Gina has worked at PR firms in Boston and New York and has owned a regional PR and Fundraising consulting business since 2001 back in Iowa. In her spare time, Gina enjoys working on her 100-year old home with her husband, reading, competing in triathlons, skiing and traveling.