It’s been one year since the Iowa caucus. Everyone who was there has a story – this is mine.
Buchanan County was the “sister city” for the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Independence (population 6,000) is the county seat. Volunteers from our area had been there many times, beginning in September. Four of us were assigned to Buchanan County for the week leading up to the caucus. Audie Schmidt, the Obama campaign staff organizer for the county, decided I should go to the small towns in the northeast corner of the county – Winthrop (pop. 772), Lamont (pop. 503), Aurora (pop. 194), and Stanley (pop. 128). I went to each town 2 or 3 times and visited farmers in between the towns. The temperature hovered around zero, and I got stuck in a snowbank and had to be towed out. In Stanley, I saw a pet goat running behind a pickup truck.
Michelle Obama spoke in Independence on New Year’s Day. She told how reluctant she was when Barack said he wanted to run for President, but then she realized that was her fear, cynicism and selfishness talking and that she had to give hope a chance. It was the most moving I’ve ever heard her speak. (I passed along a greeting from Michelle’s aunt and uncle, who I’d met in a bar in Cedar Rapids on New Year’s Eve.)
In Lamont, I found a number of supporters. Audie said, “Get out — I’ve been trying to get something going there for 6 months!” I recruited a precinct captain, a 19-year old woman who had never voted and who needed to register at the caucus. She was so proud to be asked. She asked me to give her the blue book of Obama’s positions so she could answer her neighbors’ questions.
On caucus night, I hosted a pizza party for high school seniors at East Buchanan High School in Winthrop. I told them this election was about their future. I then left for the Lamont caucus.
There were 40 voters in the caucus, almost double the usual. On the first vote, it was Clinton 13., Obama 12, Edwards 12, Richardson 3. Two of the Richardson voters came over to Obama, but the third one was skeptical. I explained Obama’s positions on various issues, but what really brought him over was when one of our supporters (who had taught the voter in school) showed him Andrew Sullivan’s article, which had just appeared in the Atlantic. The final vote was Obama 15, Clinton 13, Edwards 12, so Obama got 2 of the 4 delegates from Lamont.
Throughout our time there, the people of Iowa were wonderful to us. They were patient, openminded and thoughtful, and they took their responsibility seriously. They gave Barack Obama a chance to persuade them, at a time when the mainstream media and conventional wisdom didn’t think he had a chance. Like Michelle Obama, they let hope triumph over fear and cynicism, which have ruled our politics for more than the past 8 years. As Michelle said, if we’d lost Iowa it all would have been “just a dream.” Instead, Iowa led our country out of its long nightmare into an era of hope.
The Iowa caucus was how politics should be, but rarely is. We stayed true to the campaign’s motto of “Respect, Empower, Include.” Let’s keep that spirit alive as long as we’re alive. Like the old Kennedy supporters, we need to be the keepers of the flame, the spirit that animated the Obama campaign in Iowa and throughout the year.