Thursday, January 10, 2008

Post-caucus anti-stress syndrome

It has been much lonelier in Iowa this week. I have far fewer voice mail messages inviting me to meet people at community centers, hometown cafes and local libraries. As exciting and fun and invasive as it was for the last few months to be so in demand, I have to admit that I have accepted the relative silence with some ambivalence. Did I take all the opportunities I could to learn everything I could about these people vying for my attention and support and to ask them hard questions? Will I ever see them again? In those few opportunities that I did take, did I happen to shake hands with the next president of the United States?

As for hard questions, I only asked one. When Barack Obama stopped in Monticello, Iowa during his campaign, I asked him if he would make cancer a national priority and specifically asked him to separate it a little from his more general discussion of reforming the health care system. He of course answered affirmatively and because I worded it the way the question was asked at the Presidential Cancer Forum hosted in Cedar Rapids, Iowa by the Lance Armstrong Foundation in August 2007, he specifically mentioned a discussion that he said he had with Lance Armstrong on that topic. Still I found his answer to be somewhat general. He said that he would increase funding and make it easier for young and innovative researchers to get grants. And perhaps this isn't a question that can really be answered as specifically as did the other candidates who were in attendance at the forum. Could it really be a wait and see kind of question? I don't know. That exchange occurred in December.

Monticello was also the location when I asked John Edwards a question. Granted it wasn't a tough one... and it was after he closed the session to public questions. Since he had already answered my big question... the "Cancer Question" at the forum, I hadn't really thought of any questions of substance. After his passionate speech and Q&A session, he stuck around for a few minutes shaking hands and providing autographs. When my turn came to shake hands with the candidate, my burning question was, "are you going to ride RAGBRAI again next year?" He paused for a moment and looked at me (I don't know if he recognized me from RAGBRAI 2007 when I tried to get on the LIVESTRONG bus while he and Lance Armstrong were on it... which I didn't figure out until later.) His answer was a noncommittal "I don't know, I'll have to think about that." But he seemed pleased to have a lightweight question at that point. I doubt if I made a huge impression, but I think I made a brief one.

The day before the caucuses I convinced Mom to accompany me to Cedar Rapids where we had perhaps a once in a lifetime shot to see the three front-runners on the Democratic side of this race... and we made it to all three appearances. I didn't get to ask any questions, but I shook hands with Hillary Clinton.

I missed my one shot at meeting Chris Dodd during the campaign due to weather and last minute Christmas celebration scheduling changes within the family. I don't think Bill Richardson or Dennis Kucinich ever called... but who knows. It's possible that I just didn't answer or hung up on them (I don't take prerecorded, electronically delivered messages well. If I have to say hello more than twice, the conversation is over.)

Is that everyone? I can't remember anymore. And now that it's January 10th, do I have to? (Oh, how insensitive.)

Then came caucus night. There's a reason they don't send the media to some of the smaller towns. It's not as exciting here in small-town Iowa as it looks on TV because the big towns, like Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, have large groups and people get all riled up. Excited caucus-goers for the various candidates become animated and lobby hard to get people to change "sides" to join their candidates group. In Monticello at the Berndes Center, everyone politely sat on folding chairs near signs bearing their chosen candidate's name. Four candidates had people in their corner... Bill Richardson, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and my man, John Edwards. (No, it's not because of RAGBRAI!) When it came time to lure the two Richardson supporters, a person from each of the other three camps walked over and politely and quietly invited them to switch. No excited gesticulation or passionate debate. Then they sadly gave up and headed over to the Obama group.

Our precinct ended up with three delegates each for Obama and Clinton. Two for Edwards... and I am one of those two. Not only that, because our precinct is so small, and despite extraordinary turnout here (as was the case all over Iowa) of the 60 voters present, very few were interested in some of the other party roles. So not only am I going to the county convention in March as a delegate for Edwards, I am also now a member of the county Democratic Central Committee. I now have a two-year commitment to something, while I'm sure I'm up for the responsibilities, I have no idea what they are.

Afterwards I accompanied a couple of other caucus-goers to a local restaurant where we ran into other locals from different precincts and compared notes. The division wasn't exactly the same as at the other precincts, but I think the only candidates with votes from Jones County were the three front-runners.

The numerous events and invitations, passionate speeches and glad handing all provided a different atmosphere in my little corner of Iowa for a moment. I enjoyed getting the chance to interact with candidates (and in some cases their spouses) learn more about them and really see them in action... at least campaign-wise. While I can't say I miss the 10-20 daily phone calls and the back to back TV ads, on behalf of my state, I miss having Iowa in the spotlight. It's fun to have your state be considered exciting and the "place to be" every once in a while. From what I've seen, it only happens once every four years, and for one week each July. Other than that, Iowa is not on people's "must go" lists.