Here's Iberian Notes's obligatory coverage of the Iowa caucus for you furriners out there. Lemme see if I can explain this. Each of the two major political parties needs to decide on a nominee to run for President. The way they do this is, in each state, each party holds an intra-party election. This intra-party election takes the form of a primary election, with a secret ballot and all, just like a real election, or of a caucus, which is a sort of group meeting that votes on who the candidate will be. Most states have primary elections, but a few have caucuses; it's up to the individual states.
Each state is assigned a certain number of delegates at the national party convention, which is held in the late summer. The delegates are divided up among the various candidates Anyway, when you vote for a candidate in a primary or caucus, your guy gets whatever percentage of the delegates, according to the percentage of the vote he got.
So, in the Iowa Democratic caucuses (the Republicans are not having presidential primaries or caucuses this year, since George W. Bush has no challengers as the nominee), where over 2000 meetings were held at which more than 110,000 people voted, Massachusetts senator John Kerry won 38% of the vote, North Carolina senator John Edwards got 32%, and former Vermont governor Howard Dean got 18%. These were the only three that topped the Iowa minimum of 15% of the vote to be awarded delegates. Missouri representative Dick Gephardt came in fourth with 11%, and Ohio representative Dennis Kucinich got 1%. New York political activist Al Sharpton, Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman, and former General Wesley Clark did not run in Iowa.
Now, here's what this means. Gephardt's poor showing demonstrated that not enough people want to vote for him anywhere, period, and Gephardt is from the neighboring state of Missouri, which should have given him an advantage since he's well-known in that area of the country. He's already announced he's dropping out of the race. Kerry's showing is surprising because everybody, including me, had written him off for dead a couple of weeks ago, and he got a fairly solid relative majority. Kerry, of course, is already poormouthing, saying that he's "still the underdog" in New Hampshire. Edwards also did much better than expected, and Dean did considerably worse than people had guessed.
See, the whole game in the primaries and caucuses is to do better than expected. That means your campaign's going well, and you get added press coverage and more contributions to wage political war. You've got momentum going. A couple of weeks ago it was Dean who had all the momentum, piling up endorsements (Al Gore and Bill Bradley) and contributions. Then Dean made a couple of mistakes: He was insufficiently joyous about the capture of Saddam, not realizing that most Americans, while they may be anti-war, are definitely anti-Saddam. He's pissed off the press, many of whom are sympathetic to his political ideas, because he is apparently a nasty SOB as a human being. And it didn't help matters that Dean shouted down an old gentleman at an Iowa question and answer session when the old gentleman admonished him (and the other candidates) not to campaign negatively against one another because it looks arrogant. Dean told the old guy to sit down and shut up, and that made a lot of people mad.
Kerry and Edwards have the momentum now. Kerry is supposed to do well in New Hampshire because he's from next-door Massachusetts, and Dean is supposed to do well because he's from neighboring Vermont. New Hampshire, though, is a weird state; the rest of New England is caring-and-sharing liberal, while New Hampshire is ornery and mean.
The most recent New Hampshire poll, taken between January 16 and 18 (that is, before the Iowa caucuses) has Dean with 28%, Clark with 20%, Kerry with 19%, Edwards with 8%, and Lieberman with 3%. Let's guess that Dean and Clark are losing momentum and Kerry and Edwards are gaining it. Lieberman is going to have to drop out if he can't do any better than 3%. As for the candidates' positioning, Dean and Clark are dividing the "BUSH LIED!!!" vote, and Kerry and Edwards are dividing the Mainstream Democratic Blow-Dried Senator vote.
My guess is that two of these four guys will have to drop out after New Hampshire, and we'll be down to one mainstream and one stop the war candidate. Kucinich is a complete joke, though he's going to keep his Naderish far-left campaign going. Al Sharpton is waiting around for the Southern and big-city primaries to bring out the radicalized black vote. What he wants to do is somehow grab enough delegates to force the party to give him the mike at the convention. If he does, it'll cost the Democratic Party at least two precent of the vote, since everybody who isn't radicalized and black hates Sharpton, most notorious for inciting to arson and to riot and for falsely accusing innocent people on race-baiting charges. (Sharpton is supposedly the model for the slick Harlem political preacher in Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities.)
This is not good. The only Dem candidate I really liked was Lieberman, and he's toast. I'm guessing a Dean-Kerry race for the nomination. Two unelectable northeasteners, neither of whom has an acceptable position on the war on terrorism.
Oh, yeah, lemme point something else out. At caucuses and primary elections, you also vote on who your party's candidates for lesser office will be. This is why each state does it individually, because the voters have to vote on candidates for governor and senator and representative and state senate and state representative and mayor and city council and sheriff and whatever. This is where an individual vote can have real effect in politics. One vote among the many millions out there voting for President can seem meaningless (though Florida 2000 proved that's not always true), but one vote among the hundreds in your city council district or for the local school board does mean something, especially if you can mobilize people you know to vote the way you do.
For example, I am registered as a Republican in Kansas, which allows me to vote in the primaries there. Now, at the state and local level, Kansas is almost a one-party state; the Republicans generally win at the general elections in November unless they're badly split. The important thing is which faction is in charge within the Republican party, and there are two different factions: the one I sympathize with, which means you're for low taxes and good schools and law and order and balancing the budget, and the Christian Right faction. The Christian Right took over the state Republican party in the mid-nineties and nominated their guys for office, and a lot of them got in. Heads rolled.
(This is where that ridiculous story about Kansas banning evolution came from. What happened is that the Christian Right took over the state school board and passed a measure that made the teaching of evolution non-obligatory in state public schools. That is, they couldn't say "don't teach evolution", so they said "you don't have to teach evolution". To my knowledge, no local school boards in the state dropped evolution from their biology curriculums during the Reign of Terror.)
What happened was that the moderates marshaled their troops and managed to take the state party away from the Christian Right. Fortunately. And changed that silly evolution thing. It cost the Republicans the House of Representatives seat that Dennis Moore is now occupying. See, during the Reign of Terror, the Democrats nominated Dennis Moore, who is a moderate Dem with a good record as the tough-on-crime district attorney of Johnson County, the state's most populous. The Republicans put up some Jesus freak with some ridiculous surname like Spooneybarger because the Biblethumpers outvoted the moderates in the primaries, and Dennis Moore cleaned Spooney the Jesus freak's clock and took the seat for the Democrats, with significant support from moderate Reps. He's done rather well and has held the seat.
The primary elections are, perhaps, their most significant at their local level. There's an issue in my town, Leawood. It's a carefully regulated suburb. Some people want to tear down the country club and put in more expensive housing, which would jack up the tax base. Some people don't like that idea because it would make the area more crowded and produce more traffic; Leawood is a prosperous suburb because it is leafy, green and quiet. This kind of issue is where your individual vote really counts, because you vote for the city council candidate who wants to either build the housing or keep the club, depending on your sympathies. A few motivated people really can change what happens in their local area. This would be impossible in Spain, where all such decisions are in the hands of bureaucrats.
In yesterday's La Vanguardia Juan M. Hernandez Puertolas opines about the Iowa caucus: "The procedure could not be more antidemocratic, because the vote is not secret and the identification of the persons who participate in the meetings is not too strict, so it is theoretically possible for electors to visit two or more sites."
Oh, come on, Mr. H. P. Antidemocratic? Seems to me that the system allows people to vote on who their party's candidate will be. A political system this open would be impossible in Spain, where a party's candidates are nominated by the party's leaders, and most everyday decisions (ones that would be made by people who have to stand for re-election both by their party, and then by the electorate as a whole, in the US), are made by people who are appointed by the party who wins the elections. See, in our system most decisions are made politically at a local level. In Spain most decisions are made bureaucratically at a centralized level.
Mr. H. P. also scored an interview with Dennis Kucinich, in which Kooch says, "Regarding Iraq, I would say to the French, 'Vous avez raison!" That's a great way to appeal to the mainstream American people, scorning our foreign policy and celebrating France's.
Oh, by the way. Language trivia. The word "caucus", despite its Latin appearance, is not Latin at all, but from the Iroquois Indians.