What would it take to get Bay Area folk to trudge through Iowa snow in the heart of winter?
For Linda Schacht and her husband John Gage of Berkeley and Jeremy Wolff of Lafayette, it was the call of the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses and the hope they would portend a new day in American politics.
In a phone interview from Des Moines, Schacht, lecturer at the UC Berkeley journalism school, told the Daily Planet she believes Barack Obama has a different way of looking at things, one that brings people together.
“He’ll talk to anybody who has a good idea because he wants information. And I love what he says: ‘This isn’t a blue nation or a red nation, this country is the United States of America.’ That is such a powerful message.”
“People here are sick of the division,” she said, noting the river outside her hotel window had frozen overnight.
For Schacht and Gage, chief researcher and vice president of the Science Office for Sun Microsystems, the trip to Iowa—which began the day after Christmas with Schacht’s 92-year-old father—was a family affair, with son, Peter, 29, working for the campaign soon after Obama announced his intention to seek the presidency and daughter Kate Gage, 25, who jumped into the campaign from the day she arrived, doing crowd control and other campaign work all over the state.
“If Peter hadn’t been involved, I think we would have come here anyway. I think [Obama] represents the future,” Schacht said. “If he becomes president, the view of the United States from other places will change enormously.”
Jeremy Wolff, a student at UC Santa Cruz, also came to work for the Iowa caucuses. His choice: John Edwards. “I’m passionate about this race,” he said in a phone interview Friday from Council Bluffs, where he was cleaning up the campaign office.
Wolff made phone calls, stuffed envelopes, set up for events, including the Council Bluffs Precinct 4 caucus. He’s worked in campaigns before—the last one was the race for the Pleasanton-Tracy area House of Representatives seat, working for Democrat Jerry McNerney who beat incumbent Republican Richard Pombo.
Outsiders on the campaign trail
Both Schacht and Wolff said they were careful not to tell Iowans how to vote. Instead, they presented their candidates to the voters they met as they went door to door.
“The people here are really into the process,” Schacht said. “They have really researched all of the candidates. And they talked the lingo. They liked to invite you in and talk about the candidates.”
“It is startling to be in a state where almost everyone you talk to has thought about what kind of government they want,” said John Gage, writing on his blog at http://blogs.sun.com/SunScience/.
“Maybe it’s because they see they can have an immediate personal impact, in contrast to states where one person’s vote is lost in a huge pool,” Gage wrote. “Here, one person can change the balance in a caucus of 50 people. People feel a personal responsibility, so they spend the time to learn.”
Schacht talked about one 21-year-old she met. “He said Ron Paul was the only candidate who would really get us out of Iraq immediately. I talked to him for a long long long long time and finally got him to agree that it would be a wasted vote and that there were Democrats that would get us out of Iraq just as quickly. He showed up at the Democratic Caucus last night and voted for Barack—that was great,” she said.
Schacht said there was an enormous amount of antipathy towards Hillary Clinton, which, she said came from Democrats as well as Republicans. They would say—and sometimes whisper—“I just want to do anything to make sure Hillary doesn’t become president,” Schacht said. “We heard it over and over and over again.”
The question of whether an African American could do the job was raised during her campaigning once, perhaps, Schacht said. One person didn’t think Obama could win, and Schacht said she thought the implication was because he was black.
Wolff also knocked on doors and spent a lot of time talking to people. There was one Clinton supporter, a retired teacher living on disability with a child who had cancer, he talked to for a half hour.
“She was talking about all the issues that were important to her—we talked about health care and education,” Wolff said. Wolff said he was able to talk to her about the money Clinton took from lobbyists, drug and insurance companies.
Like Schacht, Wolff said the campaign he worked on was careful not to tell people who to vote for. He said he would tell them why he likes Edwards. “A lot of people appreciated that Californians would come out in six degree weather,” Wolff said.
Schacht said the excitement of the caucus and the ability for people to register on-site “brings more people into the process.”
There are Democratic and Republican caucus sites. In years past, one would have to register to vote, and register with a political party or as an independent, 12 days before the caucus.
The law changed this year, Schacht said, making it possible for people to register to vote at the caucus and to declare their party affiliation that night.
“They want to make it very, very easy to participate,” Schacht said. “They just have to be able to prove that they live here now.”
Once the signing in and registration process is complete, the doors are closed and instructions are given, people are asked to walk to the area corresponding to the candidate of their choice. During this time, individuals can try to convince caucus-goers to change their minds about their preferred candidate.
Any candidate that does not attract 15 percent of the total caucus-goers is considered not viable. Supporters of a non-viable candidate either leave the caucus or join the group of another candidate.
Once again, during this “realignment” time, participants can be persuaded to change alliances before the final count.
Schacht and her husband went to the caucus at Saydel High School in Saylor, Iowa, a little town north of Des Moines, where they were observers and reporters for the Obama campaign.
There were 250 participants, up from 150 the previous year, Schacht said, describing the area as working class and semi-rural. “There were a lot of union people so Edwards did very well in that caucus,” she said.
Neither Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd nor Joe Biden had the 15 percent needed to stay in the race, “They all got together and formed one group, so Bill Richardson got one delegate,” she said.
Schacht described how the Richardson group “kept yelling, ‘we need one more person, we need one more person.’” This was during the realignment time period.
So one of the people in the Obama group was persuaded to join the Richardson group. But the loss of that person and the gain in the Richardson camp meant that, while Richardson got the requisite number of votes to get a delegate, Obama got one rather than two delegates. “Every vote counts,” Schacht said.
This caucus got seven delegates: Edwards, three; Clinton, two; Obama, one; Richardson, one.
Both Schacht and Wolff plan to bring the campaign home to California. Schacht is planning a January fundraiser for Obama and Wolff is bringing literature that he collected for other Santa Cruz students.
Bay Area politicians who came out early for Clinton may regret it, Schacht said. “Some Bay Area politicians jumped on the Clinton band wagon due to the ‘inevitability factor,’” Schacht said. They believed a Clinton win was a sure thing.
When the Democratic votes were tallied in Iowa, Obama took 37.58 percent of the state, Edwards got 29.75 percent, Clinton got 29.47 percent and Richardson got 2.11 percent.