DES MOINES -- It will be said - all-purpose scofflaw Christopher Hitchens had already said it on the eve of the caucuses - that the results in Iowa could not be trusted because they were not the usual kind of one-man, one-vote suffrage and because the various candidates' camps had offered inducements to supporters. Free rides to the caucus sites, modest souvenir goodies, things like that.
Hitchens should have spent Thursday night in Cedar Falls, the northeast Iowa sister city to Waterloo, where Leigh Bailey Kroeger (disclaimer: my niece) presided over Democrats caucusing at Ward 3, Precinct 2. "It was like a freight train," she said of the teeming turnout for Barack Obama. They were the lion's share of the record 258 caucusers that showed up, and it was obvious nobody baited the Illinois senator's adherents to come, and that nothing could have kept them from coming (though even the weather, clear and only modestly cold by mid-winter Iowa standards, put up little resistance).
Democratic caucuses in Iowa are famous for the
horse-trading that goes on mid-way when lower-rung candidates fail to get the
necessary 15 percent share of the turnout to remain "viable" and their
supporters are free to join one of the other candidates' camps.
Normally, there's a lot of pleading and cajoling. Not so Thursday night. The Obama people made it clear they didn't need to get down on bended knee, and the designated representatives of Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, for their part, just couldn't make the sale.
"It was more like an American Gladiator contest than the usual caucus give-and -take," said Kroeger.
Hence, there was much less changing sides than usual, although Kroeger herself, a Biden supporter, organized a modest switch-over to Hillary Clinton. "She was trailing way behind Edwards, and I like all three of the top three, so I thought it would be appropriate to keep them as close together as possible."
In the end, all that did was give Clinton two delegates to go with Edwards' two. Obama had a comfortably disproportionate five.
Talk about a "coalition of the willing!" Obama's, incidentally, while youth-oriented to some degree, was made up almost entirely of white-bread middle-class Iowans - a rebuke in advance to any notion that his candidacy depends on - or is even appreciably predicated on - a black, urban constituency.
Most of the pundits and the established media seem to grasp that - though they haven't escaped their census-takers' mentality nearly so well in the case of Republican winner Mike Huckabee. Only Pat Buchanan, of the talking heads on TV Thursday night, seemed to understand the obvious - that much of Huckabee's vote came measurably from his message of economic populism, aimed at the country's worker bees and those familiar, as he once said, with "the grub of the earth on their hands."
New Hampshire has its share of those as well, its different urban-Eastern demographics and its straight-out primary system notwithstanding, and Huckabee has at least a fair chance of holding up his end there, too, against rivals Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Fred Thompson. Rudy Giuliani is still AWOL, and anti-war libertarian Ron Paul is a wild card. As for Obama the freight train - the trick for Clinton and Edwards is just to stay close enough to keep the game in play - lest the game simplify itself too quickly to American Gladiator. Singular.