The caucus countdown

It is probably what most people think of — or at least what most people thought of eight years ago — when they consider the Iowa caucus.

A handful of people are gathered around a conference table at the local library. There are a few handouts on the table top, flanked by packages of cookies. Hopes and concerns about the future of the country are on display, but the real tension in the room centers around speculation of a presumptive Democratic nominee and how such a situation could chill certain discussions in the Hawkeye State and beyond.

“A lot of people are really eager to avoid a coronation of Hillary (Clinton) or another (Ralph) Nader fiasco,” said Jeffrey Cox, who actively has been gathering signatures to persuade Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to enter the presidential primary. “People don’t want either one of those things. They actually want Elizabeth Warren to run, but she won’t. But if Bernie is the one, I think we are going to do really well.”


Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is interviewed by a Reuters reporter at Sanders' office in Burlington, Vermont November 28, 2006. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is interviewed by a Reuters reporter at Sanders’ office in Burlington, Vermont November 28, 2006. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Progressive Democrats of America, a political action committee operating within the Democratic Party as a mostly populist movement, is behind the push to draft Sanders. Its petition, available through, touts the senator as a “lifelong champion of working class Americans” and “one of the few prominent elected officials who can also clearly explain how the current neoliberal economic system leads to climate change.” The group has a special interest in foreign policy and a special dislike of what they dub as “militarism” and “Empire-building” as opponents of the American economy.

Is Sanders considering? Local organizers point to a keynote address Saturday at the Clinton County Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame Dinner as evidence the call for his candidacy hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“He hasn’t committed to running,” Cox said, “but I can’t believe he’d be coming to Goose Lake if he weren’t really interested. Why would he?”

There’s also discussion that Sanders might attend a Johnson County Democratic Party event in October, although the visit has not been finalized yet.


“If he comes here,” Cox said, “we’ll fill up the Pentacrest for him. It won’t be a problem.”

When he is out, speaking to people and gathering signatures for the Progressive Democrats petition, Cox warns that the caucus and the presidential primary shouldn’t be one-sided conversations, filled with the viewpoint of only a single candidate.

“You can have a discussion, a conversation, a race and a choice,” he said. “And you can do these things, which are really healthy for the nation, without the danger of a third-party candidate that will likely result in placing a Republican in the White House.”

The argument, he said, resonates with those he meets because “Democrats learned their lesson from Nader and nobody wants another George W.” Bush.

The group wants to ensure that topics across the spectrum are a part of the caucus process and filter into nationwide discussion. These range from items considered “on the fringe” such as drones, the assassination of American citizens and the “American War machine,” to kitchen table topics such as high unemployment as the new norm, needed fixes to the Affordable Care Act and corporate influence in politics.

“There is a whole series of policies of the Obama administration that are simply going to go unchallenged if Hillary is the nominee,” Cox said. “If you want to know what’s wrong with Obama’s foreign policy, just go to the ACLU website. It’s pretty much a horror show.”

Johnson County resident Greg Chapman worries that without strong competition, there will be no real vetting of a Clinton ticket.

“I think she may be anointed the nominee, and then will lose the general,” he said. “I don’t want to see that. I want there to be vetting.”

Iowa City resident Perry Lenz noted that Clinton isn’t considered progressive. “I don’t think her candidacy would motivate those who are more liberal to show up at the polls.”

Chapman said a debate between Clinton and Sanders would benefit the public, regardless of who became the party’s nominee.

“Even if Hillary isn’t beaten, maybe just the conversation would cause her to adjust to some of these realities. That would be my hope. I think Bernie can do that and he doesn’t even have to win. He just has to tell the truth and get a conversation going.”


The group understands its task is large. Not only does its proposed candidate need to brush-up and publish policies of particular importance to Iowans (read agriculture), but their group needs to overcome perceptions that can be summed up with the Johnson County nickname, “The People’s Republic.”

Cox, who pushed for Democrats to caucus as unaffiliated in 2012 in order to send a message to the Obama administration, found about 20 percent support in Johnson County, but the effort fizzled in other parts of the state.

“We do have to expand outside of this county,” he said. “We know there are other more liberal Democrats throughout the state, so we need to find a way to bring them together.”

While the rest of the country is a year or more from serious political conversations, organizers at the Iowa City library are watching the clock.

“Something has got to happen soon,” Chapman said. “The forces are already aligning to anoint Hillary and I think she is the single candidate that Democrats can put up that will win the primary and lose the election.”

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on May 11, 2014. Photo credit: Brian Snyder/Reuters