Dale Niezwaag, Basin Electric senior legislative representative, traveled to Iowa for the 2012 Iowa caucuses Jan. 3.
Here is Niezwaag’s account:
I found the Iowa caucus experience very interesting. I was lucky enough to have a behind-the-scenes tour from a resident expert, Tim Coonan from the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives. We started off by stopping at the campaign headquarters of Mitt Romney, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry.
At Mitt Romney’s headquarters (an empty Blockbuster Video store) there was buzz of noise as approximately 30 people with lists in front of them were making calls to prospective caucus-goers encouraging them to vote for Mitt. Most of the crowd was under 30 years old and there was a table full of Taco John’s 12-pack taco bags, to either keep them going or ruin their health.
At Michelle Bachmann’s headquarters (an empty office building), we found a different scene: a fairly quiet room with about eight people sitting around a table, mainly talking to each other. Boxes of fliers and handouts crowded the hallways.
At Rick Perry’s headquarters (a very nice conference room in an upscale hotel) everyone was gone, on their way to the actual caucus events.
Tim and I then headed for his caucus meeting, which was held in the upstairs of a neighborhood church. People registered as they entered the caucus room, showing driver’s licenses as proof of where they lived. Approximately 100 voters milled around talking to each other. Also in the room were three people with video cameras, two people with still cameras, and reporters to go along with each.
At 7 p.m. the caucus chair called the meeting to order and allowed one person to speak on behalf of their candidate for a maximum of 5 minutes. If the campaign didn’t have an official representative of the campaign at the meeting, a local supporter could stand up and speak on behalf of the candidate. In Rick Perry’s case, a person from Texas spoke. (I found out later that Perry had flown in hundreds of people to speak on his behalf at the caucuses.) In most other cases a local supporter spoke, and in some cases, Bachmann and Santorum, no one spoke.
After the speeches, the caucus chair told everyone to write the name of their candidate on the slip of paper they were given when they entered the room. Then he personally collected the slips, and with the help of a caucus secretary, counted the ballots and announced the totals. The entire process took approximately 45 minutes.
We then went to Mitt Romney’s reception room, which was in an upscale downtown hotel. As we walked in, I was struck by the number of cameras and reporters in the room. At one end were three tiers of risers filled with lights and television production-style cameras. At the same time I noticed a young man in a suit with a large microphone. He was standing in the light provided by one of the TV cameras. His big microphone was plugged into an iPhone and his assistant or girlfriend was recording his performance.
We went to another room to watch the results. By 10 p.m., almost all the results were in. But the tally stopped at 99 percent of the counties reporting, and Rick Santorum up by only four votes. By 1 a.m. they were still stuck at 99 percent.
As reported the next morning, the caucus chairman from Clinton, IA, who presided over a caucus of 60 voters, sent her votes in but they were not received. So people were sent to her house at 1:30 a.m. to wake her up and get the final vote counts, which gave Romney the win by eight votes.