I don't care how close the caucus is in Iowa today, it can't beat my experience in 1988 when as a freshman at the University of Iowa I decided to take part in the democratic caucus. One did not necessarily have to be a registered voter in Iowa to participate in the caucus, though no one mentioned the fact that by voting as a registered Illinois voter I would be violating the law. I hope the statue of limitations on that particular law is less than sixteen years.
A friend and I arrived at the auditorium of the chemistry building on campus soon after the start time. The place was fairly full but with no sense of organization. At each doorway were a gaggle of folks that I assumed to be official sponsors, since each was plastered with stickers and buttons for a specific candidate. To get to a seat we had to wander through them, and they approached us saying the name of their candidate as a question ("Dukakis?" "Gephardt?"). If you've seen "Finding Nemo," think of the scene where Dori and Marlin encounter the seagulls ("Mine? Mine?"). We sat in the section designated for Illinois Senator Paul Simon, and a hyper woman immediately confronted us screaming "Are you a Simon supporter?" When I answered yes, she was quick to slap a circle shaped sticker on my leather coat with no regard to the time and dexterity that it would take later to remove this sticker with no residual damage. For those of you appalled that I would take part in this process while not a registered voter, my coat was permanently scarred.
In time everyone was seated and the process began, standard procedure except for the intermittent cheering that would erupt from each candidate's section. The most vocal group were the supporters of Jesse Jackson, who gave us a predictable yet raucous chant of "J-E-S-S-E" with a slight pause between the S's for accent. Soon our group countered with "S-I-M-O-N" ( I chose not to participate, though in hindsight I should have chanted "WHO'S-GONNA-FIX-MY-COAT?"). Soon the groups for Gary Hart and Al Gore figured out that they could participate in the battle by combining their candidate's first initial and last name.
The Babbit, Dukakis and Gephardt groups were out of luck with this particular cadence, though my friend did suggest that we approach the Babbit group and convince them to drop the second "b."
Eventually the groups quieted down and we were polled for our votes. Aside from some spontaneous candidate spelling, the next hour or so was peaceful. I had cast my support to the senator from my home state and waited patiently for the final results to be announced. However, I was not aware of the caucus rule that declared that any candidate that failed to draw a certain percentage of votes cast would not have these results reported in that precinct. We had one candidate who did not garner the minimum support (who would go on to serve eight years as vice-president, for those of you addicted to irony) and the supporters were then offered a chance to vote for a "second choice" candidate or to declare themselves uncommitted. This led to another encounter with the gulls that we stationed at the entrances to the auditorium for those in that group.
I did not stick around until the end of the process. After two hours I made sure that my vote had indeed been counted and chose to leave. I don't know who "won" that particular precinct, but based upon numbers of people and decibel levels, I have always assumed that it was Jesse Jackson. And in case John Ashcroft is reading, when I voted in the general election in November, I was a legally registered voter in Iowa.
That is what I remember from sixteen years ago. I have been impeccable in the care of any leather coats I have had since.