Iowa caucuses

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(Host) Commentator Madeleine Kunin recently visited Iowa in support of Howard Dean. Here are some impressions of her visit.

(Kunin) Iowa is a small rural state of three million people, and like Vermont, they take their politics seriously. But unlike Vermont, what happens in Iowa affects the nation, and Iowans are keenly aware that they have the power to influence the race for the Presidency.

At one meeting, when I asked for a show of hands of those who had already heard one of the candidates speak, every single hand was raised. I regret not asking who had heard all the candidates speak because I suspect I would have seen an equally strong show of hands.

This is retail politics at its best. Supporters are wooed one by one. Iowans don’t vote, they caucus, I was informed. That means they physically assemble in one room.

About fifteen percent of the voters attend and that’s the bad news. But citizens can register to vote and declare their party on the day of the caucus that’s the good news.

It’s a little like a Vermont Town Meeting. Folks show up, discuss their candidates and the issues before they divide up into groups for their candidates. Then they literally stand up and are counted.

I was impressed by how well informed Iowans were about the candidates and the issues. Most of their concerns sounded familiar to this Vermonter. They worry about the steep drop in manufacturing jobs and the loss of family farms. But family farms in Iowa are not lost to development. They are lost to huge corporate farms.

One farmer, who said he was committed to Dick Gephardt but came to the gathering because he liked to talk, said that his farm had been in the family for many generations. He said matter of factly that none of his children could take over the farm because they couldn’t make a living on a family farm.

The groups I talked with were eager to discuss a wide variety of issues the war in Iraq, education particularly Bush’s No Child Left Behind Law tax cuts for the middle class and the decline of small town America.

When I mentioned the negative campaigning amongst all the candidates, every head in the room nodded. They didn’t like it.

These people were seriously interested in the issues, in finding solutions to problems that affect their daily lives. And they were looking for the person who could best address their practical concerns.

Yes, the media have bombarded them with a blizzard of ads, but when it comes down to deciding who to support in the caucuses, Iowans, like our neighbors in New Hampshire, still make the effort to get their information straight from a source as close to the candidate as possible preferably from the candidate him or herself.

This is Madeleine May Kunin.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former Governor of Vermont.

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