Anyone with even a trace of enthusiasm for politics had to be mesmerized by the proceedings in Iowa last night. Today, Senator Barack Obama arrived with a strong wind at his back in New Hampshire where, until late December, polls had placed him in a virtual tie with Senator Hillary Clinton. Mike Huckabee won't prevail in New Hampshire, but I bet he'll do better than Beltway pundits contemptuously predict. John McCain's better-than-expected showing will serve him well next Tuesday, and may well doom Mitt Romney.
More than enough analysis, by people much better qualified to pontificate than I (as well as from some who are even less qualified), has surfaced. (Check out Mike Allen's Playbook at Politico for links to a wide array of considered news and commentary circulating out there.) Instead, I thought I'd let the entrepreneurs who participated in Inc.com's caucus forum have the last word. When I left the boardroom of the Des Moines Partnership on the Monday after Thanksgiving, I had no clear sense of their allegiances. So yesterday afternoon, a few hours before the caucuses were due to start, I wrote to ask for reports of their experience, and how and why they voted. As of now, four of the participants have responded. I'll post further replies as I get them, so please check this space.
And to their voices, I'll just add this: I'm proud of my home state, which rose above the undemocratic limitations imposed by a caucus system to deliver a record turnout. Nearly 350,000 Iowans braved the cold and the crowds to make their choices, including almost double the number of Democrats who did so in 2004 and almost 30 percent more Republicans than in 2000. Many were independents, who were able to participate by registering for the party of their choice at the caucus. Republicans, especially, proved the worth of the caucuses, by decisively choosing an obscure candidate who was grossly outspent by the frontrunner. In Iowa, it still counts to meet the voters personally, look them in the eye, and earn their vote. It couldn't have happened in California, or Ohio, or Florida, or New York, or Pennsylvania.
Finally, a brief shout out to the Des Moines Register, where I freelanced briefly many years ago. The debates the newspaper held last month were made ludicrous by the rigidity of the rules and moderator alike, but the paper redeemed itself with its late polls. Those surveys, which showed both Obama and Huckabee well ahead of their rivals, were widely derided for predicting a vast turnout of young and first-time caucus-goers, who historically seldom materialize. But the critics have egg on their faces today: the Register was right, and everybody else was wrong.
ROWENA CROSBIE: Greetings from the beautiful island of Maui. I have been parked in front of the television most of the day and evening watching the Iowa Caucuses. I regret that I was not able to join my neighbors at my precinct in Dexter, Iowa, to caucus. Especially since this is my first presidential election as a US citizen who is eligible to vote.
My husband and I scheduled this trip to Hawaii about a year ago -- long before the caucus dates were decided. We had (incorrectly) assumed the caucuses would be later in the month. Alas, we watched the events unfold on TV with the rest of the country. It has occupied most of the TV newscasts here in Maui, so clearly the nation is watching with great interest as Iowans weigh in with their perspectives.
HANK EVANS: I attended the Republican caucus at Valley High School in West Des Moines. It was a mob scene, with long lines for both D's and R's. Romney worked the room for 10 minutes before the caucus was convened and I saw him in the hall again as we were leaving. We heard Fred Thompson was supposed to be there, but did not see him. I did not hear of any other candidates in the building. Everyone seemed surprised at the large turnout and happy to be there. The mood was loud and almost like a party.
I was struck by how poorly organized it was. No signs and few people to direct people to their precinct caucus. It took my wife and me 10 minutes just to find our precinct. The room was over-crowded with too few seats and many left standing. There was no PA system so it was difficult to hear. Still, the only bone of contention was a procedural one. The chair suggested passing the ballot bucket up and down the rows of seated people. Someone objected and the bucket was left near the podium and people came by in single file to cast their vote.
Before we were allowed to put our slip of paper ballot in the bucket, the chair gave an opportunity for someone to speak on behalf of each candidate. Quite surprisingly, only two people spoke, for Romney and Paul. The speaker for Romney was not very passionate. The speaker for Paul dragged on from written remarks, exceeded his two minutes and was cut off. When no one came forward for McCain, I went to the podium. I said, "As a retired Navy Commander I think I understand John McCain and I believe he has the guts, leadership and experience to lead this country." The comments were well received by applause. We went home after casting our vote.
As an aside, I am a pilot and I went to the airport this morning early, and watched some of the 70 charter jets take off and saw a few politicians departing. I don't think the Des Moines airport has ever been so busy with the exception of the Special Olympics, when 200 Cessna Citations brought the Olympians to Des Moines in one day. (Friday, 9:26 AM ET)
WAYNE HANSEN: I couldn't make it to caucus last night because of health issues, but I was not surprised at the outcome. Hillary has been touting change, but with her in the White House it would be more of the same divisiveness we have seen since her husband was in office. Obama represents real change. He has gained a lot of ground with his refusal to accept special interest contributions.
Huckabee didn't come into Iowa with deep pockets. He pulled it off with basic sound ideas. I don't think that his (or Romney's) religion played as big in determining a winner as the media wants to make it. Actually, McCain is probably a bigger winner than Huckabee. (Friday, 8:26 AM ET)
JOSH MORE: I shall not be attending the caucus. I am a registered independent and cannot vote in it. (Thursday, 3:42 PM ET.)
STEVE BOERS: The caucus site I went to, a grade school, was total mayhem. The traffic reminded me of the first Indy car race we had here in Newton last summer. Traffic lights from all directions as far as you could see...and this was before 6:30! No parking left and people were walking from residential streets blocks and blocks away.
Once we got inside the gym (a full size gym), it was totally packed. People elbow to elbow and so hot you could hardly take it. Needless to say, they were totally unprepared for the turnout, so things got started late. After over an hour, the caucus process had yet to start. There were a lot of young single people and young families there looking to support Obama. My wife and I were there to support him also, and we could tell that he was in good shape, so we bailed -- left without caucusing and went home to watch the results. My bad; I couldn't take the heat.
Maybe next time. (Friday, 6:05 PM ET)
ADAM CARROLL: I made it to the caucus in my precinct and the turnout was a "groundswell," according to the precinct captain for Obama, who had been in politics for 30 years. In our precinct, there were more people that switched their party affiliation than even caucused four years ago. Of the 430 people present, 174 were for Obama after everything shook out. Huckabee was the Republican side winner at our location.
It was a fantastic process and I was a first time caucus-goer. I was among the Obama supporters. I think what America, and certainly Washington, needs is a brand new energy and dynamic. I've listened to almost every debate and not one person has said what I want to hear, but Barack has come the closest to voicing it. I think the young people of our country are hungry for a visionary leader, and are fed up with politics as usual. You've got to admit he's got some serious momentum and young people are partly to thank. (Monday, 5:24 PM ET)