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Caucus turnout low

BY ETSE G. SIKANKU | JANUARY 25, 2010 7:30 AM

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Iowa wields a fabled reputation when it comes to nationwide presidential caucusing. But over the weekend, the legendary buzz was absent.

Several Johnson County residents met at local party precincts on Jan. 23 in off-season caucuses held throughout the state.

“This is much different from the presidential-election year caucuses,” said Johnson County Democrats Chairman Dennis Roseman. “Obviously, there isn’t as much national or worldwide interest. But it all starts here at the county level.”

Midterm caucuses are held in Iowa for a number of reasons, including electing delegates to district conventions, voting for party committee members, and sometimes adopting policy positions.

Though less popular, they’re well patronized by party loyalists.

“The turnout is a lot lower,” said Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City. “That’s always the case. It’s kind of the hard-core but very important to the party.”

In essence, it’s an event that keeps the party machine grinding in between presidential elections. But the Jan. 23 ominous combination of nonstop rain and dense fog stalled a traditionally freewheeling event.

And with Democrats reeling from a Senate loss and Republicans regaining impetus, the atmosphere was intense.

At West High, UI senior Kristine Taylor stayed behind to help mother Pauline Taylor, the caucus chairwoman for Iowa City’s 2nd Precinct. As perennial voters, both said the discussions were very lively.

“I felt there was a lot more activism this time around because there’s a lot going on now especially regarding some of Obama’s health-care plans,” Kristine Taylor said.

Pauline Taylor said voters also discussed job creation and the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on corporate spending for elections.

At the UI, campus Democrats and Republicans gathered at the IMU, where discussions stretched from health care to the economy.

The immediate past chairwoman of the UI College Democrats Meredith Place and Chairman of the UI College Republicans Derek Bohlke both said they had problems garnering student interest in the caucuses.

UI senior David Bumgarner said even though he heard about the event, he didn’t know exactly what it entailed.

“Caucusing seemed really distant to me right now,” Bumgarner said.

Both political parties had different goals for the caucuses.

Bob Anderson, the chairman of the Johnson County Republicans, signaled the start of a rebuilding phase for his party.

Democrats focused on consolidating their local presence in Johnson County.

“In many ways, this caucus will be used to ensure continuity in party affairs and structures rather than start all over again,” Roseman said.

Partisanship aside, many agreed that perhaps one of the most admirable things about Iowa’s caucuses is both its transparent nature and grass-roots structures.

“It’s the real gift of our democracy,” said Rick Dobyns, a member of the Johnson County Democrats.


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