Iowa caucus makes lame TV

by Amy Kingsley

Maybe I’ve been watching too much college football. Perhaps my expectations are too high. But even in our current writer-starved era, the Iowa caucuses make for pretty poor television.

For an hour now, I’ve been stealing glances at the big-screen television stationed in the corner of the Forsyth County Democratic Party’s Burke Street headquarters. Whenever the camera cuts away from Keith Olbermann, MSNBC treats the viewer to live footage of caucuses in action!

For the most part, this consists of overhead shots of people coagulating in groups representing the major candidates. Occasionally a candidate or campaign staffer makes what passes for an impassioned plea. I can’t hear much over the crowd surrounding me, but the picture is grainy and the lighting flat.

As soporific as the main event is, the Young Democrats have managed to attract a crowd – a large and boisterous one at that – to their first ever caucus watching party.

“Iowa corn! Iowa corn!” sing two women wearing John Edwards buttons. “Anyone want some Iowa corn?”

They’re weaving through the crowd with open bags of Chester’s Puffcorn Snacks. Most of the crowd politely declines the offer.

A spread of sliced cheeses, dips and raw vegetables perspires on a counter. A few of the partygoers help themselves to paper cups of boxed wine. Most of the attendees – and there are dozens – mingle near the refreshments. Warren Jones is one of a group of party faithful curled in front of the television.

“I really favor Obama,” he says. “Edwards would do a great job, but Obama’s calm rationality is what the country needs.”

I’m conducting an informal poll of attendees. In the back, Young Dems Treasurer Spencer Hanes is taking his own straw poll. On the television, the results for the first hour of the caucuses – with 27 percent of the precincts reporting – show Clinton, Edwards and Obama in a statistical dead heat.

My own results reveal strong support for Obama.

“I’m Obama all the way,” says John Cardarelli, a seventh grade teacher. “I want a new face and some new people in Washington.”

Cardarelli believes Obama has what it takes to unite Democratic voters, and he’s picked up on a surprisingly strong current of enthusiasm for his candidate in Winston-Salem.

“You’d think Edwards would get more support here,” he says. “But he just doesn’t get that much traction.”

Neither does Hillary Clinton. On this night, at least, this Democratic outpost belongs to Obama.

Which isn’t to say that all the attendees have made up their minds.

“I go back and forth,” says Dee Best. “I change my mind just about every day.”

“But I feel really good about the possibilities,” chimes Susan Campbell. “At least our field is better than theirs.”

“That’s what I thought last time,” says Deborah Demske. ” I always felt strange giving the power of the nuclear bomb to someone who can’t even pronounce the word.”

Demske’s remark is the only hint of unease in the otherwise euphoric group. The video feed from the Democratic caucuses shows fire stations filled to bursting with voters. Turnout is high, and it’s swinging toward Obama.

The Edwards’ supporters have dropped their bags of Iowa corn and taken seats in front of the television. Meanwhile, the two politicians in attendance – Senatorial candidate Jim Neal and House candidate Roy Carter – work the crowd.

In a short speech, Carter introduces himself with a pun on his opponent.

“I’ve been an educator for forty years,” he says. “Now I’ve got 10 days of teaching left before I take up Foxx hunting full-time.”

He gathers an endorsement from Neal, and then, at around 9 p.m., Hanes announces the results of the presidential straw poll.

“Chris Dodd is polling at zero percent,” he says.

“That’s okay,” says a voice from the back. “We still like him.”

“Bill Richardson and Joe Biden are tied at four and a half percent,” Hanes says. “Dennis Kucinich has one more vote to give him six-point-eight percent of the vote. Clinton and Edwards are in a dead heat with twenty and a half percent each and Obama wins with forty three percent.”

Obama’s pulling ahead in Iowa, too. By the end of the night, he’ll lead Edwards by a comfortable margin. Hanes announces that he’s staying until all the votes are counted and invites all the attendees to do the same.

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