Don’t Get “Spun” on Iowa Caucuses by the So-called Victors

IowaLittle Rock    Listening to KABF as I drove to my trailer in Little Rock the other night, super jock, Seth Baldy, had a co-host helping him out who just happened to be from Iowa. Seth asked him about the caucuses. Essentially he said he left Iowa “running” at 18 and had never been back, but he knew the general story. Then in a bit of a surprise to many listeners he went into a brief spiel about the layers of caucuses from precinct to county to state which probably left most listeners clueless, but is at the heart of the real story in Iowa on how delegates are selected and invariably part of the war in the spin room in the first stage of the caucuses as candidates push and shove to be declared the winner, whether or not that turns out to be the case months down the road or not.

This is one of those times where you almost would have had to have been there, but, yes, Virginia, there have been several candidates who were anointed as winners by the media the night of the precinct caucuses and the morning after who ended up not being the winners at all once the whole multi-level process was concluded and the real number of delegates were awarded. There have been cases where the anointed winner the night of turned out not to be the winner a week later, but the die was cast and less attention was paid even though the impact on New Hampshire and other elections immediately after was huge.

Remember the caucus rules are set by each party, and they can, and do, change from cycle to cycle, including the question of whether or not delegates being elected at the caucus level are bound in any way, shape or form to any candidate whatsoever, complicating the mess even more. In 2012 for example on the Republican side the media anointed ex-Senator Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania as the hairline winner over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney with Ron Paul, the former Texas Congressman in 3rd place. But, who really won the delegates? The answer might surprise, but it was Ron Paul who took 22 of Iowa’s 28 delegates to the Republican National Convention given the better organization of his team at the next levels and their dominance of the state convention.

There are over 1100 precincts in Iowa so getting the results in the best of times involves herding cats, yet the disproportionate weight given to the state’s position as the first contest puts immense pressure on the media to get the story even if they have to jump the shark. Communication teams for the candidates claiming facts and figures from throughout the state have their own primary “contest” seeing how many reporters they can spin with their story of how well their candidate did precinct by precinct. The early editions may NOT resemble the story the morning after!

With only three main candidates the story on the Democratic side is likely to be more accurate this time. There is a half hour for delegates to align with a candidate and any candidate failing to hit a 15% threshold sets off a scramble to pull them over to the side of the survivors for another half hour until there is a division of the house and delegates are assessed to go to the next level convention. On the Sanders-Clinton race if it’s close, as it is expected to be, then there would still be uncertainty on the shakeout for the real winner until the county conventions at the least, though by then in all likelihood the advantage or damage will already have been won in the green rooms by one side or another’s communications team, and the parade goes on.

With the Republicans’ list still so large the top-line candidates like Trump and Cruz have a huge advantage but the rules have changed for 2016 since the party is now mandating that delegates have to be bound to a choice for a candidate, and the candidate has to receive the correct proportional level of strength represented by delegates in each precinct. After 2012 when 8 precincts were lost, they claim to have cleaned up their act.

Charlie Szold, communications director for the Republican Party of Iowa, said, “We have partnered with Microsoft and they have built us a special app that allows our precinct captains to report data quickly. They can do that right there on their smart phones or tablets or computers and they can do it very accurately because you can see the number you are typing in.” He added that at the central collection point there will be special algorithms to flag any data that doesn’t match up to expectations, so unusual numbers will generate contact with the precinct for confirmation or correction. Szold said, “The results will be made available almost in real time. The results will come to us. They will go through that internal check I was talking about and then they will be published on a public website with a map view of Iowa. You will be able to see results at the precinct level.

We’ll see soon, but until then and for the foreseeable future: don’t be spun! Make sure you have the real count before sorting out the future.


We’re Going South Now but the Call to the Black Base Has to Become a Constant Chant

The ‘March for Black Lives’ passes by the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015 Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

The ‘March for Black Lives’ passes by the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015 Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

New Orleans    Hillary Clinton established in the debate in Charleston now as the campaign prepares to go South, she is switching strategic gears to cloak her campaign in the power and potential of the black vote. Very interestingly, now that she is an embattled front-runner with Bernie Sanders hot on her heels, she is dropping the regal posture of pretending she’s above it all and should try to distance herself from President Obama and welding herself to him firmly. When the campaign goes South, black votes matter!

To hold onto this part of her path of power, Hillary Clinton is willing to abandon any position around the middle ground. According to the report,

Twice in the debate, Mrs. Clinton sought to evoke outrage about racial inequities. Saying one in three black men may “end up going to prison,” she added starkly, “I want people here to think what we would be doing if it was one out of three white men.” And, referring to the crisis in majority-black Flint, Mich., over lead in the water, Mrs. Clinton discerned a racial double standard: Had the water in “a rich suburb of Detroit” been contaminated, she said, “there would’ve been action.”

On the eve of Martin Luther King Day, why not, but I have to wonder if she realizes that the clarion call to the black base can’t just be a Democratic southern strategy anymore, but an everyday thing. Race is more central to the American debate about our present and future than perhaps at any time since the Civil Rights movement. Certainly, it was an issue – and an accomplishment – as Obama ran and won, but that was a measured and polite dialogue with history in which hate went to the ballot box in secret silence in many precincts around the country but was muted in public discourse. Since then the rabid hate and antipathy to the President and lack of respect for him and his office in many quarters has vacated any claim for a post-racial America. What was coded and covert from Bill Clinton’s ending of “welfare as we know it” in a message to white America and his attack on Sister Souljah, is now, thanks once again to people in motion and the churning of new forms of social protest, front and center.

A New York Times music critic rated Obama’s funeral oration for those killed in the South Carolina church and his singing of Amazing Grace as one of the top ten performances of 2015, while admitting that he would not have normally fit in a category looking at musical concerts. Hillary Clinton called being there in the church a chance to witness history in the making.

Race can’t be just a Southern campaign chorus for Clinton. Sanders can’t just bring on a couple of rappers or change a line or two in his set speech about economic justice to appeal to the base. The Republicans can’t be allowed to continue to campaign for white, right, and all right.

As Reverend King preached, there has to be a mountain top, and we have to judge candidates on whether or not they are willing and able to get us out of the ditch on race, and back on the climb to the mountaintop after President Obama steps down.