Precinct caucuses are seen as a barometer of voters’ support and enthusiasm for candidates and political parties.
However, the thermometer, which registered single-digit temperatures, may have iced attendance, but showing up to caucus had its own reward, according to GOP caucus organizer Eric Rosenthal of Cedar Rapids.
“The cold is really tamping down attendance,” he said at Linn County’s unified caucuses at the Double Tree Cedar Rapids Convention Complex in downtown Cedar Rapids where residents of 86 precincts met. “If you brave the cold, you get to make the decisions.”
That wasn’t lost on the GOP candidates who showed up in force in Linn County, the second most populous county in the state. Five of six candidates for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination made their way to Linn County. Four 1st District hopefuls worked the crowd of more than 350 and a slate of legislative and county candidates were on hand to have their voices heard by the party activists.
For Democratic candidates, Linn County was not such a hot destination. Unlike the GOP Senate hopefuls, Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley of the 1st Congressional District was in his home county – Black Hawk.
And among the five 1st Congressional District Democratic hopefuls, Monica Vernon was the only one to attend a Linn County caucus. She used her three minutes of speaking time to introduce herself to people who might know her as a neighbor, a mother and a small businesswoman. She wants them to get to know her as their next congresswoman.
Although she’s been campaigning for seven months, Vernon told about 100 Democrats from several precincts at Washington High School the caucus are “the beginning, the launch” of the campaign.
The intensity of the campaigns will increase, especially in the five-way Democratic 1st District race and the six-way GOP Senate race, candidates agreed.
“The elbows will get sharper as candidates start to engage each other,” Republican Senate hopeful Sam Clovis predicted. And with so many candidates, there is a possibility none of the candidates will get the 35 percent of the vote they need – by state law — to win the June 3 primary outright.
“So I’m always looking for an opportunity to be in front of a large group of Republicans,” Senate hopeful Mark Jacobs said.
“This is supposed to be the largest single gathering of Republicans in the state tonight,” added Clovis.
Senate hopeful Matt Whitaker, who predicted Eastern Iowa will be “ground zero” in the Senate race, was there trying to connect with delegates who might choose the nominee if it’s not decided by the primary. He was hoping connections from his days playing football at the University of Iowa connections would give him a head start in Eastern Iowa.
Eastern Iowa is “unclaimed” territory because all of the GOP Senate hopefuls are from west of Interstate 35, one campaign staffer noted.
“Besides, this is Bruce Braley’s backyard, so we’re here to take it to him,” said state Sen. Joni Ernst, who hopes to move to the Senate in Washington.
“I’m going to get that 35 percent,” said Ernst, who explained she was in Cedar Rapids because caucus-goers are the people “who will go out and work on the campaign and tell their friends about me.”
Democrats and Republicans will have their county conventions March 8 and district conventions April 26. The GOP and Democratic state conventions will be June 14 and June 21, respectively.