Greetings from Urbandale, Iowa. As I write this, it is 19 degrees with a 5-degree wind chill. A number of us from Georgia are here working on presidential campaigns leading up to the Iowa caucuses (elections) scheduled for the evening of Jan. 3. We all felt like this election is important enough for us to fly or drive the 1,000 miles to this spot in order to be a part of history and to have an impact on what happens in our country.
Urbandale, a bedroom community of office parks and neat, single-family homes, is a western suburb of Des Moines. There is no snow this year so we can see lawns that have been taken care of while snow plows and clearing equipment sit unused. Shopping centers and business parking lots all have their own snow removal equipment in order to stay open in even the most severe storms. There is no such thing here as a "snow jam" as we are famous for around Atlanta. Locals do not head home via the grocery store when the first flake falls or is predicted.
The presidential caucuses here are very different from what we are familiar with in Georgia. The election is much closer in style to a Georgia governor's race in intensity, with continual television and radio ads, workers making live and recorded phone calls and candidate bus tours around the state. Because Iowa is a small state in population, just over 3 million or about two-thirds the size of metro Atlanta, it is possible to saturate the population with your political message, assuming the money is available to reach that goal. Several of the candidates have done just that during this cycle.
There are few similarities between Georgia elections and the actual voting in Iowa. We are all familiar with heading off to our polling place or the courthouse to vote. Instead of that system, the caucuses are public, evening gatherings where people group themselves by candidate and actually raise their hands or count heads to gather votes. There is no requirement that the participants attending be registered with that political party, just show up, sign in and participate.
The Iowa vote has an uneven history of supporting the eventual nominee of the Republican Party. In 2008, Gov. Mike Huckabee won here but fell short of the eventual nomination. I am told that the state caucuses have voted with the GOP nominee only three times since 1976.
Most of the campaign offices have also been visited by the "Occupy Des Moines" individuals. We were visited on Saturday afternoon by three busloads of the so-called Occupiers who parked across the street and yelled at us for a short while before approaching the police who also were here blocking us from them. The police were very outnumbered and gave ground until the demonstrators got to our building and made a short effort to pound on the windows before moving back to their buses in search of their next target. Of course there was much media here; it is clear the occupiers coordinate with the press to get maximum coverage.
The caucuses were held the evening of Jan. 3. Shortly after the results were in, I expected to be in my car heading for home after having arrived here Dec. 27. Was it worth the time and expense? Absolutely. Being involved in trying to help shape the future of our country is always worth the effort. For those who feel alienated from the political process, I believe you can have an impact if you try. It is much tougher than sitting on a couch complaining but far more rewarding.
The Georgia Presidential Primary is March 6. I hope we will have a great turnout in our counties and that our state will be influential in deciding the nominees of both parties. The only way that will happen is if average citizens get involved. I recommend it greatly.
John Douglas served in the Georgia House and Senate from 2002-2010. He and his family live in Newton County. He can be reached at email@example.com.