New Orleanians Rick Duplantier and his husband Rob Clemez went on the road to the Iowa caucuses. Read his account of what it was like caucusing for Mayor Pete. Photos by Rick Duplantier.
If you ever have the opportunity to attend the Iowa Caucus during the election season, just do it! Attending the Iowa Caucuses last week was an exhilarating, energizing experience. The initial and then final results of the Caucuses confirmed what we believed: Pete Buttigieg has the ability to build a coalition to win the 2020 presidential election.
For me, it all started with a random message via LinkedIn. Early last year, I heard Pete Buttigieg speak at an event and was intrigued by his presence, as well as his message. I read his book, “Shortest Way Home,” and became further convinced that he had the ability to bring a new generation of leadership to our nation. And yes, it was vitally important to me that a gay person could be a viable candidate for our nation’s highest office.
So, I researched and found the name of his Campaign Finance Director, Marcus Switzer, and sent him a note. Within a day, I was talking with a campaign staff member encouraging me to participate. Discussions eventually led us to plan a fundraiser with Pete during The Essence Festival last July. In October we had another event, this time, at the Arthur Roger Gallery with Pete’s husband, Chasten Buttigieg and Mandy Moore. I remained engaged with the campaign, mainly with fundraising and bringing awareness to Pete’s message. My husband, Rob Clemenz, and I were encouraged to join the campaign in Iowa.
Rob and I spent five days in Des Moines canvassing for Pete and serving as Precinct Observers on Caucus night. We were not fully prepared for the experience. Just a few days before we left, the campaign called to provide a schedule, and remind us to bring snow boots because we would be trekking through the ice and snow of Iowa. I only fell on my fat ass one time.
When we arrived in Iowa on Friday, we met with campaign staff and had extensive training on door-to-door canvassing. While knocking on doors we used advanced technology. There’s an App for that! The level of campaign staff enthusiasm and organizational ability was like a well-oiled machine. On Friday night we were sent into the cold to knock on doors.
You might think that on a Friday evening we would not get many doors opened or receive enthusiastic responses. When Iowans answered their doors, they wanted to talk about the candidates and hear about Pete. The people in Iowa take their unique role seriously and consider it an important duty. On Saturday morning we spent a few hours going door-to-door, at least it was a sunny Saturday despite still being below freezing.
Saturday night was spent learning how to serve as caucus observers. Pete’s Campaign had identified a Precinct Captain in every single Iowa precinct. Pete’s Campaign was the only one that was able to achieve this goal. So we knew that Pete had a representative in each precinct, and then those of us from out of town would act as “caucus observers“ to assist in the process and provide guidance to ensure that caucus rules were followed.
Sunday we were back out canvassing, with a side stop to see Pete speak at the final Iowa rally at Lincoln High School in Des Moines. The gym was full and brimming with energy. Pete’s speech that afternoon left us encouraged for the final push to win. Then on Monday morning, we went to the West Des Moines campaign headquarters with over 100 other volunteers. Pete personally gave us a pep talk. He was going to every volunteer office to thank volunteers and encourage us to get out the vote. Pete is tireless.
The caucuses begin precisely at 7:00 PM. We were all instructed to arrive by 5:00 PM to meet the Team Pete Precinct Captains. By 6:00 PM my caucus site lines were out the door to register. There were at least 120 people at my particular precinct location that registered to vote that day or change their party from Republican to Democrat.
It is difficult to explain the chaos that ensues. After everyone has registered and signed the voter registration logs, they are basically locked into a room. voters gather in groups for the candidate they support. In order to be considered “viable”, you have to have 15% of the people in your group. After initially gathering in an area for the various candidates, a temporary chairperson then counts what is the called the first alignment, meaning does each candidate have the requisite number of voters supporting them to be considered a viable candidate.
Each candidate has an opportunity to have a supporter make a pitch for that candidate, which was not easy in such a loud and dense room. While it was generally a friendly process, it did get a little tense. After all, you are in a room with your neighbors publicly showing who you support, and where you stand politically. Quite different from the privacy of our voting booths here in Louisiana.
We had 400 people in my precinct, so 60 were needed to be deemed viable. On the first alignment, Pete was clearly viable with 107 voters in his corner. We had already won that precinct by a large margin. Pete led all of the other candidates by at least 20 votes. After that first alignment, you then get into the second alignment to determine the final candidates that will be viable. In my precinct, Elizabeth Warren on the first alignment was one vote shy; she had 59 votes and was not viable. Amy Klobuchar had 51 votes and was not viable. Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang had minimal votes thus also not viable. The people in nonviable groups have the opportunity as part of the second alignment to join another group or stay with their non-viable candidate. After the second alignment, Elizabeth Warren was able to achieve viability at 62 votes. Pete was able to expand his lead as his number went to 129 votes, with many of Klobuchar and Steyer voters joining the Pete campaign. Once the total votes for each candidate are calculated on the second alignment, then the number of delegates from the precincts are divided up by percentages. Pete earned the most votes and the most delegates from my particular precinct.
As an observer non-voter, we were not allowed to participate and were confined to a corner to ensure we were not counted in the vote. This is understandable but quite frustrating as you want to make the case for your candidate. As part of Pete’s Campaign, we were reporting back to headquarters the results for each precinct. The staff and volunteers were also sharing information, so we knew that things were going well for Pete. By the time I left my precinct, three hours after it started, we were getting reports that Pete was in the lead. I picked up Rob from his neighboring precinct (which Pete won as well), our hearts were beating with excitement. We headed to Drake University where the Campaign was gathering for the results. By the time we got to the University, the campaign had gathered enough information to know that Pete was going to win or be a very close second.
Pete qualified in the overwhelming majority of Obama/Trump precincts and performed better than expected in these precincts. Pete was viable in the vast majority of rural precincts, and Pete qualified in nearly 90% of suburban precincts and performed better than expected in these areas. Pete put together the widest coalition of any candidate.
The Iowa Democratic Party’s inability to release the results on election night was frustrating, but based on the information that had been gathered by the campaign, we knew that we were going to win or tie. By the time Pete took the stage on Monday night, we knew that this campaign was viable for the long-haul.
Pete is running a campaign focused on the future, with a message of unity, and an effort to restore decency and belonging to the whole nation. The worst thing you can say about Pete, politically, is that he has yet to gain much support from black voters. But that’s a huge opportunity. He has a strong agenda to offer these voters (read the Douglas Plan before you object https://peteforamerica.com/policies/douglass-plan) and is working to build trust. In a general election against Trump, Pete is best suited to shore up his support from African American voters.
Pete can win. When you meet Pete, you will discover that he’s well prepared to lead the country—the whole country, not just a party or a movement—in addressing the challenges of the next four years. Give him a chance, and he will inspire you to join his movement, just like he has inspired me to board a plane and walk for hours in snowy Iowa to ensure that his message of hope and unity are heard. When Pete does well in New Hampshire, cynics and opportunists will scoff that he’s not electable. Don’t believe it….
For more information, please feel free to contact Rick Duplantier at RDuplantier@yahoo.com.