2/09/2008

Nebraska Democratic Caucus '08!


For the first time in 44 years, Nebraska Democrats held a caucus to determine who they want as their nominee in this year's presidential election. At caucus sites across the state, Obama and Clinton supporters (and undecideds) showed up in record numbers. (I don't have any evidence to back up that particular claim, but c'mon, the last caucus was in 1964. I'd like to think there are more Democrats in the state these days.)

I live in District 20, which stretches west to east from 132nd to 39th Streets and north to south from Pacific to I-80. Our caucus site was Westside High School (where I took my ACTs, or maybe it was the SATs, or both, way back in the day). The caucus was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., with registration starting at 9:15 a.m. Dad and I got there around nine o'clock and the main parking lot in the front of the school was already full. We drove around the back of the school and parked near the baseball field.

Staying true to the spirit of the Democratic Party, registration was, initially, completely disorganized, with everyone milling about inside the school's main entrance, shuffling their feet and wondering how, exactly, a caucus works. No one, it seemed, had every caucused before and everyone was curious about the process.

Eventually the volunteers put up signs that directed us to line up by last name, A-C, D-G, H-K, etc. Once they actually began signing people in, it took about 20 minutes for us to go from the outer doors to the front of the line. As you can see in the above picture, taken after Dad and I signed in, the line of people still waiting to get their feet in the door was HUGE. The caucus, which was supposed to begin at ten o'clock probably didn't start until closer to ten-thirty, and even then, people were still filing into the theatre where the actual caucusing was to take place.

The organizers, and I use that term loosely, split the theatre into three sections: Obama supporters on the left, Clinton supporters on the right, and undecideds in the middle. Dad and I noticed pretty quickly, and with much glee, that the Obama side was a lot more crowded than the Clinton side. People were standing on the outside of the section, against the wall, and they were up in the balcony, as well. The organizers started to allow Obama supporters up on the stage because there were so many of us.

There was a lot of energy in the room. People were really fired up and excited to be taking part in the democratic process in this manner. The way a caucus works is, once everyone is signed in and has picked a side (Obama, Clinton or undecided), they do an initial count to make sure each group makes up at least 15% of the whole, which the Obama and Clinton sides did easily. The undecideds, however, only numbered about 50 or 60, so they, in essence, were not allowed to remain undecided. If you're part of a group that has less than 15% of the whole, you need to side with one of the larger groups or your vote doesn't count.

After the initial count, the Obama side had over 600 supporters in attendance and the Clinton supporters numbered about half that. It was basically a two-thirds to one-third split. That's about a thousand people who showed up from District 20, which, packed into a relatively smallish theatre, seemed like a whole helluva lot of people. It was wonderful to see so many people at the caucus, and such a diverse group it was, too. There were old people, young people (I even saw a few Obama babies; start 'em while they're young, I say), white people, a few black people (this is West O, after all), men, women. The amount of young people was pretty impressive. There's a reason almost every caucus and primary to date has recorded record numbers of participants and it's because young people, 18 - 30 year olds, are finally coming out and voting. Here's hoping the trend continues and they don't forget to come out for the general election in November.

After the initial count, both sides, Obama and Clinton, then had five minutes to woo the undecideds, which turned into a pretty raucous affair. The Obama side would alternately chant "O-ba-ma!" and "Yes We Can!" while the Clinton side would chant ... well, I couldn't exactly hear what they were saying. I was too busy with my Obama chants. Each side had designated one person to give a little speech to make their case for their candidate. Our Obama leader was none other than former radio personality Otis Twelve, who told us he worked for the Bobby Kennedy campaign in 1968 and that no one else has inspired him like that until now, until Barack Obama.

After the five minute wooing period, a count was taken of the undecideds who had, well, decided. The Obama crowd had picked up close to 30, while Clinton had gotten maybe 10. Then there was another five minute wooing period to try to sway the remaining 10 or so undecideds, followed by the final count tally. I don't have the final numbers yet. I'm sure they won't be all counted until later this afternoon, but it's a safe bet that Obama won two-thirds of District 20.

District 20 has 11 delegates, which will be split along that two-thirds/one-third line, so Obama will probably get seven delegates and Clinton will get four. I'm looking forward to seeing how the rest of the state turned out. I'll post an update with the final numbers when they come in tonight.

I had a lot of fun at my first caucus. Once they got things rolling, it really didn't take that long at all, maybe an hour. And being surrounded by nearly 1000 passionate voters was an amazing experience. It gives me a little bit of hope that, regardless of who wins the Democratic nomination, Nebraska might finally turn blue. Not a lot of hope, mind you, but at least a little.

I sure hope Obama wins that nomination. I fear that McCain would beat Hillary in the general election, but Obama, Obama would siphon off the McCain independents, as well as some moderate Republicans. Hillary, I believe, would have the opposite effect, driving the independents, and even some moderate Democrats, to vote for McCain. There are only nine months until the general election. Just keep telling yourself that. Only nine more months.

More caucus pictures at my Flickr page.

::UPDATE - 2/10/08 10:32 AM::

I don't think I've ever been as proud of Nebraskans as I was last night when I saw the first election results coming in. Statewide, Nebraskans chose Obama over Clinton by a 2-1 margin. In my congressional district alone, District 2, Obama won by a margin of more than 3-1. More than 75% of caucus-goers in District 2 caucused for Obama. That's pretty damn impressive if you ask me.

Of course, come November, the state will probably still go to McCain. But that's why it's called Hope.

2 comments:

Jennie said...

Hooray for Caucus!!! I'm just going to go vote in a regular 'ol primary election on Tuesday... ho-hum. Thanks for letting us all know what a caucus looks like!

rose said...

Hope is what you'll need if Obama gets the nomination. I just don't see how he'd be able to carry an election....