Iowa maintains important caucus history

Kim Brooks
Express Editor

“As long as the state is first, it’s seen as the first serious litmus test of a candidate. And as Iowa indicates or influences later success, candidates will keep coming, journalists will keep reporting, and in February, the eyes of the nation will stay on Iowa.” 

Those words stem from a USA Today article outlining the history of the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucuses. This year, the caucuses will take place on Monday, Feb. 3. 

The history of the famed caucuses, which draws every political candidate, every media outlet, and even candidates’ surrogates to Iowa, dates back to the late 1960s. 

Iowa’s always had the first caucus in the nation since 1972. However, it started with the 1968 Democratic Convention, which was an eye sore for the Democratic Party as a whole. The DNC wanted to rework its process for choosing a party nominee for president, “lessening the power of party leaders and involving more grassroots activists,” according to USA Today. 

Iowa’s Democrats were also frustrated with their party, noting it didn’t represent their voices and platforms accurately. 

Time Magazine said the Democratic Party wanted to reform the way it chose candidates to “reduce backroom manipulation by bosses, broaden grassroots participation, and produce delegations that more adequately represent women, blacks, and the young – and the preference of the voters.” 

This led to separate district and state conventions, which are still in place today. But, holding so many conventions meant that the statewide caucuses needed to start earlier in the year. This is why the Iowa Caucuses are now held on the first Monday in February. 

It was Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter who first drew national attention to Iowa in 1976. His campaign did not have the momentum and funding in the beginning to compete with other candidates, so his campaign made an effort to focus on Iowa. He finished strong in Iowa, propelling him to win the Democratic nomination and eventually the race for president in 1977. 

“Ever since then, Iowa has remained a crucial proving ground for nearly every presidential candidate,” states an article on 

While Iowa’s Caucuses are seen as the first step in the race for president, the record of choosing a winning candidate has been a little spotty. “Among the Republicans since 1980, the winner of the Iowa Caucuses has won the presidency just once: George W. Bush in 2000,” states For the Democrats, Carter won the caucus, nomination and presidency in 1976; Barack Obama did the same in 2008. 

As candidates flock to Iowa, the media follows. The eyes of the country are on Iowa until the night of the caucuses. 

“The once-sleepy caucuses have become a major part of the American political scene,” notes Time.

Democrats plan for record caucus crowd 

Gary Hart is the chair of the Jones County Democrats, and it’s been a busy season for Hart and the rest of the local party as they prepare for the upcoming Feb. 3 Iowa Caucuses. 

To date, there are 12 Democrats running for the party’s nomination and president. Many of those candidates have made stops to visit with voters in Jones County. 

Hart became the county chair following the 2016 caucuses when former chair, Arlie Willems moved out of Jones County. 

“I was co-chair for a few years in the mid-2000s,” shared Hart. “I had the experience and no one else really wanted to do it.” 

As chair, Hart is responsible for arranging meetings, lining up precinct caucus sites and chairs, and lining up the county convention. 

The caucus process started last summer for Hart. However, he joked he apparently didn’t start soon enough because some of the precinct sites were already booked by the Jones County Republicans. 

Attendance at the caucuses varies based on the number of candidates running with the party during a presidential election year. Hart said attendance is usually based on how many attended during the last contested presidential election. He uses that number to determine whether each site will adequately hold enough people. Hart is hearing from the Iowa Democratic Party to expect larger crowds this year, larger than the ’08 and ’16 election years. 

“We’ll have some crowded sites this year,” he warned. 

When lining up chairs and secretaries for each precinct site, Hart tries to make sure the chair resides within the precinct, though that’s not necessarily the rule. 

Doors for the Democratic Caucus sites in Jones County open at 6 p.m. The caucus kicks off at 7 p.m. Each site will have a list of registered Democrats from that particular precinct. Attendees will sign in as they come through the door. 

If you are not a registered voter in Iowa or a registered Democrat, you can take care of all of that business the night of the caucuses. Hart encourages those needing to do so to show up early. 

For those young people wanting to take part in the caucuses, Hart said as long you are 18 years old by the Nov. 3 (Election Day), you can activitely participate in the caucuses. 

Each chair at the precincts will do a head count of everyone in attendance at the sites. 

In the past at the Democratic Caucus, people formed presidential preference groups based on the candidates of their choice. Hart said a new rule this year will change things up a bit. If a preference group has less than 15 percent attendance, it will be deemed invalid. 

Those attendees will be asked to either join a larger preference group (realign) or they can decline participation from this point on. 

“They can form an uncommitted group too,” Hart offered. 

Aside from forming presidential preference groups to narrow down the candidates, the Democratic Caucus also takes time to elect delegates and alternates to the county convention. The number of delegates is based on the size of the preference group. They also elect representatives to the county platform committee. 

“The platform resolution is voted on by the caucus in its entirety,” explained Hart. 

Some of the platforms that have come in the past include: clean water legislation and increased funding for schools and universities. 

“These are things that the Democrats feel we should be standing for,” Hart said of platform ideas. “Sometimes there are surprises.” 

For those who simply want to take in the Democratic Caucus process and not participate, Hart said they do allow room for observers. 

“We encourage observers from the candidates campaigns,” urged Hart. 

Based on the number of candidates running for the Democratic nomination and the feelings people have regarding the current administration, Hart expects to see a lot of people taking part in their caucuses this year. 

“The working class sees the government as not doing much for them,” Hart said. “Trump made promises, and now the sentiments out there are that he’s going back on his word.” 

Hart encourages people to take an active role in the caucus process. 

“The world is run by the people who show up,” he said. “This gives you a voice in deciding the next president.” 

To find your caucus site on Feb. 3, see the ad on page A3 inside this week’s Express. 

Republicans urge participation in caucuses 

There are actually three Republicans running for the party nomination to be President of the United States. However, all bets are on President Donald Trump as he runs for re-election for a second term. 

Gerald Retzlaff has been chair of the Jones County Republicans for eight years now. 

He got right to work earlier last summer securing caucus precinct sites throughout the county. However, he said not much else goes on until the caucus date of Feb. 3 approaches. 

“Thirty to sixty days out, I work to set the leaders for each caucus site,” he said. 

As chair, Retzlaff also conducts county party meetings with the central committee once a month and organizing the county convention. This year in April, Jones County will host the First District Republican Convention. 

Unlike the Democratic Caucus, which organizes based on candidates of choice, the Republican Caucus votes via secret ballot. However, Retzlaff said with a clear candidate of choice this year, despite opposition, the voting will likely be done by a show of hands. 

Aside from showing favor for the candidate, the caucus will also elect officers for the precinct, a chair and a secretary. 

There are also some business items on the agenda, electing delegates to the central committee, and delegates and alternates to the county convention. 

“We will have nominations for kids under 18 to be junior delegates,” offered Retzlaff. 

The Republications will also discuss various planks (platforms). Those will be passed on to the county convention, and then voted on to head to the district and state conventions. 

“The planks are statements of beliefs,” explained Retzlaff. 

Some planks that have come up at last caucuses include gun rights, legalization of marijuana, and women’s rights. Retzlaff said Convention of States was proposed at the last caucus in 2016, and he expects that to come up again this year. 

Retzlaff said in addition to the items of business for the night, local candidates running for county office would likely be in attendance as well, securing signatures on their petitions for office. 

You must be a registered voter and registered with the Republican Party in order to actively take part in the Republican Caucus. Retzlaff said you could do both the night of the caucus. 

Doors open at 5:30 p.m., with the caucus starting at 7 p.m. Those who wish to register the night of are asked to come early to take care of such business. Retzlaff said you’ll need to bring your ID/driver’s license, proof of residency (which can be a bank statement or utility bill). 

If you want to simply take in the Republican Caucus without participating, there is room to be a witness to the historical evening. 

Again, with one clear candidate, Retzlaff doesn’t anticipate a huge show of attendees, but does encourage people to take part. 

“We do have other things that need to be done that night,” he said. “This allows you to state your support for the President.” 

To find your caucus site on Feb. 3, see the ad on page A3 inside this week’s Express. 


Subscriber Login