Iowa Caucuses Are Complicated
THE first thing you need to know about the Iowa caucuses if you are a Democrat is that your second preference for president can be just as important as your first.
The Republican caucus is far more straight forward, essentially a straw vote with an immediate winner.
But the Democratic side is more complicated. That's because the caucuses are not winner takes all, as several Iowa Irish Americans explained to this column last weekend.
What happens is that everyone has a first pick, but any candidate who gets less than 15% of the vote is considered non-viable.
That will automatically eliminate Senator Chris Dodd, Congressman Denis Kucinich, and probably Governor Bill Richardson and Senator Joe Biden on the first count, not to mention no-hoper Mike Gravel.
Then there is a second round of voting where delegates from other candidates seek to woo over the now undecided delegates. This is happening in over 1,700 locations across the state, from living rooms to meeting halls, and it is as complicated a process as proportional representation voting is in Ireland where you state your preferences in ascending order.
Even when you have voted for someone by raising your hand you can later change your vote if it is obvious that your candidate, while above 15%, is not viable to win the race.
Trading Votes Possible
THE real fun begins after the first count. It is obvious for even a short visit to Iowa that John Edwards and Senator Barack Obama are a tag team in trying to dislodge Senator Hillary Clinton from the top spot.
That could prove to be critical when the real voting starts. Four years ago Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt were nakedly antagonistic to each other.
That allowed Senator John Kerry to come from way behind by grabbing floating voters from both camps who would not allow themselves to cross over to Gephardt or Dean. In the process Kerry raced to a shock victory, which set him up for the nomination.
This time it is unclear where, say, Edwards' vote would go to, but it is also evident that there is a fair amount of friendly signaling going on between the Edwards and Obama camp.
The general view is that Edwards is slipping and that Obama may be the main beneficiary of his votes. Then there are others who argue that Obama's vote is like Dean's in 2004, largely an illusion because his young supporters are from out of town and even those in Iowa will not show up to vote.
Dodd's Poor Performance
ONE of the most disappointing performers in the Iowa caucuses to date has been Senator Chris Dodd from Connecticut.
He has not caught on, said one party activist. "Even in the Irish Catholic areas such as Dubuque (settled by Irish miners) he just has not managed to get any backing. It is very surprising."
Perhaps not all that surprising, though. At the Jefferson Jackson dinner attended by 9,000 Democrats on Saturday night Dodd was the only one of the six candidates who failed to impress.
Obama gave a magnificent speech, Clinton was excellent, while Richardson, Edwards and Biden all had their moments.