2018 caucuses will set Iowa political stage

Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians holding important internal elections

Karen Hartlep, chair for the precinct 23, shares a laugh with those in her precinct, including Cedar Rapids resident Berinard Clayton, left, Tuesday, January, 21, 2014, at Cedar Rapids Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa during the Democratic Caucus. (Justin Wan/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
Karen Hartlep, chair for the precinct 23, shares a laugh with those in her precinct, including Cedar Rapids resident Berinard Clayton, left, Tuesday, January, 21, 2014, at Cedar Rapids Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa during the Democratic Caucus. (Justin Wan/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz won’t be here. Wolf Blitzer, Bret Baier and Rachel Maddow probably don’t even care.

Nevertheless, thousands of Iowans will participate in precinct caucuses throughout the state on Monday, Feb 5. They won’t be picking presidential candidates, but the proceedings still play a vital role in our state’s hallowed political process.

Republican, Democrat, and Libertarian activists will hold internal elections to select the people who serve as rule makers, referees and scorekeepers in Iowa’s partisan battleground. Those delegates and committee members will have far-reaching impacts for the next two years and beyond.

More than 350,000 Iowa voters participated in the 2016 caucuses, when Clinton and Cruz walked away winners. Many caucus sites experienced delays due to high turnout.

Don’t expect quite the same level of interest this year. It’s the perfect opportunity to take advantage of low turnout and drastically increase your proportional political power.

I plan to attend my own neighborhood Republican caucus at the Iowa City Public Library. The same place saw my debut in partisan politics during the midterm caucuses of 2014, as I triumphed in an uncontentious election to represent my precinct at the county convention.

Aside from those important party elections and discussion of the party platform, Republican caucuses this year are likely to be relatively unnewsworthy.

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• To learn more about the Republican caucuses, visit https://www.iowagop.org/caucus-participation/.

Democrats’ caucuses could prove most impactful this year.

Candidates must top 35 percent to win Iowa primaries. It’s a high hurdle in races with many candidates, like the Democrats’ gubernatorial and 3rd Congressional District primaries, which each now have seven candidates.

If no candidate reaches the mark, races are decided at conventions, made up of delegates who advance from their precinct caucuses.

Iowa political analyst Pat Rynard told me this week he expects Democrats’ turnout to be three to four times higher than during previous midterm caucuses. Gubernatorial campaigns especially are pushing their supporters to caucus, in preparation for a possible convention nomination.

“It shows they’ve got a good organization, but it’s hard to say too much about whether that means they’ll have that much support come state convention,” said Rynard, a former Democratic campaign staffer who now runs the Iowa Starting Line political blog.

• To learn more about the Democratic caucuses, visit http://iowademocrats.org/caucus/.

The most interesting caucuses this year may be the Libertarians’. The party achieved official party status following presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s statewide performance in the 2016 presidential election.

Intraparty races are especially important for the Libertarians, who will fill seats throughout the 99-county party infrastructure, some for the first time ever.

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“This is the first time we’ve ever done anything to this scale. Previously we had individual county affiliates and they ran their own caucuses and elected their own leadership but that was completely on their own terms,” Iowa Libertarian Party chairman James Schneider told me this week.

• To learn more about the Libertarian caucuses, visit https://lpia.org/.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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