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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Here We Go a-Caucusing

What is a Caucus?
And Where Did It Come From?


Tonight the primary season for the 2012 presidential election begins (ugh!). The Iowa Caucus, which has traditionally been the first major presidential primary event since the early 1970's, will be our first forecast into what is sure to be a fascinating election season. After Iowa, several other states (including my beloved "Centennial State") will also gather its delegates into various caucuses to nominate the man/woman they feel is the best possible candidate for the presidency of the United States. These caucuses, which are essentially nothing more than group meetings of political supporters, may seem a bit confusing to both the participants and to the general public. After all, isn't it a much easier process to simply cast an electronic vote?

What most Americans don't know when it comes to the caucus is the fact that it is a very old tradition, which dates back to a time before the United States ever existed. Though the origins of the word are still debated to this day, caucus is believed to have originated from the Algonquin Indians, who resided in what is today New York and Vermont. It is believed that the Algonquin word 'cau´-cau-as´u', meaning "counsel" was adopted by early American Democratic-republicans in the latter part of the 18th century. Historian J.L. Bell notes that the first known usage of the word caucus comes from the diary of America's second president, John Adams, who wrote:

"This day learned that the Caucas Clubb meets at certain Times in the Garret of Tom Daws, the Adjutant of the Boston Regiment. He has a large House, and he has a moveable Partition in his Garrett, which he takes down and the whole Clubb meets in one Room. There they smoke tobacco till you cannot see from one End of the Garrett to the other. There they drink Phlip I suppose, and there they choose a Moderator, who puts Questions to the Vote regularly, and select Men, Assessors, Collectors, Wardens, Fire Wards, and Representatives are Regularly chosen before they are chosen in the Town. Uncle Fairfield, Story, Ruddock, Adams, Cooper, and a most rudis indigestaque Moles of others are Members. They send Committees to wait on the Merchants Clubb and to propose, and join, in the Choice of Men and Measures. Captn. Cunningham says they have often solicited him to go to these Caucas, they have assured him Benefit in his Business, &c."
(Click here for the link to the electronic archive of the Diary of John Adams)
And though the Iowa Caucus represents only 1% of all delegates, Iowa has been an effective indicator into how a presidential primary may go. Of the ten Democratic Iowa Caucuses since 1972, seven have gone on to be the party's nominee. For Republicans, six of the nine Iowa Caucus winners have won the party's nod. In short, the Iowa Caucus votes for the party's eventual nominee about 65-70% of the time; not a surefire gauge for the future but good enough for us to understand why the candidates love Iowa so much.

So as you make your way to your state's caucus in the next few months (assuming your state has one), remember that you are participating in a tradition that is possibly older than America itself. To go "a-caucusing" is an activity as American as apple pie, which, by the way, Native Americans enjoyed as well.

My prediction for tonight's caucus: Mitt Romney edges out Ron Paul to win.

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