My wife, Penny Sebring, and I returned from Iowa late Tuesday, thrilled that Pete Buttigieg had established his position at the head of the pack of candidates that once totaled twenty-five or more.
This trip was a reprise of a similarly exciting one we embarked upon on New Year’s Day in 2008. On January 4, Penny was driving us home to Evanston, IL, from Grinnell, IA, and I was actually writing my 11th Obamagram in the car about Barack’s equally unexpected victory.
Penny is a Grinnell College alumna and was a long-time trustee, and it is one of my adopted college homes. That’s why we decided to spend three days in Grinnell canvassing for Barack and observing the caucus that was held in a College building. It was exhilarating to see him handily win that precinct. After the dust had settled, in a shocker, he had won 16 of Iowa’s delegates to 15 for Hillary Clinton, the presumed front-runner. It launched him into serious contention for the nomination.
In the process, I started to learn that delegates, not headlines about “winners,” were what really mattered. That point was driven home the following week when Hillary was declared by the press to be the winner in New Hampshire. But ultimately, she and Barack each received 9 of its delegates, so they really tied.
Having skipped 2016, Penny and I returned to Grinnell this past weekend to canvas for Pete and to observe another caucus.
This time was both different and the same. For us, it was going home again – which you can never really do. This time, one of the areas in which we knocked on doors was largely occupied by low income whites, even though it was less than a dozen blocks from an elite college that has one of the highest per capita endowments in the country. That neighborhood was on the edge of this handsome small town of 9,000 whose central district is on the National Register of Historic Places. We could imagine why some of those voters looked to Obama in ‘08 and ‘12 and then turned to Trump in ‘16 when their lives hadn’t changed perceptibly. Some have simply given up on the system.
We also visited with residents of a retirement community, middle-income suburbanites, academics, and students and attended a fundraising “gala” for the arts in Des Moines as guests of the College’s president. Many mini-lessons in sociology, anthropology, and political science.
The caucus for the College’s precinct was held in a larger venue on campus this time and was dominated by students who predictably backed the much more liberal Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Apropos to the occasion, a member of Thailand’s parliament told us years ago, “In politics, if there are no pictures, it didn’t happen.” (Coincidentally, after we met him, he introduced us to his niece who was in the process of applying to Grinnell College; she has since graduated.)
So, here is proof that we were “in the room where it happened.” These pictures from CNN’s coverage of the College’s caucus site were sent to us by a friend. Strangely, several other friends from home, from Florida, and, ironically, from Thailand told us they also saw us on T.V. (For those of you who don’t know me, I’m the guy with the “high forehead,” looking directly into the camera in the first picture. Penny is in the striped sweater in the second picture.)
As I write this, Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders are virtually tied coming out of Iowa, signifying that Pete – a little-known mayor less than a year ago with an exotic name like Obama’s – is a serious contender for the nomination, going toe-to-toe with a candidate who has been campaigning for over five years now. It affirms my strong belief in Pete and his prospects to go all the way.
As I learned in 2008, this will be a marathon, not a sprint, and the slow accumulation of delegates is what really matters.
It will take money to sustain Pete, especially with Joe Biden’s stumble opening the “moderate” lane more fully to another former mayor – this one from New York City – with a net worth exceeding $50 billion – who is “self-funding” his entire unorthodox campaign. So, if you are so inclined, please chip in using this link to keep Pete’s momentum going.
Please, as always, pass it along.