DES MOINES, Iowa — The day Iowa has waited for — the caucus — is here, and the energy in the Polk County Convention Center is off the charts. This long, sleepless week for the candidates is almost over, and anticipation is high for them and their families, friends and staffs. We are here to observe and report, but simply being within the walls of this place creates the vibe that all of us are participating and playing a part in this historic event.
"I'm here representing the University of Chicago, blogging every chance I get," said Alexis Mallory, a junior and one of the hundreds of student journalists who have come to bring the energy of Des Moines back to their schools. "I'm not caucusing per se for any candidate, but being here for the first time makes me feel like I'm part of something so big."
"I think it's really cool how everyone has been so receptive to us," enthused Sarah Fogarty of the University of Illinois. "We have been able to talk to so many people — a lot of the same people that big networks like CNN and NBC have talked to." In fact, this caucus, more than any other, is about students: Blogging is at an all-time high, and candidates seem to be realizing that more every day, as each town hall and rally has sections set up for college journalists and bloggers.
As Democrats John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama remain in a dead heat (according to most polls, anyway), undecided voters are getting serious attention from the campaigns. The amazing thing about the caucuses is that people might go into a room expecting to support one candidate, but the conversations and discussions that follow often cause a change of heart, and caucusers leave supporting a different candidate. Caucus-goers will spend their evenings convincing each other to stand in their corner, supporting their candidate, initiating an ongoing conversation about the candidates and their policies. These conversations make tonight's caucus anyone's game.
"This is my second caucus, and I'm going to get in that room with an open mind. Last time, I went in in total support of John Kerry, but ended up supporting Edwards," said one Des Moines local. Others are here to hear the speeches and attend the rallies but aren't free to caucus, so they're relying on their peers to stand in for them and vote for their candidate. As Marly Adams, a single mother from Ames, Iowa, said, "I can't get a babysitter for tonight, and I'm going to be home watching it on the television. I think that Mike Huckabee is the best candidate out of the whole group and so I hope there are a lot people who will be there for him because I can't be." Absentee ballots are not a part of the caucus, a fact that has caused many in the media to criticize the entire process.
Regardless, Thursday (January 3) will be filled with rallies, speeches, town halls and virtually every method of attracting voters imaginable. Local television continues to be bombarded with campaign ads, and radio stations are carrying interviews, ads and even campaign songs from each candidate's camp.
Stay tuned for our coverage of the Iowa caucuses throughout the day and night!