Wednesday, January 30, 2008

One Morning with John

I wrote about it on January 3 from Iowa, and I'm putting up this video I took of John Edwards' Iowa caucus morning rally in Des Moines in light of his withdrawal from the presidential campaign today.

As always, Edwards was on his game and drove home his points clearly and with the passion I'll always remember him for.


Romney is Imploding

Did he just say money belongs IN politics, not out?!

You can attack McCain all you want from the convenience of your living room, but going up against the man with the momentum when you're losing won't get you anywhere.

Shaky, greying, and full of air.

America deserves better than Mitt Romney, and they're throwing him out.

Two Americas Came Together

IMG_3554.JPG, originally uploaded by vargas2040.

Truly a great man and one of the strongest candidates the Democrats have had in years, John Edwards is out.

One could make the argument Edwards was the only Democrat capable of beating the Republicans (John McCain) in the general election, but one thing I'm certain of is that Edwards' message penetrated deeper into his base of support more than any other candidate. More than Hillary Clinton and more than Barack Obama, once Edwards' message of two Americas and a moral obligation to fight for those without a voice was first broadcast he picked up one of the most tried and true 15% this country has seen in a long time.

Through Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina, and Florida that 15% turned out for John Edwards, and they would have voted for him on Super Tuesday around this country.

In one of the most upbeat and passionate withdrawals from a campaign I've seen in a while, Edwards formally ended his quest for the presidency, but in his year on the trail he did bring two Americas together, and that 15% has the potential to continue what Edwards first inspired.

We'll miss you, John.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


The McCain v. Romney fight in Florida is close.

Razor thin.

At the end of the night I see this tipping to McCain, and with that the Romney and Giuliani campaigns are toast.

The Republicans will get a general election head start.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Senator Chris Dodd

In 1:10:05.

All this reminds me why I liked Dodd from the start and why he's better than the three Democrats left standing...yes, even my current favorite Hillary Clinton.

Hillary vs. Barack

Could statistics be more insightful than media spin?


Let's be honest, this isn't about Clinton vs. Obama, it's about Democrats vs. Republicans.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Oh How We've Missed John Stewart

The Obama Campaign Strategy

...has a new target.

Right between Hillary Clinton's eyes.

The Jewish vote and the states of New York and New Jersey were rock-solid Clinton voter blocks and states until just a few weeks ago.

The Obama campaign may not want to carry a big public presence in these states before voting on February 5, but I can almost guarantee there'll be a lot going on behind the scenes to convert metro-New York into Obama country.

Why? Because New York or New Jersey swinging to Obama is the kind of campaign gold media people and speechwriters dream about. You bet the Obama campaign will be excited about every victory they have on super Tuesday, but Jersey or New York would be monumental.

Stay tuned...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

What a Night

"We have the most votes, we have the most delegates, and we have the most diverse coalition."

I'm not the only one thinking about this.

Obama may have the most delegates now, but February 5, no matter how much you hate it or love it, is mean, cold, and hard.

Harder than New Hampshire and harder than Iowa...even harder than the flaming heat of Nevada and Vegas.

If Obama wins more than half of the February 5th states (and it wouldn't be impossible), then the door leading to the nomination could really open up. Hell, Obama could even step through it.

I've suggested in the past that looking at some key polls would be a good indication of where this race is going, but after New Hampshire and South Carolina polls proved so inaccurate, it'll be a lot more interesting to watch where Obama and Clinton focus their resources and media machines over the next few days. Even now, as Obama gives his victory speech, Bill Clinton is speaking in Missouri and the Clinton campaign settles into its new offices in Kansas, Minnesota, Colorado, Arizona, and Tennessee.

The National Campaign vs. The Diverse Coalition

Sounds like a heavyweight bout to me...

A State I Know NOTHING About

South Carolina.

But what I do know is that whatever momentum still exists for the Democrats has been moving towards John Edwards. If it's not clear, Edwards is that little red line at the bottom of the graph above.

So does Edwards have much of a chance to win today? I'd guess not—the real battle is between Clinton and Obama. The stronger than expected finish for Edwards does mean his message resonated in South Carolina, and it will be interesting to see how many former Obama and Clinton supporters moved towards his camp after the recent mudslinging between the frontrunners.

I see the Democratic race being about Super Tuesday; South Carolina is only a momentum shifter leading into the 22-state contest. If Obama does win tonight, what kind of bounce can he expect in states like California or New Jersey?

One New Jersey poll released this past week by Quinnipiac University showed that 74% of Clinton supporters were "not likely at all" or "not too likely" to change their minds before February 5. Compare that to 32% of Obama supporters who are either "somewhat likely" or "very likely" to change their minds and today's outcome in South Carolina may not matter too much.

Watch the bounce.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Dollars in a Basket

Huckabee is going door to door, pew to pew.

I recently received an Urgent Reply letter from the Huckabee campaign. As Governor Huckabee continues campaigning in a post-Iowa, less evangelical-friendly world, he's discovering quickly that one thing he needs badly is money.

In a tactic that I can imagine being used in the churches Huckabee used to be the minister of in Arkansas, the campaign is sending out $1 bills along with their campaign contribution pitches and asking that supporters return it and enclose in the reply envelope an additional contribution.

An interesting move? Very.

A good sign for a candidate trying to compete with the big-money competition of Mitt Romney?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

8 Days Off

Wednesday, January 30, 2008.

The day I'm returning.

It would seem like blogging suicide to take a week-long break from reporting and commenting on the campaigns, especially when they are seeing so much action, but school and exams have no sympathy for those who blog, and my study time is precious. If I get time and something comes to mind I might post something quick about this weekend's South Carolina Democratic primary, but things here will be mainly quiet.

I hope you'll join me back here for my 10 P.M. post on January 30th as the race for the White House continues.

Monday, January 21, 2008


CNN's Democratic Debate live RIGHT NOW is hands-down the most earth-shattering event of the '08 campaign thus far.

Hillary = Smart attacks on Obama so far — present votes, health care plan— but it seems unnecessary, doesn't it? She's winning in the majority of February 5th states and had the momentum going into tonight.

Obama = Having his political record criticized publicly for the first time, and it could either hurt or help him. Obama can no longer claim a perfect political record and skip to how to implement things as President, but with Edwards and Hillary pushing on him so hard there's a chance that voters might sympathize with him tonight.

Edwards = Fantastic. Watch for a 5% jump in S.C. polls overnight.

Keep it up, Dems.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The End of Fred?

I thought so last night. Everyone's talking about Fred Thompson's "impressive" delivery of his post South Carolina primary speech, but as I sat alone in my living room with the lights off and the volume cranked up I could have sworn I was witnessing the end of Fred's campaign.

A word of caution to every candidate, never deliver a speech when less than 5% of the vote's been counted, and never say what Thompson said last night: "We're turning in a little early tonight," "I want to take a minute to speak to you from my heart," and "I want to thank all the people that have travelled with me all these months"?I was seconds away from making calls to friends and family celebrating his withdrawal.

The most poorly managed presidential campaign in recent memory? You bet.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Behind Poor Numbers

John Edwards' distant third-place finish in Nevada says two things: First, televising these caucuses live from the Strip, as CNN did, really hurt the public image of Senator Edwards' campaign. Why? With 166 voters at Caesar's Palace only 2 voted for Edwards. Two of 166 is barely more than 1% support. Across the state, the 5% Edwards pulled isn't much better.

Second, Edwards' showing exposed one of the biggest and most obvious flaws of the caucus system itself. Recent polls leading into today's voting showed John Edwards with between 12 and 18% of the vote. On a caucus by caucus basis, a portion of Edwards' supporters could have survived the 15% viability test and avoided having to throw their support behind another candidate. Just as Iowa's caucus system cut down the combined support of Richardson, Biden, and Dodd from ~16% to 2%, Edwards was effectively squeezed out of the final results in Nevada because his support hovered around the viability mark.

A candidate with a message that doesn't resonate with voters, or a voting system that doesn't fairly represent all voters and candidates?

You decide.

(photo credit: 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Life of a Blogger

For some it could be all about watching the number of visitors go up and down.

Unfortunately for others, like me, high traffic doesn't always occur when you're putting out your best work, so I try not to care.

But the traffic graph is still kinda cool.

One Comment

This from a reader on reflecting on tonight's Democratic debate in Nevada says it all:

"The big winner was the Democratic Party. Their spirit and vision shine so far above the Republicans."

The Democrats, despite this whole race debate the past few days, are the party with vision: Clinton, Obama, Edwards, heck, even Kucinich and Gravel.

Unlike the Republican candidates, who seem focused on a single issue like illegal immigration or gun rights, each Democrat remaining stands for an America of tremendous change and promise.

Thank God for that.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Romney Wins

...and his victory speech is weak. Ann looks tired and Mitt is just plain uninspiring. Even this talk of Washington being nervous that a businessman is going to sweep in and change broken government. Even an extended call and response with the audience and shouts of "we love you!" don't get me excited.

Perhaps it's that I loathe this guy.

Actually, that's just it.





(photo credit: 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Early Michigan Results

3% in

Romney - 37%
McCain - 31%
Huckabee - 16%

You bet I'm voting against Romney, so hopefully this result starts to turn around.

Photo of the Week

Faces of Victory, originally uploaded by vargas2040.

(photo credit: © 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Road We've Already Tread or Why One Woman Can Do it Better than Barack Obama or John McCain

Dodd's out. Biden's out. My two favorite Senators and presidential candidates are out of the race.

Meanwhile, February 5th, the day of the Massachusetts primary fast approaches and a number of questions run through my mind: Do I take experience over change? How much should I base my vote on Iraq war policies? Do I vote for a Republican or Democrat?

A lot of these questions aren't too hard to answer, or at least you'd think I would have answers to them given the amount of commentary I have posted on this site about the candidates and their proposed policies.

I wrote a post on New Years Eve reaffirming my support for Senator Chris Dodd. Being in Iowa only hours later broadened my perspective on the race for the Presidency, but arriving at what was the world capital of spin and political positioning nearly made me lose sight of what this election is about.

During the four hours of travel back to Boston last week I read Senator Joe Biden's book, Promises to Keep. Masterfully woven into his stories of growing up as a Catholic boy in the new suburb of Delaware are unforgettable messages of spirituality, purpose, and respect. Certain fragments of Biden's religious values and snippets of the principles his parents stood for and communicated to the young Biden still echo in my head.

Biden and Dodd are men whose words on the campaign trail never received the attention they deserved. Very few Americans ever heard Biden's chilling speeches on the Iraq War or Dodd's uplifting call to begin a new era of national service. Biden and Dodd's promises were promises to keep, and I trusted them more than anything. As happens in twenty-first century elections, however, the voices of knowledge and clarity of political vision were practically ignored. Instead, voters in Iowa cast off Biden and Dodd and opted for "change."

As he recounts, Biden was urged to run for president by Democratic strategists in 1984, the year he delivered what's become one of his most famous speeches at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. After giving his speech Biden wrote that, "I hadn't sufficiently appreciated how each person might hear something different from what I'd intended. After all, each person has a little something different buried in a broken heart. In Atlantic City on that day I could tell that people were moved to get up and stand with me."

Barack, anyone?

Public and party reaction to Biden's speech was tremendous. Biden resisted their pleas to run: "Why Run? To do what? I simply could not visualize myself running the bureaucracy of the federal government. I didn't think I knew enough about how the government functioned, and I wasn't sure I knew the people to call. Even after eleven years in the Senate, I didn't know and trust enough of the right people...By my own standards, I wasn't ready to be president."

Biden waited four years and announced his candidacy for the presidency in 1988. He was forty-two years old, and "after a decade on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and nearly that long on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I knew the world and America's place in it in a way few politicians did."

Despite his time as a community organizer in Chicago, that intimate knowledge of what it takes to be President cannot be said for Obama, forty-six years of age and only beginning his third year as a U.S. Senator.

And with intelligence committees and foreign relations I think of John McCain.

John McCain would prove a formidable opponent to any Democratic challenger in a general election. His experience and personal integrity are second to none. Throughout six years of a Republican presidency, McCain has consistently pointed out and fought for what he believes is in the best interest of this country and is not afraid to criticize those who stand in the way of the progress he feels is necessary even if they are from his own party. McCain has the guts that many only dream of, his heart is a compassionate one, and more than anyone he's taken hits for the things he's done throughout his career. He would be the perfect man for the job—except for his policies.

What makes McCain the wrong choice in 2008 is that he seeks to remedy the problems of Washington instead of the problems of America and its people.

On Iraq, McCain sees our invasion as being one conducted with too few troops—a failure of military judgment—not a moral wrongdoing. On health care, McCain sees problems in wasteful spending and the tax code, not in our shared responsibility of taking care of those who cannot care for themselves. On abortion, McCain sees problems of activist judges and the interpretation of the Constitution, not a woman's rights and personal decisions.

On experience, Senator McCain is the clear winner, but America needs more than a foreign policy tactician and a call to clean up Washington.

Midway through page 11 of his book, Biden recounts one of his mother's sayings: "You respect the habit, she used to say, you respect the vestments, you respect the uniform, but you do not not have to respect the person in it." Earlier, "they abuse their power, you bloody their nose."

In August of 1997 Hillary Clinton, then the First Lady, penned an editorial for the New York Times about the S-CHIP program she was urging the passage of, and that she is often credited with sparking the introduction of in the Senate. Clinton wrote:

"Even as we celebrate this progress, we should recognize that passage of a bill, no matter how historic, does not guarantee success. Whether this legislation fulfills its promise depends on how hard we are willing to work in the months ahead."

Clinton's nose was bloodied by Republicans when she presented universal health care coverage to America in 1994, and the failed proposal resulted in a Republican windfall in the midterm elections that year. But Clinton didn't stop. It was S-CHIP in 1997 and in 2008 it's universal health care. A month ago Clinton said in a speech, "I believe the way you get change is by working hard for it. Persistence, perseverance, even some perspiration - that is how you change lives, you change institutions." Hillary Clinton didn't give up in 1994, 1997 or 2007, and she's still going in 2008. In her words, "I think you actually learn more about people when they may not be successful than if they just slope through life. I had a choice: I could have said 'ok, we didn't do it, I'm not trying anymore.' Or, what I decided to do was to say 'ok, we didn't do it, let's regroup and see what we can get done.''

What separates Hillary Clinton from Barack Obama is that Obama, without the years of trying, failing, and regrouping, has consistently passed on the issues that require tough stands and only talks about the regrouping and changes that need to be made. On juvenile justice bills, on anti-abortion legislature, on important gun regulation bills, Barack Obama didn't get his nose bloodied because he "passed" and voted neither "yes" or "no" on over 100 pieces of legislation in the Illinois Senate. Obama's time in the United States Senate has not been much better, with Obama abstaining from voting on legislation designating the Iranian Guard as a terrorist organization and legislation condemning the liberal group for comments made against General David Petraeus.

So far, Barack Obama hasn't stood for change or taken a stand on critical issues like abortion and gun control.

In racing up the stepladder of political success Obama has shouted the themes of his campaign without taking the time to prove that they are core beliefs he's capable of and willing to stand behind when the going gets tough. If he had made the difficult decisions, if he had taken the lead in the political arenas he promises to change as President, this opportunity would be his. What Obama needs is an extension?time to prove that he not only has the values we like to see in a leader but that he also has what it takes to lead?not a promotion to the Presidency.

For her experience, her willingness to fight and argue for what she believes in, and her strength to return to those who used her name as a punch-line in the past , I will vote for Hillary Clinton on February 5th.

(all photos: © 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

A Really Quick Read

Former TV personality Roseanne Barr has a blog at her website (CLICK HERE).

Here's someone expressing all the thoughts that fly through her mind and not filtering or regretting what she says.

There is a definite pro-Hillary/Edwards/Gore/feminism tone in what she says, but her bursts of commentary are more than exciting. The following was published yesterday:

Feeling Pissed Off...

...that a woman finally made it all the way through the boys' club alive, to make history and that fact isn't even acknowledged. Hilary is the only woman who ever made it through this far. I have decided that having a woman president before any man of any color is what these times call for. i am a feminist, and I will die one. It matters that a woman made it through. i made it through and i know the horror and the pain a woman must endure from this woman hating culture to succeed. Hilary I am proud of you. You did it for all of us, black and white, and brown. A black male president should come after your presidency. One man is as good as another, no matter their color, no matter their creed. They are all men, and the propping up of any of them is old and tired and over. It's Women's time now, and the world needs us!!



What you need to do to win: offer free childcare so that mothers can come to vote. Say you will end the war immediately, borrow some visionary things to say from obama, and have chelsea campaign more, and "the hubster" less. Reference the sixties more for the boomer grandmas too. Talk about two americas, and class! bring on Babs S.!

It's fun stuff.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

No Drumroll Necessary

I'm going to publish my candidate endorsement within the next day. My experience in Iowa has sunk in and the sleeplessness of Primary Night in New Hampshire is behind me.




Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Punches are Flying on Hardball

And this professor on right now, Michael Eric Dyson, ranting about Obama is driving me nuts.

In response to Pat Buchanan's inquiry as to whether the race question has helped make Obama even a little more beloved by Democrats, Dyson sounded off...and sounded ridiculous:

"Barack Obama has overcome despite the racial realities. Barack Obama has had to walk into the room proving he is highly intelligent, highly literate, capable of transcending any tribal loyalties, to articulate a transcendent vision that speaks to the entire universe of political reality."

What the @#$%?!

Let's admit it. Hillary Clinton was greatly helped in the New Hampshire primary because she received a big dose of 11th-hour sympathy by voters in the Granite State in part because she is a woman, just as Barack Obama's race also helps garner his candidacy extra attention and interest.

Either a Clinton or an Obama presidency would be unprecedented in this country's history?stop trying to make one seem more important than the other.

New Hampshire Voters Voted "With Their Hearts and Their Minds"

The line of the night.

The waiting game ended here at Southern New Hampshire University as CNN finally called the state for Hillary Clinton. The television projector, the large screen extending around the side of the stage, displayed the news as the hundreds of supporters here burst into applause and song.

Barack Obama's concession speech was originally viewed in silence before tthe audience demanded the sound be turned off: "Music down!" they cried repeatedly in unison.

To show up expecting a 10% defeat and be presented with a triumphant come-from-behind Senator who takes the cup is bigger than any sports upset for me.

Nobody expected a win--the media's story of the day was "Clinton campaign nervous about likely defeat"--but a win was in the cards.

Photos tomorrow, but for now --U.N.B.E.L.I.E.V.E.A.B.L.E.

Monday, January 7, 2008

22 Hours

Hillary Clinton will be rallying with supporters after the results of tomorrow's New Hampshire primary at Southern New Hampshire University.

Barack Obama is the hot story around the country and the world right now, but Senator Clinton's finish tomorrow is the most important story to watch. Is Obama's campaign just as big as the "national campaign" that Clinton's camp claims to be running after Iowa? How much of a margin of (possible) defeat is bearable for the Clinton campaign?

Questions, questions, questions.

You bet I'll be there.

(photo credit: 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Sunday, January 6, 2008

He's Doing It

In a matter of weeks John McCain has had a second coming in New Hampshire. A poll just released today by CNN in the Granite State reaffirms how imprecise and changeable these measures of public support can be.


Favorability ratings for Republican candidates:

John McCain — 81% favorable - 13% unfavorable (half of what it was last year)
Mitt Romney — 65 % favorable - 28 % unfavorable (slowly increasing)

Republican candidate likely to bring needed change:

Jan. 5th, '08 — McCain = 23%, Romney = 23%
September '07 — McCain = 13%, Romney = 25%

Not only is John McCain the most favorable candidate in the Republican field in the eyes of New Hampshire voters, but he's starting to get the "change" vote, an interesting factor that's hard to define but is definitely hot after Obama's Iowa victory. Tell me I'm wrong, but a McCain victory in New Hampshire would be huge...and it might just happen.

(photo credit: © 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Saturday, January 5, 2008

That Hurts

McCain just clobbered Mitt Romney.

"It's easy to be misquoted when you keep changing your positions on issues."

McCain can smile, Romney can squirm in his seat.

Romney Hurting Himself

Why? Too many details.

New Hampshire voters don't mind long answers-- they listen carefully--but when it comes to fiscal questions like whether or not government should pay for healthcare they expect a clear and concise response. Even if Governor Romney made a good conservative policy move by requiring all Bay Staters have healthcare, he hurt himself tonight by getting caught up in the details...and hurt doubly by Fred Thompson's witty and stinging interjections.

Thoughts on the ABC Debate

So far, breaking up the debate with short video clips like the health care snippet just now.

Rudy Giuliani's answer on what he calls the Democrats' "socialized medicine" was impressive; I was skeptical of his rephrasing of the question, but he skillfully dodged the argument that if $1 trillion could be spent on the war we could have paid that towards universal health care.

Annoyingly good.

Reliving Precinct 22

The Harding Middle School north of downtown Des Moines looks like one of those schools built in the 50's that has never been fixed up since.

At 5:45, a full hour and fifteen minutes before the caucus here would begin (the earliest I've ever shown up for an event, for the record), only nine people filled the lunchroom. Of the nine, two were Obama supporters, one woman was setting up her Richardson table, and the other six were volunteers helping to set up and run the caucus.

As voters began to file into the room it was fascinating to observe just how easy it was for people to register to vote. On the spot in less than one minute, a voter could register to caucus by simply providing a form of identification and having their name matched with a list of residents living within the precinct. When one voter showed up without a proof of residence or form of identification he simply walked the block and a half home and picked up his most recent telephone bill and was allowed to caucus.

One of the caucus organizers I spoke with said that precinct 22 only covered a strip of about fifteen to twenty square blocks surrounding the school. Because the caucuses are conducted within small local communities, the atmosphere inside the voting places is friendly. The supporters I saw gathered for Obama, Clinton, and Edwards recognized each other, and two families at the Edwards table said they attended many campaign events over the past few months and decided to support Edwards together. Hearing that made me wonder why the candidates spent a combined $200+ in television advertisements for every caucus-goer this year; it's nice to be reminded that minds are still made up by observation, consideration, and discussion.

As the time neared the 7:00 PM cutoff for arriving to participate in the caucus, a number of families with children began arriving. Of all the preference groups, the Edwards camp had the highest number of young observers—two four-year-olds and two infants.

The first order of business after 7:00 was to select a caucus chair and secretary. The chair of caucus here four years ago read the procedure for selecting these two positions, and, when a younger man rose to announce his attention of running to be the new chair, the decision was put to a vote. With a simple show of hands the younger man was elected caucus chair. He was passed the caucus instructions booklet by the former chair and took over immediately. The same process occurred for selecting the caucus secretary, but this time the incumbent secretary, a short woman with a loud voice who was always encouraging the crowd with pro-Democratic Party slogans, beat out a younger Kucinich supporter.

The caucus chair surveyed the room—which to the best of my judgment looked to be split pretty evenly between Obama and Clinton supporters—and announced in which corners each of the candidates were being represented. Obama, Clinton, Edwards, Richardson, Biden, and Kucinich each had supporters. Mike Gravel and Chris Dodd had no supporters and were quickly scratched off the caucus chair's list of candidates.

Once everyone had a clear idea of where the candidates' sides were, they were told by the chair to assemble in their preference groups and determine which candidates would be viable. Chairs were pushed together and people stood together behind signs supporting their candidate of choice. The caucus volunteers ran through the list of voters present and the chair announced that 111 voters were in the room and that a candidate would need seventeen supporters to be counted as viable and have their results tallied.

At the news the Richardson group near me counted up quickly, only to discover they only numbered fifteen in total. The Richardson precinct captain, whom I had spoken with earlier and had brought with her to the caucus papers with all of Bill Richardson's positions on key issues, immediately approached two uncommitted voters in the center of the room. As she did so one Kucinich supporter and one Biden supporter joined with the Richardson group; it was no longer necessary for the Richardson precinct captain to fight for her candidate's viability by convincing the undecided voters.

Representatives from each of the campaigns approached a table of about five uncommitted voters. Of the five, all but one, who chose to abstain from voting, moved to the Obama corner. During the process of convincing the uncommitted, two members of the Richardson group quietly slipped out and joined the Obama group as well.

Five minutes later, when the caucus chair counted the Richardson group, their numbers surprisingly tallied to only 15, short of the viability cutoff. When this number was announced to the room, two Edwards supporters left their group to make Richardson viable and give him one of the precinct's four delegates.

The caucus chair asked the precinct captains from all four candidate groups to count up their supporters and report the number to him. As they gathered around him, the chair wrote the numbers on an official caucus results reporting slip while the secretary entered the reported numbers into a caucus calculating program distributed by the Obama campaign. All four precinct captains signed off on the results and the caucus chair quickly phoned in the numbers to the state caucus committee. Within minutes those numbers would be added to the familiar vote tracking tallies that scroll at the bottom of cable news networks' broadcasts; precinct 22 divided its delegates equally among Obama, Clinton, Richardson, and Edwards.

The whole process was quick, well-organized, and altogether painless. Why? Because caucusing is more than just a process that is drearily followed here in Iowa, it's a part of being an Iowan. Even though caucus turnout has been poor in recent years, those who attend know how the process works down to the dime.

Skeptical initially about how often the voters at precinct 22 had caucused in the past I asked an elderly woman if this was her first caucus or not.

She began her answer: "No, I've only been caucusing since the War ended..."

She meant World War II.

This is the Iowan's baby, the caucus. You've got to see it to believe it.

(all photos: © 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Friday, January 4, 2008


Finally made it. Alive and back home.

There are still lots of people with Barack pins here in the airport--that says a lot about the strength of his campaign, attracting volunteers to Iowa all the way from Boston.

'O' at O'Hare

If the Obama excitement wasn't evident in Iowa, it is here in Chicago. The plane from Des Moines was packed with Obama volunteers, many of whom would be flying on straight to New Hampshire.

The Obama voters DID turn out last night, and the Obama staffers and volunteers are everywhere too. It's an interesting thing about the Obama campaign. So many people criticize the Clinton camp for its very up-front organizational backbone. Heck, I even got sick of seeing Terry McAuliffe all over the airwaves yesterday. Why Obama does so well with young voters is that they leave Obama himself to do the talking, not countless spokespersons and campaign managers. W hat's clear when you consider the kind of shows Obama puts on all the time is that the Obama campaign IS a machine, it's just one that tries to hide it.

Running a grassroots campaign coordinated from the top down isn't easy to do, but Obama's doing it....well.

"A Messenger of Determination"

I can only imagine what would have happened if John Edwards had given this speech to Barack Obama's young and cheering crowd at Hoover High School two nights ago.

According to CNN's extensive entrance polling for last night's Iowa Caucus, 52% of voters made up their mind based on which candidate they thought could "bring about change." Of that group, 51% chose Barack Obama; Clinton and Edwards pulled 22% and 20% from that crowed respectively.

As I went to sleep last night I wondered if the Iowa Caucus changed my opinions about Barack Obama. Specifically, after a (big) win for Obama here it looks like he's going to have tremendous, perhaps unstoppable, momentum going into New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. Because of the secret ballot format of Iowa Republicans in the caucus process, candidates like Ron Paul, Duncan Hunter, and Fred Thompson are still able to continue campaigning after mixed to poor results last night. On the Democratic side, candidates like Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd pulled only 3% of the vote last night despite having a 16% share of the Iowa vote in polls before the caucus. The unfortunate result of the Iowa preference squeeze is the withdrawal of Dodd and Biden, as well as what seems a deathblow to Richardson's campaign.

What Edwards did last night in his post-caucus speech was to redefine his campaign?recommitting himself to working class Americans, providing an unparalleled health care system for all, and fighting to end corporate greed and abuse. They were points he's made for months, but Edwards delivered a ten minute confirmation of purpose for both his campaign and his life, and did more than tout his will to 'change,' he touched the crowd by laying out specifics about the problems that he saw and what he wanted to change.

What besides his frequent mentioning of the word makes Obama any more capable of being an agent for change? Doesn't Edwards have the conviction, the personal and political experience, and the unsurpassed proposals for economic and social change in America?.

You decide.

(all photos: � 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Grace and Strength

...and the patience and generosity to hang around and meet with supporters after Senator Edwards left the room for his interviews.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Continuing a Different Fight

The Dodd bus rolls back to Washington?where the Senator will go back to fighting for the things his campaign has been about since the beginning.

My hat goes off Dodd for a campaign of civility, leadership, and courage.

(photo credit: 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

The Bar at the Renaissance Hotel

Ordering takeout and getting ready for the ride to the hotel and a night of photos (with a FANTASTIC set of Senator Edwards tonight) and writing.

There should still be a crowd at the Richardson setup at the lovely Quality Inn, and I'm anxious to see what moves that campaign makes tonight after a 2% finish.

At Edwards HQ

Over the past ten minutes the main ballroom at John Edwards' Des Moines campaign reception complex has filled up. Sam Adams in hand, the mood here is mixed, yet propelled by Edwards campaign manager, Joe Trippi, who is spinning the Senator's finish as a triumph over Clinton's excessive spending in the state.

Trippi's "Edwards>Clinton" point #2 is that Clinton doubleteamed Edwards by bringing President Clinton out to stump for her on his own.

The media's point that Clinton would have rather lost to Edwards than Obama is valid. Obama's win shows that voters (by a sizeable 7% margin here) bought the head to head strategy of Obama over Clinton. That is, dollar for dollar and ad for ad Iowa voters (by a sizeable 7% margin) didn't tire of Obama like they (or so it seems) tired of Clinton.

(photo credit: 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Credentialed? Yep!

With a little muscle flexing I'm into Edwards HQ.

Wolf Blitzer just announced the Obama win.

Pretty silent room here.

What I Saw at Pricinct 22

When I get back to the hotel late tonight I will put up some pictures and a nice long post, but for now I'm going to rush over some results from my Des Moines vote. These Des Moines numbers are the ones the news is not reporting now, which makes this all the more cool.

Obama - 36
Clinton - 29
Edwards - 19
Richardson - 17

Hillary is tied for second statewide currently, and if precinct 22 is any indication, Des Moines might not push her over Obama.

Updates soon from the city.

Voters Showing Up

Precinct 22-Des Moines.

Voters are slowly wandering in to a 60's-style lunchroom. For now, two small tables make up the Obama corner, with two for Clinton as well. Richardson and Biden each have one table as well.

9 people in the room with 30 minutes to go.

(photo credit: 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

The Final Hour

Exactly one hour until the doors at caucus locations across Iowa open up.

My home for the next few hours will be at Harding Middle School in Des Moines—Caucus #023-23. Thankfully I'm able to blog from my Blackberry, and will communicate back anything important I see at the caucus.

Following the caucus I will head downtown to experience some post-caucus rallies.

For those of you on the east coast that means no photos until ~11:00 PM.

Enjoy the television coverage!

Ron Paul in the Skies

First it was the Ron Paul Blimp, now it's the skyways above Des Moines. Ron Paul supporters are spread out around the walkways around the city encouraging businessmen and women leaving work to head to caucus for the Texas congressman. I saw proof of the effectiveness of this strategy when one Paul supporter walking the skyway explained the Congressman's positions and convinced a security guard at one of the adjoining corporations to caucus for Ron Paul this evening.

Tonight will be the first test of whether campaign cash equals votes for Ron Paul. If all goes well, expect to see Paul up there near Fred Thompson when the night is over.

(photo credit: 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

"I Like Mike?"

I took a walk from the convention center and ended up across the river at the Embassy Suites where the Huckabee campaign is holding their reception. Problem is, my very nice idea of visiting a caucus before heading over to a reception is in jeopardy. There is only one tiny press riser here at the Huckabee ballroom, not anywhere near enough space for the dozens and dozens of photographers that will likely show up later this evening. If i stayed here and held down my spot I'd be fine, but I'm too restless for that.

Time to find a caucus location and head over. Hopefully there'll be space at someone's reception later.

Get Me Out

I'm getting sick of the Polk County Convention Center. It's here where all those 2,600 credentialed members of the media for the caucus are hiding. The lobby is packed, the Google/YouTube lounge is getting crowded (though the white leather couch I'm on now is very comfortable), and the main media room is churning out dozens of live broadcasts at once.

I just caught word that Senator Joe Biden is in town with an event at 4:30, and with absolutely nothing for someone like me to do that's any fun, I'm itching to escape and find the Senator.

Less than three hours until the caucuses begin and I'm eager to drive to Harding Middle School and see democracy start trickling in the door and filling up the auditorium.

(all photos: 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

One Word


The best word I can think of to describe John Edwards this morning. Here's a guy who's stayed awake for days, crisscrossing this state on dozens of campaign events spreading a message much more fiercely than he did in 2004: corporate greed, lobbying, unfair tax breaks, and handouts to big business must end.

Where better to show up at 8:00 AM on caucus day than the blue collar neighborhood of east Des Moines. Only blocks away from the event were towering industrial plants and warehouses. Kevin Cooper, a steelworker and supporter of John Edwards, joined fellow union members on stage behind Senator Edwards and held a sign whose simple words sow the true, core strength of Edwards' campaign?the support of union labor.

I've seen Hillary's crowds, the thousands of young supporters and families that show up for Barack Obama, and the smattering of folks that show up for Biden, Richardson, and Dodd, but John Edwards has been the only candidate that has consistently had audiences packed with union laborers and blue collar workers so often talked about in this campaign. As I drove along the winding roads that snaked between smoke stacks, stone quarries, and water treatment plants after Edwards departed I realized the candidate of choice for the working class people of America, and more specifically today in Iowa, means a great deal to me. These are people who are deeply affected when their interests are slighted by our 'corporate-American' government in Washington, and these are people who take offense when a politician doesn't follow through on a promise to help them out.

It's comforting to drive through the industrial areas of Iowa because it's here where America's heart beats. No matter how much voters in New York and Florida complain about not having an influence in selecting the presidential nominees, there's just something about Iowa on caucus day that feels right.

Edwards spoke for barely ten minutes. In and out and onwards. As soon as the Senator left, however, I was surprised that the room didn't empty. Instead, a campaign staffer took to the stage and began arranging the crowd into sections. I realized then that the hundred or so people in attendance were not just onlookers, but volunteers preparing to canvass around the city.

John Edwards comes from a family of laborers and is by far the hardest working candidate on the trail in Iowa. If his support around the state is as strong, passionate, and authentic as the handfuls of canvassers this morning in Des Moines, you better watch Edwards' results start coming in this evening.

(all photos: 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Nervous? Confident?

I just finished lunch at Des Moines' Raccoon River Brewery. It just so happens that the Clinton camp has a media/high profile supporters/staff setup next door at the Hotel Fort Des Moines.

Before lunch I was exploring the third floor suites at the hotel and ran into a handful of Clinton security and press personnel. A handful of the press people broke off and ended up in the tables around me at the Brewery.

I can't speak on the moods of all the other campaigns headquartered here, but these Clinton staff were 'jittery.' Maybe it was nervousness over Clinton's position in recent polls, or perhaps some sort of adrenaline rush. Either way, drinks were being stirred ferociously and feet were tapping under tables.

It sure wasn't the serene comfort that the Obama team was exhibiting last night, but who knows if that kind of confidence now is a good thing.

Who Shows Up

That's the story here in Iowa: how many of Obama's supporters, mostly young people, will will actually caucus tonight?

If Michael Voynovich's AP Government class from Cincinnati, Ohio is any indication, the Buckeye State might just be Obama Country by tonight. Like the 1,600 students, teachers, and Des Moines supporters that showed up at Hoover High School for Obama's 10:15 PM rally last night, young people are braving the cold to show up for the Senator's events?even from over five hundred miles away.

After attending three large (over a thousand people) rallies for Obama in New Hampshire and Boston in the past few weeks, it becomes pretty clear pretty fast that they're basically all the same. Throw in Oprah, Michelle, or some live music, but the message, right down to the big applause lines stay the same. I used to get goose-bumps whenever U2's City of Blinding Lights played over the cheering crowds as Obama took to the stage, but I've seen it all too many times and I only quietly sing the song while snapping my pictures.

I won't, however, let my recent overexposure to Obama cloud my ability to read the crowds and support he's currently receiving. Hoover High School's gymnasium was packed?students with (actual) hand-made shirts and signs filled the risers all around the room. Two students, Aaron Eckhouse and Steven Conlow, even made and sold Obama t-shirts personalized for the school's students. They, like the majority of students I've spoken with here in Iowa, assured me they'd be caucusing tonight, the best news the Obama campaign could hear.

Maybe, just maybe, Obama's army of young supporters, all 'fired up and ready to go,' will dispel this frightening atmosphere the media loves to bring up about facing your neighbors and standing up for your own candidate. There comes a point where enough young people in one room makes them the majority and the ones able to shape the scene, not the older voters who traditionally dominate the voting process.

As he's been doing at rallies all over Iowa, Obama took a minute out of his speech to ask the crowd to raise their hands if they'd be caucusing tonight. Hardly a hand stayed down. The next question, how many people were caucusing for the first time, and more than a third of the hands went up.

The skepticism dial is being turned way up on the news right now, MSNBC is bringing on guest after guest that questions Obama's possible success, but throughout Iowa the tone is more positive, even through the biting cold. Why? Because when Obama asked his audience last night to raise their hands if they were still undecided with their caucus choice.....well, let's just say that crowd was 'Obama-friendly.'

(all photos: 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

A Crowded Room and the Comeback Kid

That would be John McCain.

When Tucker Carlson and the rest of the national media personalities (Russert, Mitchell, Stephanopoulos) filed into the conference room of Senator McCain's Urbandale, Iowa HQ he shouted across the room, "You bet I'm about to call the fire marshall about this."

McCain didn't just show up with every recognizable television news personality, he came with Senator John Thune, former presidential candidate Sam Brownback, and South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham. The only surrogate that didn't show up was Tim Pawlenty—a tried and true McCain cheerleader for over a year (and my VP pick should McCain pick up the nomination). Even four of his fellow POWs from Vietnam were there. One of those POWs spoke of McCain's ability to lead, saying, "We've actually seen him under fire." That comment hung over the crowd throughout McCain's extended introduction.

The theme of Senator McCain's campaign here in Iowa is evolving. Though the national media is hammering in the scare tactic strategy evident in one of the Senator's homeland security television ads, McCain's tone on the ground in Iowa is a more moderate one, one of a leader who can protect this country through his ability to work with others and pass crucial legislation. It's a tone that's resonating in Iowa, and one that could propel McCain to a strong third place finish despite his largely passing up campaigning here.

It's the same trend that's taking over New Hampshire. The media, led by pundits quick to make early election predictions, ruled out McCain's campaign this summer after poor fundraising numbers, but it was the media's message that changed, not John McCain's—his message is strong, optimistic, and consistent.

(all photos: © 2008 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Some Insider Insight

A McCain campaign chair, who preferred not to be named, I spoke to last night in Urbandale offered his own prediction on tonight's eventual results?that Mike Huckabee's county-by-county organization in Iowa will pay off tremendously when the votes start being cast.

It's reflective of the mood last night at McCain's rally; the McCain camp would LOVE a Huckabee win here for the shot it would deliver to Romney in New Hampshire.

Outside the Quality Inn

Bill Richardson, visibly exhausted, just walked into the Quality Inn + Suites, Des Moines.

Who woulda thought that a little hotel like this would get any attention?

Off to Edwards and the steelworkers...

The People You Meet

Sen. John Thune (R-SD)

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS)

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC)

Tucker Carlson