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A Preview of the Iowa Caucuses

A Straw Poll in Suburban Pennsylvania Spells Trouble for Beltway Democrats & Dean

by DAVE LINDORFF

There were plenty of surprises and lessons all around in what was billed by local Upper Dublin Democrats in this mostly white suburban enclave just north of Philadelphia as the first caucus to be held in the nation.

With some 150 local Democrats in attendance, the local party ran the caucus using Iowa rules. Tables were set up for each of the town’s seven wards, and attendees were then free to advocate and horse trade votes to try and maximize their candidate’s ultimate strength, which would be determined by two rounds of official balloting.

Only two of the national candidates –Dean and Clark– managed to arrange to have formal advocates make speeches on their behalf, though there was literature for all nine of the contestants on hand.

The end result of the balloting–60 percent for the winner, Gen. Wesley Clark, 31 percent for Howard Dean, the 3 percent each for John Kerry, John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich–was only part of the story, though.

Perhaps most surprising was the complete lack of support for Joe Lieberman, particularly as Upper Dublin, an upper middle-class bedroom community with a fair proportion of teachers and professionals, has an unusually large percentage of Jewish residents. While there may be Lieberman supporters in the community, there were clearly none to be found among the more active Democrats willing to come out and spend two and a half hours caucusing.

A second big surprise was the remarkable lack of support for one-time presumed front-runner Kerry, and for Gephardt, who has significant name recognition and is a major player in the upcoming Iowa caucus, but didn’t even get enough caucus votes to register a percentage.

The way Kucinich played was also interesting–revealing a widespread discontent with the underlying political positions of the leading Democratic candidates. Although most of those who attended the event were Clark and Dean supporters, to the point of wearing buttons promoting their candidate, a number of these people described their reasons for supporting their candidate in very narrow terms: they felt that even if their candidate had shortcomings, he had the best chance of beating Bush. Several conceded that they were much more in tune with Kucinich’s populist positions, but felt he was unelectable. As Dean supporter Babette Thompson put it, "I’m sick of politicians always adjusting their positions. I want candidates who stand for something, which is why I’m supporting Dean, but to tell you the truth, I really like what Dennis Kucinich is saying."

In the end, enough Dean, Clark and Gephardt supporters in one ward were convinced by a lone Kucinich supporter of the importance of keeping Kucinich in the race as a way of keeping pressure on Dean and Clark not to shift to the right, that he ended up in that one ward receiving a vote tally equal to that of Clark and surpassing Kerry. Had similar arguments been made at the other six ward tables, it’s likely Kucinich would have come out a strong third in the delegate rankings.

While Upper Dublin, with a population of just 25,800, may be small even when compared to Iowa or Vermont, its middle-class, suburbanites (median family income is $80,000, and 58 percent of adults have a college degree) are precisely the battle-ground demographic both parties will be focussing on looking for swing voters, making the results perhaps more important than size might suggest.

These results point to several things: trouble for presumed front-runner Dean, who fared poorly against Clark, risks for both Dean and Clark, whose supporters seem less than ardent about their policies, bad news for Kerry, Edwards, and especially for Gephardt and Lieberman, who both got no delegates, and finally a strategy for Kucinich–to run as the Party’s Ralph Nader, perhaps not to win but to keep the leading candidates steering to the left.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html