Iowa’s two major political parties will hold precinct-level meetings this Saturday afternoon at one o’clock.
It’s the first time ever that the Iowa Republican Party and the Iowa Democratic Party Caucuses have been held on a Saturday and organizers hope having it in the afternoon rather than the evening will boost attendance.
Matt Strawn, the chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, will attend his local caucus at a middle school in Ankeny.”This really is the first step in crafting your party’s agenda for the 2010 election cycle,” Strawn says.
“If you’re an Iowan that’s frustrated about something you see happening in this state, the precinct caucuses give you an opportunity raise that issue at your chosen political party with your friends and neighbors and try and make that position the position of your party at the county level and then the state level, potentially becoming part of that party’s platform.”
Iowa Democratic Party chairman Michael Kiernan will attend his local caucus at a meeting hall in Des Moines.
“This is one of the areas where the Iowa Democratic Party and the Iowa Republican Party have worked together to move this to a Saturday,” Kiernan says. “We are hoping for greater participation.”
The two parties are hoping more young people choose to attend since a Saturday afternoon doesn’t have “school night” conflicts for parents and for high schoolers who’ll be eligible to vote in November. A Saturday Caucus also answers complaints from those who have argued holding the Caucuses on weeknights disenfranchises shift-workers.
“This is an experiment this year. Both the chair of the Republican Party and myself thought this was the right approach, to take this back to our national committees and say that we did try a Saturday afternoon,” Kiernan says. “And so we’ll see how participation goes and take the feedback to the national committees.”
The Iowa Caucuses garner national attention in presidential election years, but attendance and attention normally are much lower for Caucuses in “midterm” election years.
This year’s Caucuses could play an important role in Republican Party politics later in the year, however. If none of the four candidates seeking the party’s nomination for governor win 35 percent of the vote in June’s primary, the G.O.P. nominee will be chosen at a convention. Strawn says the delegates to that convention will be people who show up for this Saturday’s precinct caucuses and then went to county and district conventions.
“I do not know the exact plans of the gubernatorial candidates and different congressional candidates in districts, other than I know they are making sure they have active supporters there in some of the larger counties to speak on their behalf,” Strawn says, “even though there is no straw poll or preference as there is in a presidential year.”
Having conventions to choose party nominees is rare. But Republicans in Iowa’s fifth congressional district held a nominating convention in Denison in 2000 after none of the candidates running in the district received 35 percent of the vote in the June primary. Steve King wound up receiving the nomination from the convention delegates, all of whom had attended the precinct caucuses at the start of the year.
In 2002, the Republican party’s gubernatorial nominee won a tight, three-way race, barely crossing that 35 percent threshold. Doug Gross won 33.88 percent of the votes cast in that 2002 primary.
This past summer a coalition of groups raised objections about the timing of Saturday’s caucuses, arguing Iowa Jews “will have to choose between practicing their faith and their civic duty.” The Jewish Sabbath starts at sundown Friday and ends Saturday night.