Analysis; Iowans Give Lessons of Democracy in Action
Byline: ALAIN JEAN-ROBERT Agence France-Presse
DES MOINES, Iowa - In hundreds of schools, churches, hotels and even private homes across Iowa, activists huddled Thursday in one of the most bizarre shows of democracy in action on the global electoral map.
If three young people bundled up in anoraks against the winter chill had not been standing with banners supporting Democratic candidate Bill Richardson outside precinct 56, the caucus site would have been easy to miss.
For a few hours only late Thursday, the center for the elderly became a beacon for the Democratic Party faithful in Polk county, in the Des Moines suburbs.
But there were no screened-off voting booths, no ballot boxes and no secret vote. On entering the room, each voter had to state their name, and publicly say which candidate they wanted to see carry the Democratic Party torch in the November 4 presidential polls.
"Now, you decide," a banner headline in the Des Moines register told Iowans earlier Thursday as stiff icy winds made the caucus day air feel like minus 15 C (5 F).
With both the Democratic and Republican races too close to call, campaign officials had pulled out all stops to pack sympathetic voters into the precincts to make their choices.
"We'll babysit for you, we'll drive you to the caucus, we'll shovel your driveway. We'll do whatever it takes," said Terry McAuliffe, the campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton.
Iowa's Republican caucus is easy to understand, amounting to an in-person, secret-ballot poll of support for presidential aspirants.
But the process for Democrats is complex and fluid.
Iowans can turn up at a caucus intending to support candidate A, and end up, after an hour of discussion and debate, picking candidate B.
In full view of their peers, with no ballots in sight, activists literally vote with their feet for their 2008 champion by gathering in corners of the venues designated for each candidate.
And Democratic candidates, especially long-shots, face real indignity: if they don't reach a certain threshold - usually 15 percent of a meeting's turnout - they are declared not viable. …