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Monday, January 19, 2004

In case you're wondering...
Wolf Blitzer explains the Iowa caucus system.

There are 1,933 caucus sites around the state.

At 7:30 p.m. ET, 6:30 p.m. CT, people gather in schools, community centers, church basements and even private homes.

By 8:00 p.m., they're asked to divide themselves up initially into various corners of the room -- Kerry supporters in one corner, Gephardt supporters in another, etc.

There will be a separate grouping for people who are not committed to any one candidate.

Supporters of candidates who don't receive a minimum of 15 percent of the caucus-goers in the room -- will then have to make a decision: support a different candidate or go over to the uncommitted corner.

Other attendees will be lobbying the supporters of the unviable candidates, the ones with less than 15 percent of caucus-goers in their corner, to chose another candidate and join their group.

This process could last for a few minutes or even an hour or longer.

Eventually, the debating and horse-trading will end, with each person at the caucus in a specific group -- either a candidate group or the uncommitted group. At that point, the caucus precinct leader will call Democratic Party headquarters in Des Moines with word of the tally.

So, that makes it relatively clear, to me at least, what the Edwards-Kucinich deal is about. If a particular caucus has 100 voters, and the initial division has 11 Kucinich supporters and 9 for Edwards, the Edwards supporters are being encouraged to go to the Kucinich corner, giving one of the two "viability," meaning having over 15%. If the situation is reversed in another caucus, then Edwards would get the Kucinich supporters.

Wolf didn't explain exactly what the "tally" is; is it just the number of voters in each "viable" corner, or one delegate for each 15%? Also, I wonder what Wolf means by "horse trading." Without the quid pro quo implied by the Kucinich-Edwards deal, made before any caucuses start, and without the actual candidates present, I don't see what viable corners could offer to the unviable ones. Could Dean supporters offer guarantees to the tiny Lieberman corner about supporting Israel? Could Kerry fans offer Sharpton supporters that Kerry would take a real position on something? I'm assuming that offers of cash are prohibited, but I can't see what else there would be to trade. Will cell phones be allowed, so voters can arrange deals between caucus sites? Should I have asked these questions earlier?

[Update] The Washington Post's explanation.