What Iowa caucuses mean for Democrats

There's no suspense for Democrats in the Iowa caucuses Tuesday, but the event is a venue to attack Mitt Romney and build grass-roots support for President Obama in a battleground state.  

Jeff Haynes/Reuters
Supporters of President Obama make telephone calls to encourage Iowa Democrats to attend caucus night from a phone bank for the 2012 Obama re-election campaign in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Monday.

Lest anyone forget, the Republicans aren’t the only ones caucusing in Iowa on Tuesday. The Democrats will also gather in schools and function halls around the state to go through the exercise of choosing President Obama for his party’s nomination, despite the lack of serious opposition.

The Democratic caucuses are more than just a pro forma event. They also matter for the selection of convention delegates and as a tool for party-building by attracting potential volunteers for what is expected to be a close general election. Iowa is one of about a dozen battleground states.

If it’s motivated partisans who show up for a Republican caucus on a cold January night, then the Democrats who go to their competition-free caucuses are the ultimate loyalists.

Kay Hoffman of Waterloo, Iowa, happily puts herself in that camp.

“I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat,” says Ms. Hoffman, attending an event for GOP candidate Newt Gingrich in Waterloo Sunday night, because it’s taking place at her daughter’s restaurant, LJ’s Neighborhood Bar and Grill. “Obama’s gotten a bad rap. He’s been treated worse than any president ever.”

Hoffman, a retired medical transcriptionist, is looking forward to attending her local Democratic caucus Tuesday night, and will volunteer for Obama if asked. She says she knows a lot of widows like her who are for Obama and worried a Republican president will “mess with” Social Security and Medicare.  

“We worked hard for those benefits, and so did our husbands,” she says.

National and Iowa Democrats are also engaging in a bit of counter-programming, just to make sure the news coverage isn’t all Republicans all the time. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has set up a “war room” in a downtown Des Moines hotel, with a promise of daily press conferences.

On Monday, Iowa’s Democratic treasurer, Michael Fitzgerald, and Brad Woodhouse, DNC communications director, were to “preview the caucuses” – that is, to pour cold water over  the GOP candidates and their respective records.

Iowa isn’t the only venue for Iowa caucus “previews.” DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz also offered herself up to the press Monday at an availability at a bagel shop in Weston, Fla. The press release promised not only discussion of the caucuses, but also “Mitt Romney’s attempts to rewrite history, distract voters from his out-of-touch positions and support for failed policies that won’t help the middle class.” 

It’s been clear for weeks that the Democrats expect Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, to win the Republican nomination. They’ve set up the website WhichMitt.com, which highlights Romney’s flip-flops.

They’ve posted videos that go after Romney’s unwillingness to release his tax returns and moments of Romney pique during debates and at campaign events (called “Mitt Fits”). And they’ve bracketed Romney appearances around the state with media availabilities by local Democrats, who heap scorn on Romney’s record and policy proposals.

Romney, for his part, is also behaving as if he’ll be the GOP nominee, training his sites on Obama rather than his fellow Republicans.

"President Obama and his liberal cronies know that if they have to face Mitt Romney in the general election, they are going to lose," says Ryan Williams, Romney campaign spokesman, in an e-mail. President Obama is the greatest job-killing president in modern history and he is desperate to distract from his abysmal economic record with dishonest, negative attacks."

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