My flight was delayed today. This is a fairly fitting end to my whirlwind six days in Des Moines, Iowa where I volunteered for Hillary Clinton for president. And where she eventually won.
I am in a bit of a haze today, not from a hangover, but rather from the sensory overload I experienced while on the ground in Des Moines. And the lack of sleep. And the lack of Starbucks. But this allows me some time to reflect on my crazy time here over the last week.
I had never participated in a presidential caucus in one of these early states before, so this was a bit of a bucket list item for me. On a whim (and a bit of scheduling good luck), I decided to make the trip out to Des Moines to help in the final days leading to the Iowa caucuses last Monday. And I am glad I did. Not only did I get to meet several pol-ebrities like Lester Holt and Brit Hume; but I was also able to meet the full Clinton clan, including none other than the woman I hope to call Madame President, Hillary Clinton.
Most of my time in Iowa was spent canvasing and phoning and running errands to help out the official staff. The ground operation for the Clinton campaign was impressive and organized. And massive. They had precinct captains in nearly every one of Iowa's 1681 precincts. This was not an effort that was going to leave anything to chance. Every vote counted and this was evidenced by the 125,000 voter contacts the campaign made in the final weekend alone.
The voters are highly engaged here in Iowa, probably a geographic hazard of living in the "First-in- the-Nation" state. And despite what you might read on Facebook or in the comments threads of certain articles, the voters really like both candidates. A lot. Ann Seltzer, the country's premier and highly-acclaimed pollster for all things Iowa, registered an enthusiasm rating for both Clinton and Sanders, 73 percent to 69 percent respectively. This syncs up with my own personal, anecdotal experience on the phones and at the doors in suburban and central Des Moines.
Like voters in Washington, there is an emphasis on the grassroots here. You cannot run a war of TV ads and mailers and expect success. You need to shake voters' hands, kiss the babies, and have neighbors spread your message face-to-face. Iowans expect it and Washington voters too have rewarded candidates who invest in this level of politicking. This is probably why Trump didn't prevail and Cruz did. It's also one of the reasons that Hillary was able to stem the momentum of a groundswell of new, first-time caucus attendees and edge out a win. She invested in the infrastructure necessary and prioritized relationships—a lesson learned, no doubt, from 2008.
Now, many of you Bernie supporters are saying "Whoa. Hold up. Hillary was up 30 points against Bernie a year ago in polling. Now he's tied. This is win for him."
I am not going to be disingenuous and deny the movement he's starting and the success he's built. It's impressive and as a longtime political professional, I love seeing the new energy and enthusiasm. But, politics works in narratives. And the narrative going into the caucus was: if turnout is high, Bernie wins. If turnout is low, Hillary pulls it out. In that space, this is a clear Hillary victory. But don't take my word for it.
David Axelrod, Obama's strategiest in 2008 said the week before the caucuses: "This race is as tight as can be. If Bernie Sanders had momentum headed into the final month, the race now is static and essentially tied. If turnout is within a normal range, Hillary likely wins. If it goes higher, approaching 200,000, it will be a good night for Bernie."
And then there was what Bernie himself said the morning of the caucuses: "On caucus night in Iowa, you will be able to tell very early, I think, who wins and who loses. If there’s a large voter turnout, we’re going to win.”
There was a large voter turnout. And Hillary still edged it out. Oh, and have we taken just a second to put down our weapons to honor the fact that she's the first woman to win the Iowa caucuses? Like ever in the history of our nation? No. Of course not.
Turnout on Monday is recorded approximately at 171,000 voters, short of the record-breaking 2008 numbers but significantly larger than 2004 and 2012. By all objective measures, Monday night's caucus is considered a large turnout. And, again, Team Hillary edged out a win despite the narrative that large turnout would ensure a Sanders upset. She did this against a momentum narrative pushed by the media (based in reality), against the narrative that 2008 was happening all over again (not based in reality.)
Despite this higher turnout warning and despite momentum on the other side, she won. Others will claim that it's a tie, but there are no such things as ties in politics. Even actual ties are solved by coin toss or some other draw solution. There are always winners and losers when it comes to the final prize. Politics is still a 50 percent plus one game. And Hillary received 50 percent plus 3. So, sorry gang, she won.
That is not to deny Sanders supporters a night of celebration for themselves. I can relate to their frustration with the status quo and a desire to have a champion for economic inequality in the highest office in our land. He took a quirky campaign and turned it into a movement. It is impressive. There are no disclaimers or qualifiers or "buts" or "howevers" in that statement. They should feel proud. And I think they have been able to create an impression that this isn't a coronation and that they can change a narrative for their campaign beyond Nevada and South Carolina (Clinton-friendly territory.)
Monday night, as I was posting photos and celebrating Hillary's apparent Iowa win on Facebook, a very good friend of mine mesaged me and said "Why, ClintonNerd?" I suspect this was a question of why I was supporting Hillary over Bernie, when I am a fairly loud liberal. I prodded a bit more and received a fairly long list of supposed crimes Hillary had committed against the Democratic party and the progressive movement over the years. I find it exhausting to defend why I like Hillary since I believe candidate preferences are personal, emotional and not always grounded in logic. But here is my best attempt. Hillaryfans, please excuse that this falls far short of a fair and appropriate rebuttal because I am a walking zombie today. But it is honest and I hope it matches a few of your own feelings about Hillary.
I am gay and I came out of the closet in the late 1980s in one of the reddest parts of Wisconsin. This was during the "Age of AIDS" and the far right wing was having a lot of fun spreading and smearing us with their right wing nuttery at the time. If you believe I am over-inflating things, Google "gay cancer" and "Focus on the Family" and enjoy. This is why I am highly attuned to the messages they use to take down movements and people. It's perhaps also one of the reasons I feel so connected to the women's movement and also rabidly support a woman's right to choose. The types of messages they use to smear us both have been historically nearly identical.
When I see the right wing launch a smear campaign against someone, I empathize because it's so familiar. Enter Hillary Clinton in the 1990s. Here is a woman who has sustained 24-plus years of right wing attacks, conspiracies, fabrications and outright lies. Did you know that she had her best family friend murdered and then staged it as a suicide? True story, according to right wing media blowhard, Rush Limbaugh. Did you know she's actually a lesbian and her marriage is a sham? Totally. Benghazi, Whitewater, it's all the same.
Then you couple this with the blatant and subtle sexist criticisms and judgments by the commentariat of someone daring to be female and strong on the national stage. Was her choking up sincere or fake, why so many pantsuits? There has been so much coverage with a sexist angle and so much coverage of the sexist coverage, you can't even keep track. Not only has she sustained these attacks, she has survived them. She's proactively put herself through this nonsense in the hopes of being hired for the most stressful and important public servant jobs in the world. Oh, and she did it not once, but twice. Did I mention that first time, she decided to work for the person who defeated her? Yep. If you have capacity, you really need to step aside from your own Hillary prejudices and ask yourself: After a very public and personally embarrassing loss as the 2008 presidential race, could you then go work for your opponent immediately after the loss? How much would you have to love public service and helping people to answer yes? My guess is: a shit-ton (that is a metric).
There are her positions on gun control, her longtime record on healthcare, her work on behalf of children and the poor, her record as secretary of state. The list goes on and on. Sadly, because I am sleep-deprived, I can't give her record the justice it deserves, nor is there enough space to debunk every criticism and false attack waged against her. And honestly, if you want to believe that she's a monster, despite the over-whelming record and evidence debunking it, then you're not going to resonate with anything I am saying and it will fall on deaf ears anyway.
Lastly, I really want a female president. Viscerally. I want to proudly be a part of a political party that has taken two major presidential elections and turned them into historic firsts: our first African American president and (hopefully) our first female president. I am not so foolish as to believe all the sexism and racism in the world is erased as a result. But the symbolism of such acts is important. I want to be on the offensive when it comes to women's equality and reproductive freedom for a change instead of constantly beating back oppressive and horrid laws and challenges. A president Hillary Clinton would mean a few brighter days on those fronts, I am quite confident.