JANUARY 12TH, 2008 | Harkin for Senate
By Whitney Woodward | Saturday, January 12, 2008
Following a seismic turnout in the Iowa Democratic caucus, party officials have predicted the state’s seven electoral votes will head to the blue column in this year’s general election.
But Republicans aren’t buying their opponents’ prediction.
Updated attendance figures from Thursday night’s caucus show Democrats drew roughly 239,000 participants, doubling the Republicans’ pull of about 120,000, party officials said.
Those are unprecedented headcounts for both parties.
Democrats said they think Iowans’ surging interest in their party’s presidential candidates will reap benefits for all party members.
“This (turnout) is good news for Tom Harkin and any other Democrat on the ballot this fall,” said Jeff Link, a veteran political strategist for U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
The Democrats’ ranks were boosted, in large part, by independent voters who declared an affiliation with the party at their precincts, enabling them to participate.
Although the exact number of independents — and the number of Republicans that jumped ship to join the Democrats — has yet to be tallied, exit polls suggested it may top 80,000.
The party’s ability to attract new members can be attributed, in part, to Barack Obama, the U.S. senator from Illinois. The winner of the Iowa Democratic caucuses made a point to woo independents, frustrated Republicans and first-time caucus-goers.
“Frankly, I think a lot of folks on the Republican side and I think independents, who in the past may have caucused with Republicans, were not enthused or motivated by the candidates on the Republican side,” said former Iowa Democratic Party chairman Gordon Fischer, an Obama backer. “I talked to many Republicans (who said) that all the Republican candidates have fatal flaws.”
But Republicans also lured new members — including some from the Democratic roster.
Around 30 percent to 40 percent of the GOP’s attendees Thursday completed registration cards to join the party, said Chuck Laudner, the executive director for the Republican Party of Iowa.
The newcomers apparently helped boost the Republicans’ caucus showing by 33,000 from their headcount in 2000.
“They’re energized, and there’s no doubt about it,” Laudner said about the GOP’s electorate. “You can’t say that we’re not energetic when we just broke our record for turnout.”
Increasing that turnout was a challenge because the GOP had to rouse its party loyalists from an eight-year caucus slumber, Republican Party of Iowa spokeswoman Mary Tiffany said. President George W. Bush ran unopposed as an incumbent in 2004.
“I was personally amazed,” Tiffany said of Thursday night’s turnout.
History shows that high caucus night attendance doesn’t always translate to a general election victory.
Eight years ago, the Republicans drew 87,000 caucus attendees, easily trumping the Democrats’ 59,000 person turnout.
But despite the GOP’s bigger draw, Democratic candidate Al Gore narrowly captured the state’s electoral votes in the general election.
Perhaps the massive jump in the Democratic caucuses should serve as a “warning shot” to the GOP, that Iowans have renewed interest in the party, Drake University politics professor Dennis Goldford said.
“Democrats have traditionally had a tough time winning independent votes,” said Goldford. “So right now, the question is can the Democrats get these people to show up in November? And that’s not a given.”
Whitney Woodward can be contacted at (515) 243-0138 or [email protected] Comment on this story at qctimes.com.