How Many Iowans Does It Take to Hold a Caucus? In This Case, Two: One to Talk and One to Listen

On Feb. 8, rain, snow or dark of night notwithstanding, Charles and Harriett Moore will set out in their ’81 VW Rabbit on a journey of no small importance. Following a narrow road across the snow-blanketed prairie of northwestern Iowa for five miles, they will reach the Cedar Valley district school. Once there they will join what could be one of the littlest political caucuses in Iowa as the registered Democrats of their Cedar Township precinct begin deliberations on the presidential candidates. Thing is, there’s a chance that Charles and Harriett, both 57, could constitute the entire caucus.

In the Moores’ rural precinct, caucus-going Democrats are a rare breed—just how rare the Moores discovered when they agreed to host the party’s 1976 precinct caucus in their home. “I made cookies, coffee, and set sandwiches out, and then we just sat there waiting, looking out the window,” says Harriett, a homemaker and mother of four. Adds Charles, a U.S. Department of Agriculture clerk: “We just sat here and nobody showed up.”

Since then the shortage of Democrats has eased somewhat. When the 1984 caucus was held in the Cedar Valley school, the Moores were joined by no fewer than six other Democrats. Moore predicts that however many show up next week, the caucus will have its usual homespun informality. “Everybody knows everybody else,” he explains, “so you talk about the weather, tell a few stories, and somebody might say, ‘I’m kinda leaning toward this guy.’ ” After a blunt discussion of the issues and candidates, the group will elect delegates to represent their views at the county level. Thus the Moores’ precinct will become a tiny element in this first, closely watched voter test of the would-be Presidents.

Right now the Moores are looking at a split ticket within the family. Charles is leaning toward “the gentleman from Missouri [Gephardt], because he understands the farm problem.” His wife seems to favor Dukakis, even if “he’s sort of big-cityish.” So while the cornfields lie dormant under the snow, political grass roots are twitching in Iowa. “I think there should be differences,” says Charles. “That’s exactly what the caucus is for.”

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