Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Evening of Intrique

By Shawn Healy

The results of the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses are nearing their final tally, and its safe to say that Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee claimed resounding victories in the Democratic and Republicans fields, respectively. The remaining verdicts center on second place for the Democrats, with John Edwards clinging to a narrow lead over Hillary Clinton, and third place for the Republicans, with Fred Thompson and John McCain in a dead heat. I'll wait for tomorrow's wrap up to prognosticate about the significance of this evening's developments, but will share a few of my own observations from the First Democratic Precinct in Cedar Rapids.

I arrived at the local precinct, a job training center, just before 6pm. Voters were asked to sign in upon entering, and then were at once greeted by supporters of one of four candidates: Clinton, Obama, Edwards, and Joe Biden. Clinton's camp went so far as to provide food and water for participants, and all eagerly slapped stickers on supporters' chests. Another team administered "entrance surveys" to attendees to determine initial and secondary preferences, instruments critical to network predictions and later analysis of demographic and issue-based trends behind the votes.

Caucus goers entered a large room with chairs situated throughout, with precinct captains for the aforementioned candidates positioned in strategic places throughout the room. Attendees generally sat close to the stations for the candidate they supported upon entering, but there were pockets of undecided voters, along with small contingents for Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd.

The formal festivities started late as turnout was higher than expected, and voters needed only be in line by 7pm. The meeting was finally called to order at 7:25pm, and a precinct chair and secretary were subsequently elected. Then, preference groups for each of the candidates were counted alongside a tally for the entire room. With an assembled group of 117 on hand, a candidate needed 18 supporters, or 15% of the room, to be considered viable. With the initial count, only Obama (46 supporters), Clinton (41), and Edwards (19) had sufficient representation.

The next 30 minutes were devoted to bargaining amongst the three viable campaigns for undecided and non-viable candidates (see below for video footage of the proceedings). In the end, Obama's camp persuaded 7 additional supporters to come on board to Clinton and Edwards' 2. The 6 available delegates were subsequently awarded on this basis, with Obama claiming 3, Clinton 2, and Edwards 1. Delegates to the county convention were then chosen for each candidate, and then the caucus proceeded to address platform issues.

As I departed, the major news networks had already called the race for Obama, and it was clear why. Record turnout, 212,000 strong (compared to 125,000 in 2004), with a heavy reliance on a younger and more diverse demographic, contributed to the knockout of the establishment candidate (Clinton) and the angry populist (Edwards). Such trends were evident in the small gathering I witnessed, as Clinton attracted a decidedly older, female contingent, while Obama's was remarkably young, even racially diverse in this relatively homogeneous state. Edwards' supporters were uniformly white, but in the middle of the room's age continuum.

In the end, I witnessed a remarkable display of democracy in action, where citizens spent an evening talking to one another about the issues that matter in this great nation. New Hampshire will follow suit, and without doubt some candidates are already en route. Iowa did claim a couple of casualties, however, as Joe Biden and Chris Dodd have already left the race, and Fred Thompson may soon follow.

Check back here for more in-depth analysis tomorrow morning, along with another podcast pontificating about this evening's developments and what lies ahead. I bid you a pleasant good evening from Iowa.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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