2020年1月23日 星期四

On Politics: Caucusing in the Caucasus

Why attend an Iowa caucus in Des Moines or Cedar Rapids when you can do it from Tbilisi?
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By Lisa Lerer

Politics Newsletter Writer

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times; Zurab Kurtsikidze/EPA, via Shutterstock; Photo Illustration by The New York Times

Joshua Kucera knows a lot about the Caucasus. He’s a freelance journalist living in Georgia (the country, not the state), and covers the region for various media outlets.

But recently, he’s been learning a whole lot more about the caucuses. You know, the kind that involves delegates and voters and, well, Iowa.

In just 11 days, Mr. Kucera will host the first Iowa caucus in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. So far, three potential voters plan to attend: Mr. Kucera, a friend and a guy who works in the ski industry. (“Pleasant runs” and “marshmallowy peaks,” The New York Times reports.)

“There’s no specific reasons for an Iowan to be here,” said Mr. Kucera, originally from Des Moines. “But I’m a proud Iowan, nostalgic for Iowa and I like doing Iowan things.”

And what, exactly, is more Iowan than caucusing?

Remember, attending a caucus is not like voting in a primary — you don’t just cast a ballot and leave. Iowans have to show up at 7 p.m. Central time at a specific location, be available to stay for hours and vote in public.

Supporters say the process is democracy in action: neighbors debating neighbors, not in Facebook comments or Twitter wars.


But the caucuses also pose all kinds of logistical challenges, especially for already disadvantaged populations. Can you afford to pay for a babysitter? What if you work nights? Or you’re disabled? Or you don’t speak English particularly well? Those kinds of obstacles are part of the reason less than half of the 600,000 registered Democrats in the state generally participate.

Satellite caucuses, like the one hosted by Mr. Kucera, are an effort to make the process more accessible, particularly in a year when Democratic operatives expect turnout to top the 2008 record of 240,000 caucusgoers. Some satellite caucuses will allow Iowans living out of state to participate, while others will provide extra locations within the state — like at universities, hospitals, retirement homes and mosques — to make it easier for voters to attend.

Ninety-two satellite caucuses have been approved by the Iowa Democratic Party, including 65 in Iowa, 24 in other states and the District of Columbia, and three overseas — at a university in Paris, the home of a graduate student studying in Glasgow and Mr. Kucera’s place in Tbilisi. More than 1,700 people have signed up to participate at a satellite caucus location, according to the state party.

The usual rules still apply. Candidates must reach 15 percent support at a caucus to be considered viable — otherwise, their supporters will have to choose someone else. (Yes, that means any candidate who gets a vote in Tbilisi is automatically viable.) Some of the start times have been changed to accommodate local concerns like, say, a 10-hour time difference. All the out-of-state results will be bundled into one at-large satellite caucus “county.”


For the campaigns, the expanded caucus map presents new organizing opportunities. Senator Bernie Sanders pushed hard for events at universities, hoping to turn out more of the young voters who make up a significant part of his base. (His campaign even employs an organizing director for satellite caucuses.) For former Vice President Joe Biden, who is counting on older caucusgoers, nursing homes could be fertile ground.

But for some Iowans, like Donna Winter, the event is more than just a civic duty — it’s a little taste of home.

A retired high school social studies teacher, Ms. Winter heads to Florida with her husband to escape the brutal Iowa winters. She’s also a committed caucusgoer. In 2012, she ran her local precinct outside of Cedar Rapids. In 2016, she flew back home to caucus.

But a caucus in St. Petersburg, Fla.? That’s something else entirely.

“I haven’t missed a caucus since my first one in 1976,” Ms. Winter said. “But I’m nervous about this, to be honest. This has never been done before.”


Nearly 120 people have signed up to attend her caucus in a local Lutheran church, according to the Iowa Democrats, a number that will not include Ms. Winter’s husband, a Republican.

Ms. Winter isn’t worried about whom to support — after seeing 19 of the candidates, she’s leaning toward Senator Amy Klobuchar — but she does wonder whether snowbirds can adjust to caucusing under palm trees.

“I asked to start the caucus early so people would have daylight to find it because they aren’t from here,” she said. “Maybe I’ll get some Florida sweet corn. I can do like before a football game and have some grills set up outside.”

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The week in impeachment

With the impeachment trial racing ahead, it can be hard to keep track of the daily stream of new developments. So my colleague Noah Weiland, who writes our Impeachment Briefing newsletter, has volunteered to catch us up on what happened during the week.

Make sure to read his newsletter tonight — I talked with him about how the senators running for president are juggling the impeachment trial and the campaign trail.

  • The trial began in earnest. On Tuesday, the House Democratic managers in charge of prosecuting the case against President Trump debated the rules of the trial with the team of White House lawyers tasked with defending their boss in front of the Senate. Republicans blocked a number of proposed Democratic amendments involving subpoenaing new documents and witnesses. The argument was unusually bitter, with Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, mocking Representative Adam Schiff, the lead manager, and accusing him of deceit. Representative Jerry Nadler, another manager, accused Republicans of engaging in a cover-up, a charge that prompted Chief Justice John Roberts, who is overseeing the trial, to scold both sides for being overly confrontational.
  • The rules that the Senate passed around 2 a.m. Wednesday set the parameters of the trial. Each side has 24 hours over a period of three days to make opening arguments. The managers presented until around 10 last night, and they’ll most likely do the same tonight and tomorrow. If witnesses and new evidence are introduced, the trial could go deep into February. If not, it could be over before Mr. Trump’s State of the Union address on Feb. 4.
  • Mr. Schiff opened the arguments with a dramatic two-hour presentation. He used healthy doses of historical references, political philosophy and video of witness testimony to take the Senate through the timeline of Mr. Trump’s Ukraine pressure campaign. His six fellow managers followed him with shorter arguments, focusing on specific actions by Mr. Trump or themes that fed into the bigger picture that Mr. Schiff outlined.
  • Both sides seemed unmoved. Senate Democrats lauded Mr. Schiff’s appearance, but Senate Republicans called the material old news and unpersuasive. As Democrats opened their arguments, more than a dozen Republicans could be seen leaving their seats in the Senate chamber, even as some of their colleagues, like Susan Collins, a key moderate vote, took careful notes.

You can sign up for the Impeachment Briefing newsletter here.

… Seriously

CNN explains a mystifying quirk of the impeachment process: why lawmakers are allowed to drink milk on the Senate floor.

I’m left with so many questions. What about almond milk? Or oat milk?

Also, drinking milk is gross.

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