On The Road

January 3rd, 2012

Live Blog: Caucusing at Iowa’s Largest GOP Precinct

It is caucus night and TheIowaRepublican.com is live on the scene at its precinct location. I am live blogging from Summit Middle School in Johnston. In terms of voter registration, this is the largest Republican precinct in the state. They are expecting between 900-1000 caucus goers here tonight.

One or more of the presidential candidates are expected to drop by, as well.

I will provide live updates as the caucus proceeds, to give you real time insight into what an actual caucus event is like. The doors are already open. The caucus convenes at 7 pm.

I encourage all of you to get to you caucus sites early. Turn out is going to be large and it will take a couple of minutes to check in.

Hit “refresh’ on your browser often for live updates.

5:42 – I was one of the first to check in. The ballot is just a small slip of paper. No names on it. Some precincts will use an actual ballot. Others, just a slip of paper. Vote for candidates who are not on the sample ballot will be counted as “Other”. So, the plan to write-in Sarah Palin is pointless. Votes for Herman Cain will count for him, since he was still a candidate when the RPI printed the sample ballot. The caucuses are run by the Republican Party of Iowa, not the state.

5:45 – The Mitt Romney campaign is the only one on the scene so far. They’re dominating the sign war. Yard signs are strewn across the stage, they also have them outside and on the walls.

5:57 – Folks are slowly trickling in. There will probably be a mad rush soon. I just met a lady who can best be described as a “political tourist”. She traveled all the way from Cary, North Carolina to spend a week and a half in Iowa… in the dead of winter to check out the caucus. She is here tonight as an observer.

I’ve noticed at least a couple of Johnston police officers. I would think there will be a fairly heavy security presence here. Since we’re in Polk County and this is one of the largest spots, if the Occupy protestors want to disrupt a site, this is probably one they will target.

6:05 We now have a Romney vs. Santorum sign war at the front of the stage. Still no other candidates here. I’m chatting with the former head of the Alabama GOP who is here as an observer. He thinks Iowa has a tad too much influence. I’m setting him straight.

6:12 – There is an NBC crew here that will be doing live cut-ins throughout the night. We also have WHO/FOX 17 on hand. I believe Time magazine has a still camera here and is doing a time lapse piece, showing the night’s festivities as the room fills up.

6:24 – We’re starting to fill-in here. There is still no presence inside of any campaigns except Romney’s and Santorum’s. Odd. Japanese TV is here as well as other media.

6:25 – Little known caucus fact if you’re not a party activist. There is actually a caucus every two years, not four. Of course, it’s much bigger in the presidential years. While they’re expecting 1,000 people here today, Johnston 3 had 22 participants in 2010. We handle party business at those events, like electing delegates and discussing platform planks. That is part of what will go on here tonight, but obviously the main event is the presidential pol.

Each campaign will be allowed time to have a surrogate speak on their behalf. Usually they get 2-5 minutes, depending on how the precinct chair prefers. Then everybody votes.

6:28 – A Perry supporter is now placing signs on the stage area. Romney and Santorum campaigns took most of the prime space, though.

6:30 – Rick Santorum just arrived.

6:32 – Santorum has a swarm of people around him. Smart move to come to this caucus site. It’s an easy way to reach a ton of people quick.

6:37 – Rick Santorum is working the lobby. Anita Perry is also here greeting folks. This place is filling up quickly. It looks like there are only about 450 chairs, so have the crowd will be standing.

6:41 – Santorum is now in the main auditorium area, working the room and doing media interviews. Retail politicking until the last possible minute.

6:43 – I believe Santorum is going to address the crowd prior to the actual 7pm start time.

6:46 – It looks like there will be a late start, but they’re going to let a few of the candidates speak prior to actually starting. All the campaigns have agreed to it. Santorum is up first. Nice round of applause for him.

6:47 – Santorum says he’s been a “little bit of a Johnston resident” staying at the Stoney Creek Inn and the Hilton Garden Inn.

6:48 – Santorum says Gov. Branstad and Sen. Grassley told him when he first came here “You can’t buy Iowa”.. and “you’ve got to look them in the eye…. I just want to say to you there’s some great candidates in this race… This country needs something big. This is the most important election in our lifetimes and we need someone that can do what America needs done and that is number one defeat Barack Obama.” (applause)

6:49 – Says he has “put the bold plans, but I have the track record to back up. .. Look not just at what people say they’re going to do, but look at what they’ve done… We need strong families not just for our economy, but for our society.”

6:51 – Santorum: “We need a president that shares our values. We need a president that can stand up and unite America… “

6:52  Santorum wrapping up. Josh Romney taking the mic now.

6:53 – Josh Romney: “Everyone of those people, if they have the opportunity, will make a better president than Barack Obama, but I’m here to talk about my dad… .My dad is my hero. He’s taught me everything I know about raising a family, about being a dad, about loving this country…”

6:54 – Josh Romney: “His family is the most important thing to him…. He looks at what we’re doing, the amount of money we’re borrowing and the impact that will have on future generations… He thinks its immoral and wrong.”

6:55 Romney: “Who’s going to bring us back to those principles of freedom..and entrepreneurship.”

6:56 – Romney: “What we need is a ‘turnaround guy’.”

6:57 – Josh Romney: “I would appreciate your support of my dad… This really is all about family.” He’s wrapping up now.

6:58 – Rand Paul is here speaking for Ron Paul… Starting with an anecdote. He’s great at these.

6:58 – Paul: “My dad was a Reagan delegate…one of only four U.S. Congressmen that supported Reagan (1976)… Everybody says they’re a Reagan conservative now but Ron Paul was an original Reagan conservative when it mattered….”

6:59 – Rand Paul: “The Republican Party to me… is an empty vessel unless we fill it with values… The previous speaker that was here, the first speaker, was a big advocate of doubling the Department of Education.” Yes, the Paul campaign continues to attack Rick Santorum, even at the caucus.

7:00 – Paul: “I like Rick Santorum…but he voted for ‘No Child Left Behind’… I know him to be a social conservative… There’s a lot of Republicans that continue to vote for these things…”

7:01 – Paul: “Rick’s been voting for foreign aid year after year after year… I’ll tell you what Ron Paul’s foreign policy is… That means that one person doesn’t declare war… The Constitution says Congress shall declare war… He believes that we follow the Constitution…”

7:02 – Rand Paul: “We’ve been in Afghanistan 10 years. Ron Paul voted to go to Afghanistan. He voted to go after Bin Laden… but we can’t keep borrowing dollars…. The same old, same old’s not going to fix it.”

7:03 – Rand Paul: “They’re talking about cutting $1 trillion from the rate of increase… Two of the big issues that came out of the Tea Party… were our opposition to ObamaCare and our opposition to he bank bailouts…”

7:04 – Paul: “If we nominate someone who has supported the individual mandate, which half of them (the GOP candidates have), Barack Obama’s going to stand up there and say ‘Thanks for the idea’.

7:05 – OK, I think Rand’s going over his allotted time.

7:06 – Paul’s defending his dad’s policy toward Iran and Israel now. “We’ve been through 10 years of war. Let’s elect someone who’s cautious… The one thing you know for certain is Ron Paul will stick by his word… I think he will not be careless to take us into war.” Paul’s done now. Polite applause but no standard Paul hooting and hollering.

7:08 – Eddie Andrews, a campaign director for the Michele Bachmann campaign is talking now.

7:09 – BTW, the official caucus meeting has not started yet. These are surrogates speaking in the pre-caucus meeting. They are still signing in new voters.

7:10 – Andrews is attacking Santorum now, saying he gave money to people who are pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage. Now he’s hammering Perry on the Gardasil vaccine. Wow. This is an interesting tactic. I don’t think it’s a good one.

7:11 – He’s not going after Ron Paul. It looks the Japanese TV is doing a live report. Andrews, Bachmann’s surrogate says she is “the strongest candidate on foreign policy”.

7:12 – Andrews saying Bachmann praises for Obama. “She is a woman of faith.. If you are pro-life, Michele Bachmann is the only one who has the 100% rating of life… ” He’s done now.

7:14 – Anita Perry, Rick’s wife, talking now: “I’ve known Rick Perry since I was 8 years old. We sat next to each other at a piano recital…”

7:14 – Perry: “I’m very proud of his record. I want you to take a look at his record… He has a record of job creation in Texas… “

7:15 – Anita Perry: Says her children were concerned their friends can’t find jobs. They’re concerned our veterans can’t find jobs… “The last thing America needs is to be weak militarily…” Now talking about Gov. Perry’s Air Force background.

7:16 – Anita Perry: “This election is about saving the soul of our country… Rick is a man of faith…. I can tell you one thing, he won’t be playing golf on Sunday mornings” (a few laughs and applause).

7:17 – She’s talking about what the candidates and their families go through. Says he daughter read something on the internet the other day and said, “Mom, you’ve got frizzy hair…” LOL.

7:18 – Anita Perry: “Texas has the 13th largest economy in the world… We want that for every state… Competition is good..”

7:19 – Anita Perry: “I want you to give Rick Perry a chance…” She’s getting plenty of applause. Mrs. Perry is a good advocate for her husband.

7:20 – Perry’s talking about the Governor’s idea for a part-time congress. He will try to make congress as inconsequential in your life… ” Mrs. Perry is done now.

7:21 – J.C. Watts is here. Big applause for him. Former Oklahoma congressman, speaking for Newt Gingrich.

7:22 – J.C. Watts was a heckuva college football player too for the Sooners. “He just said, ‘Pardon me, Hawkeye fans.’ LOL.

7:23 – Watts is talking about his dad. Says he’s the strongest man he’s ever been around because of his faith.

7:23 – Watts: “It’s not rocket science. It helps to know how to go forward by looking over the last 35-40 years… We have literally squandered everything the World War 2 generation gave us.”

7:24 – Watts has yet to talk about Newt.

7:25 – Watts says he experienced the Oklahoma City bombing…. “You better have somebody in the White House that will take them serious…(terrorists).”

7:26 – Watts: “We don’t need more taxes, we need more taxpayers….” He’s talking about the slow decay of America “Gracious decay”, he calls it. “Defining marriage outside of one man, one woman marriage… There’s a reason we talk about mothers and fathers and marriage. One man, one woman.”

7:27 – Watts: “We’ve had activist judges that have chipped away at our religions liberties and religious freedoms….” Watts is now referring to the San Antonio judge Gingrich often talks about that forbid any reference to prayer, etc. at a HS graduation.

7:27 – Watts has finally gotten around to talking about Newt. Says he created 11 million jobs when he was House Speaker…. “The last time we had a balanced budget, the only time we had a balanced budget in my lifetime, Newt Gingrich was speaker.”

7:28 – Watts: “He believes (kids and grandkids) should inherit and exceptional America.” Wrapping up now. Good speech, but not much focus on Gingrich.

7:29 – And at last, the caucus is about to be called to order. The chair says there might be a motion to suspend further speaking on presidential candidates’ behalf. Makes sense to me.

7:30 – We just did the Pledge of Allegiance. Time for election of a permanent chair. The temporary chair, Joseph Heierts, the temporary chair has been elected permanent chair. I know I just butchered his last name. Sorry Joe.

7:32 – Deb Heldt, the temporary secretary has been appointed permanent secretary. That was nice and easy.

7:33 – They’re now passing donation envelopes around to help the party. State rep Erik Helland is speaking to the crowd now. “I think now the definition of drawing the short straw… Who came here to vote for the next President of the United States? (everyone raises their hands, and a few cheers). “Who came here to listen to their state representative?” One person raised her hand. LOL.

7:35 – Helland, after spending reforms enacted by Republicans. “I can tell you now, this state is in the black and we’re spending less than we’re taking in.”

7:36 – Erik Helland: “It’s been the greatest honor of my life to represent this district. I also want to ask you for another two years.”

7:37 – Helland is done now. Deb Heldt is now speaking on behalf of Congressman Tom Latham. Due to redistricting, Latham is moving into this district to run against Dem opponent Leonard Boswell. Encouraging people to sign the petitions in the back to get Latham on the ballot. I think this is finally the year we get rid of Boswell.

7:39 – Deb: “They are opposites, and I encourage you to sign the petition so that Tom Latham can run as our representative.”

7:40 – There is a motion to suspend further speeches. OK, no more president surrogate speeches. Interesting.

7:41- Time to vote!!

7:43 – People write their choice on a piece of paper, volunteers come around and collect them and then they’re taken in the back to be counted. A lot of people are leaving following the vote. The diehards, like me, will stay to be a part of the delegate selection process. I will post vote totals as soon as I can.

7:46 – They’re doing a last call for ballots. Volunteers will take them to the back to begin counting. That could take a little while.

7:48 – Kevin Zierke, the caucus chair two years ago, just mentioned to me there weren’t any protestors here. A little surprising. And thank goodness. They’re now calling for silence on the floor.

7:49 – They are now asking for nominations for the Polk County GOP Central Committee. Each precinct gets two representatives.

7:50 – Oh boy. I just got nominated for the central committee. Not sure I want this. Four people are nominated.

7:52 – I’m on. Me and Janet Kloewer are the new Polk GOP Central Committee members representing Johnston 3.

7:54- We are now doing nominations for county delegates to the convention. This district, because it’s so large, gets 14 representatives.

7:59 – Looks like I’m a delegate, as well. Now I’m back where the vote counting is taking place. One person opens the papers, calls out the name, two others mark the votes for each candidate. They have four tables doing this at once.

8:02 – The vote counting is going to take a while. There’s 900-1000 votes they’re hand counting. From what I’m seeing, it looks like quite a few votes for Romney, followed by Santorum, Gingrich and Paul.

8;04 – There were 660 attendees in this caucus last time. They set out 492 chairs and most of those were filled and there was a lot of overflow. There might not have been the 900-1,000 they were expecting though.

8:08 – Two tables are done and their count is overwhelmingly for Romney. The other two tables are closer, though.

8:10 – Mitt Romney won Johnston 3. It looks like pretty handily. Waiting on exact totals.

8:12 – They adding up the pages now and working on the total results. There are several pages to go through.

8:14 – It sounds like Gingrich and Paul are doing well in this district, too.

8:15 – Landslide in Johnston 3 for Romney. Bachmann is doing terribly. Without seeing the totals, I think it’s Romney, Paul & Gingrich close, then Santorum, Perry, Bachmann.

8:16 – My instant analysis is this is a district Romney should win handily and he is going to. Gingrich needs good showings in places like this and it sounds like he’s doing pretty well. Ditto for Paul. Santorum’s support will be stronger in rural areas.

8:17 – Here’s the tally: Ron Paul 132, Newt Gingrich 124, Rick Santorum 118. Wow. Close.

8:19 – Rick Perry 66, Michele Bachmann 16.

8:20 – Mitt Romney 274. Romney wins Johnston 3 in a landslide.

8:21 – Total votes cast: 737

Final tally:




Santorum – 118

Perry – 66

Bachmann – 16

8:23 – Seven silly people voted for Jon Huntsman. And that’s it for the live blog. Check out elsewhere on the site for our live webcast and results as they come in.

Photo by Dave Davidson, Prezography.com

About the Author

Kevin Hall

Kevin Hall brings almost two decades of journalistic experience to TheIowaRepublican. Starting in college as a radio broadcaster, Hall eventually became a television anchor/reporter for stations in North Carolina, Missouri, and Iowa. During the 2007 caucus cycle, Hall changed careers and joined the political realm. He was the northwest Iowa field director for Fred Thompson’s presidential campaign. Hall helped Terry Branstad return to the governor’s office by organizing southwest Iowa for Branstad’s 2010 campaign. Hall serves as a reporter/columnist for TheIowaRepublican.com.

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