The caucus idea was conceived by John Bartlett of New Jersey’s Democratic Future and Jeff Gardner and Rosi Efthim of DFA.
The sponsors were as a virtual “Who’s Who” in the progressive community--- - the fine folks from Blue Jersey and NJ for Democracy (DFA) were abundant both in the room and at the check in table. Garden State Equality, Blue Wave NJ and Progressive Democrats of New Jersey (PDA) proudly hung their respective banners in the most’s visible spots in the room. Other sponsors from the progressive community included BALLOT, NJ's Democratic Future, and NJ Stonewall Democrats. The NJ Jewish Democratic Caucus and the NJ Arab-American Democratic Caucus shared a meal and handshake together. And last, but not least, the Progressive Caucus of the NJ Democratic State Committee was present.
A pride of progressive politicos to say the least. A gaggle of the Garden State’s finest reform minded political minds. Now, at the time, I found the night very exciting and full of fun. I was asked to provide my big round Henschel Hat Company-USA-made-hat, so that a fair choosing would be made of the names of the participating candidates as to speaking order.
So, what’s the problem? The problem is the choice of this very undemocratic caucus system itself to pick a winner of the progressive caucus, that’s what.
The rules of the Iowa caucus were to be followed, tweaked just a bit. Ordinarily in the first round, candidates must garner at least 15% of those present in order to make to the next round. Like on “Survivor” or “The Weakest Link”, those who do not, get knocked off for the next round, with attendees being able to move around and join another surviving caucus. The NJ progressive community raised the stakes just a tad by sweetening the pot to require a 20% mark on the second round. That night, the Hillary camp was unable to garner the requisite 15%, but for some reason was able to move to the second round.
At the get-go, the Obama people seemed to have it all together. They had the most number of people. They were pumped. The Obama Executive Dierctor, Mark Alexander, worked the group like a combination Final Four basketball coach, stand-up comedian, and Sunday morning preacher. And Obama brought with them the highest ranked elected official in the room: Congressman Steve Rothman. Now, the others did not actually slack off at all in the speaker department ----John Edwards brought Senate President Richard Codey and Hillary Clinton provided Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson-Coleman. But the Obama people rocked the room and had all the buzz.
One would think that progressives themselves would disdain a system so entrenched in the institutional primary system, and somewhat undemocratic in and of itself. To quote Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post’s editorial staff.
“Why should a candidate who fails to meet the 15% threshold of viability walk away empty handed? Why should the outcome depend on how those losing campaigns decide where to throw their backing when, in caucus-speak, on-viable preference groups realign for a second round?The eventual winner of the progressive caucus, the John Edwards crew, won because the Biden people joined them. Some of the Hillary people left flat out; and the six Richardson people went who know where. The Obama caucus and the Kucinich caucus remained mostly the same.
Now, you can make the argument that in real life/in real time as the weaker candidates drop out in the earlier states, their supporters will find their way to other candidates. And the Edwards camp will make the argument that Edwards is the best second choice, and will eventually end up the winner anyway.
However, as a progressive, I am a firm believer in a system that will promote greater democracy. The caucus system favors those participants who are the best “second choices”. This system gives way too much weight to the opinion of those who end up choosing someone who at first they would not have voted for.