I kind of wonder if the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton contest that created an incredible wave of DFL caucus participation in 2008, might actually hurt caucus attendance in 2010. It was a madhouse with long lines, locations running out of supplies and grumpy people. Despite the anticipation of a huge turnout, the group of volunteers at each location struggled to keep up. For many of the people attending, it was their first caucus experience. Will that caucus experience frighten people away from attending a second caucus? I’m afraid it will.
I have personal experience that makes me think that. I attended my first DFL caucus in 1988 at a church in Richfield. I was an excited 17 year old. The caucus was packed with supporters of the different presidential candidates running, Michael Dukakis, Jesse Jackson, Dick Gephardt, Paul Simon and Al Gore. It was filled with local candidates and state candidates. I remember meeting Mike Hatch for some reason. But the event was confusing to a newcomer in terms of format, organization and language. It was overwhelming.
It was practically another 17 years before I attended my second caucus. I never missed voting, but the experience in 1988 made me think the caucuses were for hardcore people, not for amateurs like me.
While 1988 and 2008 both had competitive races, the 1988 race between Dukakis and Jackson does not compare to the passion and energy behind Obama and Clinton that pumped the 2008 race into a frenzy of support for each candidate. Thousands of people showed up at caucus locations, many just to vote and leave. Those that stayed were greeted by more chaos. The people charged with leading the caucus struggled to deal with the long lines of new attendees and voters, start timess of meetings were delayed, and experienced caucus attendees in each precinct were unexpectedly forced to become teachers and meeting leaders.
The 2008 caucus was an anomaly. While DFL leaders hope to keep those people involved, political meetings are often not the most exciting way to spend a cold February evening. While the 2008 caucus was packed, loud, and even a little confusing, I recall at the 2006 Farmington caucus. I felt a little like one needed to whisper it was so quiet. While I don’t know the exact number, I know attendance was under 100 people at my location, and my precinct had four or five attendees.
As I said, DFL leaders are making a push to get first time attendees to return, but I have a feeling that 2010 will look a lot more like 2006 than 2008. There were a lot of people in 2008 eager to get involved, but people’s lives are busy. Few people in my district realized that there was more involved in running for positions than just winning in 2008. There were many people eager to join the fight, but attending a few meetings or working on fundraising is difficult when you are working to keep your head above water. It is hard to attend a meeting when it takes away one of the few nights you get to spend with your children. I don’t think a lot of those people will attend again.
If you want to get involved, if you feel like helping to get the word out on DFL values, or can raise a little money to support candidates in the area, don’t be afraid to attend the caucus. Think about becoming a precinct leader or assistant precinct chair at the caucus. Become a delegate to the district convention, where you have the opportunity to become a delegate at the State Convention. The caucuses will be a smoother experience in 2010, with a greater ability to get involved at the level you want. Don’t be afraid.
And by the way, even if you don’t attend the caucus, you can still attend your local DFL meeting and get involved.