DES MOINES, IOWA - In the gymnasium of Brody High School tonight, Joe Biden earned the requisite 15 percent of the vote. He was ruled an inviable candidate.
With 437 people crowding the gym floor, mob mentality won out over accuracy and fairness. Biden supporters left tonight's caucus with a shaken faith in a proud Iowan ritual.
Caucusers began by separating into seven camps, demarcated by clusters of enthusiastic supporters waving signs for their respective candidates. Of the seven candidates, only Clinton and Obama started with enough supporters to continue on to the second round of voting. Biden began the night 22 people short of the 70 supporters needed to qualify.
What followed was an kind of inside trading barely intelligible to non-native eyes. Husbands motioned to their wives across the room, precinct captains offered delegate positions to undecided voters from second tier camps, and hecklers tried to scare the undecided away from beckoning rivals.
Richardson, Dodd and Kucinich failed to garner enough support, but their defectors appeared to give Edwards and Biden legitimizing numbers. Cheers sounded from the Biden bleachers. The smugness and glory at having risen to seemingly exclusive ranks spread through the group, and "BI-DEN! BI-DEN!" was the war cry.
The Precinct Secretary counted Biden's corner as 69 strong--one person short. A woman in the red coat had wandered into a crowd of Edwards supporters and now headed back to the Biden circle. "Times up!" yelled the Precinct Secretary before the woman in a red coat could make it into counting range. Waving his clipboard in the air, the Secretary screamed that Biden supporters must quickly choose another candidate. They dispersed into a fog of bribes and beckoning.
One Biden supporter, Kevin Owens, protested. He pointed out that they would have had the 70th vote if the Precinct Secretary had waited a few more seconds. Then, the woman in the red coat would have joined the Biden supporters, making him a viable contender. It was too late. The crowd had dispersed into the remaining three camps. As the voters moved according to the will of the Secretary, Kevin didn't let matters go. He complained directly to the Precinct Captain, who got the state officials on the phone. Red-faced, the Captain hurried Owens into the hall, where he was given conflicting directions. No one running this election was certain what should, or could, be done at this point. "We don't have time to get the Biden folks back into a group," the Captain told Owens. "There are old women in there that need to get home."
Not only was the leadership clueless as to caucus protocol, but they were dismissing people's political choice in the interest of expediency. The Good Secretary scapegoated geriatrics to move things along. Owens wasn't satisfied.
The anonymous state official on the other end of the phone eventually demanded that the entire caucus vote on whether to allow the newly assimilated Biden supporters time to regroup and find a 70th vote. He stood on a table and called for a vote.
"Those in favor?" Uncertain ayes echoed in the gym. "Those against?" A resounding chorus of nays. The Biden supporters had been out-yelled by the droves of Clinton, Obama and Edwards supporters who were not about to relinquish their stumbled-upon converts.
At the end of the night, Obama won the caucus by one vote - 173 to Clinton's 172. Who knows how the night would have ended had the woman in the red coat been allowed to stand up for her candidate. Kevin Owens stood alone where a swarm of sign carrying cacausers once chanted Biden's name. For him, the night's events stripped not only his ability to exercise his democratic right, but also silenced an important voice from outside of mainstream America.