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Where to Caucus on January 3, 2008

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CAUCUS WITH THE ALLAMAKEE DEMOCRATS

MESSAGE FROM SENATOR HARKIN

“There’s one big reason for Iowa’s First in the Nation role in our presidential nominating process: Nobody does it better! The marathon campaign leading up to the Caucuses is an extended interview for the most powerful job in the world. Iowans approach this responsibility with a unique thoughtfulness that has won the respect of pundits and politicians alike. The road to the White House is through the heartland. And, in Iowa, what matters most is a candidate’s mettle, not money. Even lesser known candidates have ample opportunity to make their case and come out on top. For Iowans, politics is not a spectator sport – it is all about participation and personal engagement with the candidates. The Iowa Caucuses are democracy at its very best.”

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WHAT IS A CAUCUS?

The word "caucus" is believed to be an American Indian term that means "a meeting of tribal leaders." Who is a tribal leader? You can be.

A caucus is a gathering of neighbors. At a caucus, party activists go to a meeting where they start the process of nominating presidential candidates by expressing an initial preference for a candidate. Any registered Democrat or Republican can be a party activist and attend a caucus. In Iowa, caucus-goers elect delegates to county conventions, who, in turn, elect delegates to district and state conventions where national convention delegates are selected. That makes these meetings of local party leaders and activists an important first step in picking presidents.

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WHAT HAPPENS AT A CAUCUS?

Neighbors gather to talk about local politics, discuss what they want to see in the party platform and elect people to the party's county central committee, which governs local party affairs. They also elect delegates to the county conventions in the spring.

In a presidential year, caucus participants also express a preference for presidential nominees. Those preferences are the first in the nation and are much-watched by national observers and political leaders for how well or poorly candidates are doing with grassroots Americans.

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WHERE ARE THEY HELD?

The meetings are generally held in a school, library, community center, church basement or some other public building. Years ago, they were held at people's homes, but they've grown so big that both parties try to find sites that are larger and more accessible.

To find where your caucus is, either check this site or call the county auditor's office at the county courthouse in the days before the caucuses. It will have a list of all the sites in your county.

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WHAT TIME DO THE CAUCUSES START?

The caucuses are scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010. The Democratic caucuses will begin at 1:00 p.m.

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DOES IT COST ANYTHING TO PARTICIPATE?

No. Both parties may pass the hat, but you don't have to pay to vote.

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WHO CAN PARTICIPATE?

Anyone who will be 18 years old by the date of the presidential election (Nov., 2010). If you are eligible to vote for president, you're eligible to participate in a caucus.

You must also be a registered Democrat to attend and vote at a Democratic caucus and be registered in the county where you wish to caucus. Both parties allow you to register or change your registration at the caucus site. So, for example, a no-party voter could show up, register and participate.

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HOW IS THE VOTING DONE?

Democrats vote for delegates for each candidate. At 2 p.m., Democrats will break into what are called "preference groups," where participants' preferences for a candidate become public. If a candidate doesn't have 15 percent of the total, his or her supporters must realign with another group. Once everyone is in a group with at least 15 percent, delegates to the county convention are apportioned based on the size of the preference group.

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WHY ARE THE CAUCUSES SO IMPORTANT?

Since 1972, the eventual nominee of each party has been among the top three finishers in Iowa. Sometimes, a good caucus showing can elevate a candidate from obscurity as it did with Jimmy Carter or John Kerry. Often, it ends the campaigns of some candidates who finish lower than expected, because they find it difficult to raise the money needed to continue.

Critics say too much attention is paid to the results. They argue Iowa is not typical of all states. Supporters say no state is typical. Starting in a bigger state would mean only big-money candidates could compete. They say it's a legitimate test of how well candidates are doing with real people in the nation's heartland who have a chance to take their measure up close.

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©2010 Allamakee Co. Democratic Central Committee