The DNC scraps Iowa’s virtual caucus plan

First up today, plans for the virtual caucuses in Iowa this year have been scrapped by the DNC. Now you may ask, what virtual caucuses are we talking about? Let me explain in just a moment. And by the way, thanks to listener and real-life friend Chad Bell from Chicago for bringing this up in the first place. This was a listener question originally.

So first up, we briefly have to get into what an American caucus traditionally looks like, at least for Democrats. Let’s take Iowa as the classic example. Within each county, there are precincts. Each precinct holds an in-person event called a caucus. At that caucus, which is often held in a large public space—think like a gymnasium or barn or even somebody’s home if it’s a small enough precinct—registered Democrats physically gather in groups within the room based on which candidate they support.

Okay, so now you have these groups clustered around the room based on their support for candidates. There’s typically a half-hour discussion trying to convince them to move. Then there’s a count, and any group in the room that falls below 15% of the total in that room—meaning, let’s say you have 5% of people supporting so-and-so—that candidate is now out of the race within that room. And all the people who supported so-and-so, or who were undecided to begin with, now have to join some other group. They have to support somebody else, or support nobody and abstain. This is part of why pollsters are so interested in asking, hey, what would your second choice be for a candidate?

So then, there’s ANOTHER big old discussion to persuade people to switch candidates, or assign their votes to their second choice, and so on. When everybody is solid on their choice, then the caucus for that precinct is complete. The percentages are tallied, and we’re done. Those numbers are then rolled up to the county and state levels, and delegates are apportioned at the state level to the Democratic convention in proportion with how the caucuses turned out.

Okay. So what are some of the problems with caucuses in general? Well, for one thing, you have to be pretty politically engaged to show up on a Tuesday night and spend potentially hours wandering around a basketball court and giving speeches about why somebody should support your favorite candidate. For another, there are serious issues for people with disabilities—some of these locations are not accessible, and sometimes the discussion itself is not accessible. For instance, if you are deaf, it is rather hard to have a big discussion in a giant room full of people. Plus, you know, a lot of people work at night. So overall, this system does not get much participation, and that’s a problem, because with Iowa as a super early-voting state, it gets a disproportionate amount of candidate attention, and then a low turnout, so you have a system that is both complex and not very inclusive.

All right, so the DNC reached out to Iowa and Nevada for this cycle and said, you’ve got to figure out a way to allow absentee voting in your caucuses, OR switch to a primary instead. So those states said, okay, fine, and in the case of Iowa they proposed a phone-based system where people could dial in on six different specific occasions, enter a PIN and their birth date, and then rank up to five candidates in order of preference. Iowa put this together as a plan and submitted it to the DNC for approval many months ago.

And incidentally, the way this virtual caucus thing would have worked mathematically was, in a word, complex. It’s not like those phone people would have had physical stand-ins in their precinct, who would move around in the room based on the phone vote. Not at all—reading from a Vox story by Ella Nilsen:

“Here’s how it was supposed to work: All of Iowa’s four congressional districts would have been allocated up to an additional 10 percent of the overall state delegate equivalents (or, the delegate totals from each county). In other words, if one congressional district had 400 people going to their delegate convention, they would get an extra 40 delegates that could be awarded based on the results from the virtual caucus.”

Wait, what? This was already complicated enough with a zillion precincts and all that stuff, now we’re talking about adding MORE MATH on top of that? Well, okay.

So, last week the DNC told Iowa—nope on that phone-in plan. They were concerned that one of the vendors selected by Iowa might be vulnerable to hacking. Now, reading here from an Iowa Public Radio story by Karatina Sostaric:

“Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price said there is a misconception that hackers accessed the virtual caucus system.
“What they discovered was a potential vulnerability with one of our potential vendors,” Price said. “And so it was not a hack of anything that had been built because we have not built anything yet.””

Yeah. So, the chain of events is, DNC says, figure out how to get this done. Iowa does. They submit the plan. Then, months later, the DNC has its big meeting and the DNC committee, the Rules and By-Laws Committee, apparently found that DNC security folks could hack into a conference call between the DNC committee and the Iowa and Nevada Democratic Parties. The DNC committee then concluded that no phone-based system existed that met its security standards, so the whole thing was NOT approved.

Plus, another concern was that, in that math I talked about earlier, there was a 10% cap overall on how much the virtual caucus counted toward the overall state delegate count. Again, that’s probably not high enough, given how many people might opt to do the virtual thing rather than show up in person. Meaning, it’s still not a proportional voting system, so that doesn’t seem fair.

The problem right now is that the DNC is still requiring absentee voting, and there’s about five months until caucus day. Iowa is faced with an ENORMOUS problem right now, which is that they somehow have to design a new system, right now, get it approved, right now, and if they don’t, they may have to switch—somehow—at the last minute—to a primary system, which would mean losing their first-in-the-nation caucus, because New Hampshire, because of their state law, WILL leapfrog any primary that tries to go before it. So this is a big old mess. I will keep you updated as we figure out how this will play out.

Manchin says he WILL stay on as a Senator in West Virginia

This next item is a quick one. Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, announced that he will NOT run for Governor of his state, and instead will remain in his safe Senate seat. You may recall, Manchin was Governor of West Virginia from 2005 to 2010, when he won a special election to fill Senator Robert Byrd’s seat after Byrd’s death.

Now, quick note and full disclosure, I have a ton of family and history in West Virginia, including family members who have worked on behalf of Manchin’s campaigns and stuff like that. So, to be clear, I have zero personal involvement with any of that, but I am well aware of Senator Manchin, and the complex relationship he has with his home state and the national party as well.

Manchin is either a centrist or even a right-leaning Democrat, depending on how you look at it. Republicans often feel he’s too liberal, and liberals often feel he’s too conservative. This is the kind of double-bind you find yourself in when you’re working as a Democrat in a red state that used to be blue.

So, the key news there is that his Senate seat will NOT be up for the 2020 election. He has it through 2024, and all bets are off when that cycle rolls around. This was basically what Democrats were hoping for, and it does keep a Senate seat in a red state firmly off the table for a possible Republican pick-up in the upcoming election.

Biden says details are irrelevant to his war story

Next up, an update on Joe Biden and that war story. A quick summary of the coverage from Thursday here: Basically, the Washington Postdug into a story that Biden had been telling on the campaign trail for more than a decade, and concluded that it was actually kind of a mash-up of three different stories, and didn’t really resemble the actual truth of what Biden himself did in the story. But Biden didn’t tell that to voters, and instead presented it as a specific thing that happened to him.

Okay, so National Public Radio interviewed Biden over the weekend for the NPR Politics Podcast, which, by the way, I HIGHLY recommend—I listen to every episode. Asma Khalid was one of the reporters who interviewed Biden, and she asked him indirectly about the story, putting it in the context of the many verbal gaffes Biden has made. She said:

“I was out with you last week in South Carolina speaking to a number of voters at your rallies. And I will say, most of your supporters that I talked to, they don’t seem to mind. They say that it’s just—you know, it happens to all us, we all put our foot in our mouth. Do you not feel that the details, not just the intentions, matter, when you’re making decisions as president?”

Biden responded, and this is long:

“Well, they’re two fundamentally different questions you’re asking me. When I stand—and you guys love to conflate these things—number one is, I stood up and talked about pinning a medal on a young man who did not want the medal and was a brave, brave young man. I also talked about, up in the upper Konar valley, of another young man who engaged in a very brave act. Turns out, I believe it was General Rodriguez, was up in that, I believe they call it a forward operating base with only six or eight people up there. And HE pinned the bronze star on the young man up there. It wasn’t the young man who got the medal of honor from the president, who in fact was in a different place. That was in Afghanistan, but not where I was.
And so the fact that the whole purpose of what I was saying did not in any way affect my point. They’re incredibly brave, decent, honorable men and women in the military, who in fact are like any other generation, only even have done more. They’ve saddled up, they’ve gone out, they’ve wiped the blood off of these Humvees, they’ve got back out, they get out again, they go out again and again and again. I was making a point about a generation.
That has nothing to do with judgment of whether or not you send troops to war, the judgment of whether you bring someone home, the judgment of whether you decide on a healthcare policy. You understand—”

And Khalid interrupted here, saying, “Not judgment, no, no, not judgment, but details. Because that’s something I’ve heard from some voters, maybe not at your events, but details.”

Biden responded:

"No, but the details are irrelevant in terms of decision-making. If in fact I forget that it was Rodriguez, of all the times I’ve been in and out of Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Bosnia, and Kosovo, as much as anybody except maybe my deceased friend John McCain and maybe Lindsey Graham.
And so the fact that I would forget that it was Rodriguez who was pinning—I believe this is the case—pinning a bronze star on a young man, was—it’s irrelevant to point. It’s like saying, I had this very bright reporter and I think her eyes were blue. What difference would it make about whether you were a bright reporter, your eyes are brown? It’s irrelevant, and you know it.”

Yeah. So…that argument is a very long way of saying a simple thing. Biden was trying to communicate that what he calls the “9/11 generation” of soldiers are themselves honorable and decent people. That’s point number one.

Point number two, he’s saying that within the scope of that first point, it doesn’t matter that he got all the details wrong—the person who got the medal, the person who pinned the medal, which medal it was, where it happened, all that stuff he explicitly listed out and said it does not matter.

I think the overall point he’s making is that he’d make a good president and have good judgment related foreign policy regardless, even though he got all those details wrong.

If you want to hear the whole interview, which is more than 20 minutes long, check out the NPR Politics link in the show notes, and listen to it. Subscribe to it. Seriously. It’s good stuff, and it gives you a good sense of where Biden stands on a TON of issues. It’s NOT all about this war story, though of course, that is the thing that made headlines.

How to watch the CNN climate forum tomorrow

Okay, Wednesday evening—that is tomorrow, people—CNN will hold its climate town hall featuring ten candidates. Those ten happen to be the SAME ten who will appear in the DNC debate NEXT week.

Okay, so let’s talk details. The candidates will appear back-to-back in order to avoid any possible DEBATE, per DNC rules, and the candidates will take questions from a mix of people in the audience and CNN anchors. Here is the ORDER in which the candidates will appear:

Castro, Yang, Harris, Klobuchar, Biden, Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, O’Rourke, and Booker.

There’s a link in the show notes to a CNN article that lays out the specific time each candidate is scheduled to start and finish, in case you are more interested in one than another.

Each of them will be paired up for a brief interview segment with a CNN anchor, then come the questions. Each candidate gets 40 minutes—presumably minus commercials—which means this event starts at 5pm Eastern time and runs through, wait for it, MIDNIGHT. Because, you know, 400 minutes is just shy of seven hours of television. This might be a good event to record for later watching, but, hey, if you want to watch, go for it.

Okay, so how can you watch this? As far as I can tell from the CNN reporting, you need either a cable subscription to CNN or, oddly enough, there are multiple radio options. Reading from a CNN article by Mark Preston:

“The town halls will air exclusively on CNN, CNN International, CNN en Español,'s homepage, across mobile devices via CNN's apps for iOS and Android, via CNNgo apps for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Chromecast and Android TV, SiriusXM Channels 116, 454, 795 and the Westwood One Radio Network.”

It's unclear from that coverage whether the broadcast will be available without a log-in, but I kind of assume they would be trumpeting that fact if that were the case. I will update you tomorrow, moments before the event, if I learn that indeed the channel will suddenly go free at that moment. But for now, I would assume you really do need a CNN subscription or login, or whatever.

So, that’s the story, settle in for seven hours of climate change town hall on Wednesday night, or for my summary the next day.

Well, that is it for one more episode of the Election Ride Home. I have been your host, Chris Higgins. You can always find me on Twitter @chrishiggins. Okay, true story time. This is definitely whining on the yacht, as they say, but this morning I woke up and fired up my fancy-pant iMac computer, and found that there was a teeny tiny spider living inside the screen. Like, under the glass but on top of the pixels. And it was walking around. I tried tapping the screen, blowing air into the edges, all kinds of stuff, but the spider didn’t seem to respond to any of that. Eventually I noticed that it didn’t seem to like when a white area was behind it—I guess that was too much glare or something—so I turned the monitor up to full brightness and it seems to have wandered off into the bezel—the dark space around the edge. So, um, I will keep you posted, because apparently this is a thing that happens to people with this kind of computer. And if that spider dies in the middle of my screen, I have to take it to Apple and pay them for a NEW SCREEN. So. I got a case of the Mondays on Tuesday. As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.