Live Caucus: The Numbers

GRINNELL, Iowa—It’s 6:59. The doors are now closed. Don Smith, an older guy serving as the caucus chair, comes to the podium in the gym and asks supporters for each candidate to separate into bunches.

He tells us there are 484 people caucusing. Fifteen percent of that is 72.6, which means that a candidate needs 73 people be viable. The Obama group clearly meets that requirement. Same with Edwards. Hillary is looking iffy.

Smith sends the Biden supporters across the hall to the school theater, where they’re supposed to sit in the seats and be counted. They file out silently. It looks like a perp walk. Five minutes later, they’re back. Smith apologizes: “I misestimated what I thought the count would be.” Turns out Biden has only 51 supporters—not viable.

OK, here come the numbers. Bill Richardson has 26. Edwards has 102—not bad. Hillary Clinton has … 44! Not viable!

Barack Obama rakes in 240. The crowd cheers. Smith calms them down: “This is a caucus, not the Jefferson Jackson dinner.”

Then the stragglers: Dodd has eight. Kucinich has 13.  “We had one for Gravel, and I’ve lost track of where she is.” Laughter. This doesn’t sit right with Smith: “I think we need to respect people who are for any candidate and not treat it as a joke.”