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Sat., Jan. 21, 2012, 11:45 a.m.

Could we boycott the Iowa caucuses?

If no one else has yet proposed this, might I suggest the news media stop paying attention to the results of the Iowa precinct caucuses…or any precinct caucuses, for that matter.

That includes Washington. No offense, all you good party loyalists who are preparing for the big March 3 event. 

As a party-building exercise, caucuses are a useful tool. Anyone who is willing to leave the comfort of their home; drive or be driven to a school, church or community center; sit around for about an hour with family, neighbors and total strangers while someone reads arcane rules for awarding delegates; then speak or listen to others speak about the virtues of a particular candidate isn’t just a glutton for political punishment. He or she is an invaluable find for a political party.

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In a state like Washington, where voters don’t register by party, the local Democrats and Republicans don’t have a better way of telling who’s who.
Sign up for a caucus, and you can bet that in the next week you’ll get a call from a precinct officer, a letter from an aspiring candidate and an e-mail seeking a donation from that party’s member of congress. The real trick is to get that member of Congress to stop begging you for money five or 10 years down the road.
So if they want to keep one foot in the 19th Century, the parties should definitely keep their caucus system. But news out of Iowa last week shows that we should not pay much attention to the so-called results on caucus night.
Based on incomplete – and as it turns out erroneous – results, the news media reported Mitt Romney won the Iowa caucuses. By 8 votes, but as Romney got to say on caucus night, and the next few days in New Hampshire, a win’s a win. Except in his case it wasn’t. Tallies more than two weeks later show Rick Santorum probably won the race by about 25 votes. And even those aren’t final. Think of it, the Republican Party, which is the paragon of virtues when it comes to proper registering voters and counting their votes, can’t really say who won the first real contest of its presidential nomination.
Except that caucuses aren’t really a contest. They’re the beginning of a process that involves more meetings and voting and winnowing. Every four years, the national media, aided by businesses and politicians in Iowa who want a quadrennial economic boost for their state, forget that.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, they usually sucker a hundred reporters into writing about the Republican straw poll, a summer precursor to the winter caucuses that’s even more meaningless. Wise up, folks. You’re being had.

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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