Thursday night I stood in the common room of the Mayflower Home, an assisted living facility in Grinnell, Iowa. I was desperately trying to find and convince undecided Democrats to support my preferred candidate, Joe Biden. I took a moment -- a very short moment, we really needed the undecided to join us -- to reflect on how I had arrived at my choice of candidates in a crowded Democratic field.
When I went back on New Year's Eve to caucus in Iowa, I knew a little about the so-called "big three" (John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) and next to nothing about the remaining Democrats running. My goal, in returning to Iowa so early, was to familiarize myself with the candidates, particularly the "big three."
While I expected to make a choice between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Chris Dodd quickly changed my mind during the first rally I attended. I admit to being surprised at my attraction to him despite his second-tier status. Caught slightly off-guard by my feelings, I decided to administer a "test" to Senator Dodd in the meet-and-greet session after his speech. I approached him and questioned an assertion he had made in his speech. Again I was surprised, this time by how the obvious changes in Dodd's demeanor and intensity signaled the seriousness with which he treated me and my question. I resolved to try to "test" each of the candidates in this manner. I was unable to speak with all of them, but the ones I did reach impressed me in the same way that Dodd had. (Indeed, Senator Clinton's sudden change in demeanor when I spoke to her, coupled with my somewhat unkempt 6-foot-4-inch frame, got the instant attention of her Secret Service escorts.)
With my preconceptions already out the window after talking with Senator Dodd, I went to campaign appearances of five other Democrats. I soon realized that I was not the only person with a difficult decision to make. By the end of my second day, I was surprised at the number of people attending multiple rallies with intentions similar to my own. I would find myself recognizing or being recognized by other people in the audience while waiting for a candidate to appear. We even discussed our impressions of candidates we had already seen.
In the end, my decision came down to which of the candidates touched me most in his or her speech. That is how I found myself extolling Joe Biden's virtues (a difficult task with such a strong field of candidates) to undecided voters at the Democratic caucus of the Third Ward in Grinnell, Iowa. Sadly, I was unsuccessful in swaying any other voters to Biden's cause and was forced to make another choice. I threw my support to Bill Richardson and when he did not receive enough backing, I voted for Hillary Clinton. While I was definitely disappointed with my candidates' finishes, I was impressed by the many conscientious and thorough Iowan caucus participants.