"We're full up in the morning with our Dubuque phone-bank, locals and Wisconsinites covering the phones," wrote Peter Rickman on Thursday morning about the opening of Caucus Day in Iowa's oldest city. This chairman of the Second Congressional District of the Wisconsin Democratic Party and vice-chair in the Dane Dems is also a volunteer state organizer for the John Edwards presidential campaign, and has been immersed in recent weeks preparing for tonigh's Iowa caucuses.
Since last June, Rickman has been traveling across the Mississippi nearly every other weekend, helping organize the field operation for the Edwards caucuses campaign in the historically industrial and Catholic river city of Dubuque. He's been there on nearly a continuous basis since mid December, excepting brief breaks for Christmas and New Year's, taking time off from his full-time job with a software firm and in between semesters as a grad student at the La Follette School of Public Affairs.
The Daily Page spoke with Rickman by phone late Thursday afternoon about the caucuses as seen from an Edwards campaign office in Dubuque. Highlights from this conversation follow.
The Daily Page: What are you doing for the Edwards campaign while you are in Dubuque?
Rickman: Folks from Madison and throughout Wisconsin have been helping the campaign here in Iowa by doing caucus-goer contacts. This includes everything from knocking on doors to making phone calls, all to help the campaign build support among caucus-goers here in Iowa.
What are you doing?
It's kind of an all-hands-on-deck operation.
I'm helping handle the teams of volunteers for the operations of the voter contact program we have here. That includes managing teams knocking on doors and making phone calls. There's no job description, and you just put yourself where something needs to happen, so we can have the support we need to win the caucus.
Over the past couple of weeks, it's full-time job. You start in the office and go as late as the work needs to be done. Last night we were here until 11 p.m.
How many people from Wisconsin are volunteering for Edwards in Dubuque?
It looks like we have around 40 volunteers from Wisconsin here. For the past nine months, we've been building the campaign in Wisconsin and subsequently working to help assist the campaign in the Iowa caucuses. So we've been bringing folks here pretty regularly, and they've gotten to know the caucuses pretty well. Every volunteer who has come in from Wisconsin has had a chance to play a role in this campaign and is going to impact the outcome.
We have a well-organized contingent of people here in Dubuque, where we've been focusing because it's a key region in Iowa. There are volunteers scattered elsewhere throughout the state where they have family or friends to stay with, or if it was where they wanted to go. Then there are always a lot of people who go to Des Moines because it is the central nervous system of any campaign here in Iowa.
What is the scene like there on the day of the caucuses?
It's well-managed, well-organized chaos. Our biggest problem today was making sure we had plenty of places to plug people in as volunteers because we had so many arriving at the door. There's been a real surge of support and buzz for John Edwards, and a groundswell of people both from Iowa and coming in from out-of-state wanting to be involved in this campaign.
Why are you supporting Edwards, and what led you to travel to Iowa to do this work for the caucuses?
John Edwards is running a campaign that is really about core Democratic values that resonate with all kinds of people. He is the candidate who is the most electable, and can bring about the kind of transformative change that this nation really needs to see after eight years of the Bush Administration. Throughout his life, John Edwards has taken on corporate power and elite special interests, and he is a candidate who will bring that fight to the White House.
This is a campaign that is being run for and by the American people. I think all of us have a responsibility to stand and fight with John Edwards. I wanted to make sure I had a chance to be a part of this fight, and to help others who believe in the need for transformational change in this country to get involved too.
There is considerable attention on second choices for candidates, particularly for supporters of those who will unlikely hit the required 15% for delegates. Who is your second choice?
Robert Kennedy, which is to say I really don't have a second choice. To me, John Edwards is head and shoulders above the rest of the class. He represents our best chance to retake the White House and move forward in this nation with a progressive agenda.
What are you seeing around town in terms of the Republican race?
All I know is that Chuck Norris has been out for Mike Huckabee, and that makes me laugh. I see a party that is disheveled and broken. Eight years of debilitating conservatism has broken the party, so there's little energy and little enthusiasm for a weak crop of Republicans trying to be the next Ronald Reagan.
With so many volunteers arriving from out-of-state to campaign in advance of the Iowa caucuses, doesn't this overwhelm the process, particularly considering the rapid succession of primaries that follow over the next month?
When it's all said and done, Iowans are going to make the choice as to who wins the Iowa caucuses. Out-of-state volunteers are here to help share information with the voters. That's really the beauty of the Iowa caucuses, in which participants get to know the candidates and make the deliberative decisions about who they want to lead the country. That's why we're confident John has a great shot here tonight.
Do you support the parties shifting the presidential primary system to a regional cycle as some have suggested, or to another schedule?
Personally, as a leader in the Democratic Party in Wisconsin, I would really love to see a rotating regional primary so more people can be a part of the process early on. Yes, I would love to see a broader group of people involved in early parts of the process. I think the Democratic Party has done a great job nationally helping communities of color and disadvantaged persons get their voices heard early to make it a very small-d democratic process.
Will the candidates already be decided by the time of the Wisconsin primary on February 19?
We're organizing hard in Wisconsin because we're confident that no matter what happens, we're going to be able to bring the message of transformative change to voters and give them a chance to stand up and fight with John Edwards. With so many states holding their primaries so early, there won't be a decision by the time of the Wisconsin primary, and a candidate like John Edwards is going to emerge from this mix.
Rickman ends Caucus Day at Happy's Place, a restaurant/bar/reception hall on the south side of Dubuque that is serving both as a precinct location in the caucuses as well as the site of an Edwards victory party. In addition to organizing volunteers today, he also kept busy with the media in his role as a volunteer leader and spokesman with Wisconsin for John Edwards. Rickman has spoken with John Nichols of The Cap Times (who covered Wisconsinites volunteering in Iowa before the caucuses), Matt Rothschild of The Progressive, Kathleen Dunn of WPR, and NBC-15. More directly, he's been blogging about the scene in Iowa, recently discussing (in parts one, two, three, and four) the campaign's final preparations leading up to the caucuses.
More reports followed throughout Thursday, with Rickman discussing (in parts one, two, three, four, and five) the final get-out-the-caucus (GOTC) preparations by the Edwards campaign in Dubuque. "Well-managed, well-organized chaos. That's how I described today to the Isthmus," he wrote in a last-minute pre-caucus update. "But really, we were probably more than well-organized and well-managed. Here at the end, we've hit all of what we need to with GOTC."