- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2012

WAUKEE, Iowa — At 7 p.m., the final voters were ushered into the sanctuary of Point of Grace Church, a high-tech, stadium-style room, and the 2012 Iowa Republican caucuses were under way in this suburb just west of Des Moines.

One man joked with his friend, “Can’t we just throw our votes in a bucket and be done with it?”

“No, they have to speechify first,” another man responded.

Iowa fights to be the first in the nation to begin to pick a president, and they take it very seriously.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry worked the room beforehand, shaking hands with everyone he could find regardless of whether they were wearing stickers for other candidates.

When Mr. Perry was shaking hands, he ran into Mike Everitt, a 47-year-old who was still undecided before the caucus began.

Mr. Everitt told Mr. Perry he was waiting for someone to step up and grab him, so Mr. Perry zeroed in.

“The best prediction of success is someone’s record,” he told Mr. Everitt, looking directly into his eyes. “I have a record of creating jobs. I didn’t create all of them, but I created the environment for them.”

In Manilla, in the western part of the state, Art Joens and wife Peggy hosted a caucus at their home, one of the few that still do it the old-fashioned way.

But with just a few minutes to go before they began, the caucus was all but empty.

“When I first got involved in the process, I would try to call all the neighbors to come to the caucus, and I finally concluded they really are going to come or they aren’t, and if there’s no interest to indicate their preference, they’ve lost an opportunity. It’s really that simple,” Mr. Joens said.

A few folks walked in just before 7 p.m., bringing the total to five — including the Joenses — when the caucuses began.

“This is embarrassing to me right here,” said Michael Nieland, waving at the sparse crowd.

“It’s a shock to me at how many people assume that who’s in power is going to take care of us,” he said. “So many people don’t pay attention anymore. It’s sad. They’re there to complain about things, but they’re not showing up when they have a chance to voice their statements.”

The Joenses served their guests peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, brownies and coffee, and the five sat in the gray-carpeted living room and talked, each person having a quick say, before they voted.

The final tally of the vote — cast on white notebook paper and collected in a brown fedora — was three for Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and two for former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Heading into the evening Mr. Joens had leaned toward former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, but his wife, a Santorum supporter, swayed him.

At Point of Grace Church, which hosted two precincts together, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s wife spoke and urged voters to consider electability.

“There is one person that can actually defeat Barack Obama, and that’s Mitt Romney,” she said. “So when I ask for your vote tonight, I want you to consider who might defeat Barack Obama and go to Washington and do the things that are hard.”

Her husband ran away with the voting, winning almost half of the 357 votes cast in the Waukee precinct and 40 percent of the 550 votes cast in the Urbandale precinct. Mr. Santorum won 141 votes across the two precincts, good for about 16 percent.

Similar scenes played out at caucuses in 1,771 other precincts across the state.

Voters began each meeting by electing their officers for the caucuses, then reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, before getting down to the business of caucusing.

Some caucuses took votes on paper ballots, while others used a show of hands to make their calculations.

In one Urbandale precinct, where C-SPAN broadcast the caucus, Mr. Santorum’s wife, Karen, showed up to speak for him, bringing four of their seven children.

“He’s a great daddy,” she said. “He understands the importance of family as the foundation of a strong society.”

Speaking at a caucus in Cedar Falls, Mr. Gingrich said he brought the most national experience to the table, and said he helped usher through President Reagan’s economic and military programs.

“This is not the time for another amateur,” he said.