I Caucused in Iowa and Everything Was Fine, Until It Wasn’t

You never would have known that night was going to end in disaster from inside that room

Lyz Lenz
GEN
Published in
6 min readFeb 4, 2020

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Supporters of Pete Buttigieg cheer at his caucus night watch party in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo: Tom Brenner/Getty Images

InIn a high school band room in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, two women sit behind me. They are my neighbors. One woman goes to my gym. I don’t recognize her until she pulls her hair away from her face and says, “Now imagine me sweaty!” Both of the women are both wearing puffy black coats. “Every candidate is so nice,” says the first woman. “Very nice,” echoes the other.

I nod and agree. “Yes, very nice.”

We are in this room to caucus. Every four years, it’s what we do here in Iowa. It’s our Olympics. A sport only we participate in, and even then not very many of us. And it’s got its problems. Iowa is one of the few states that still hasn’t given votes back to felons. It’s hard for parents to be here although many are, with babies in pajamas and toddlers with iPads. People with disabilities have an incredibly difficult time getting here.

It’s hard to be here, to sit in a seat in a room that gets stuffier and stuffier as the night goes on and watch as one by one we count everyone in the room. A headcount. It’s not a metaphor. Then we have to watch as a group of grown adults do some complicated math.

We count. We get up and move chairs to sit in a group for our candidates. We count again.

And all of this after more than a year of mailers, phone calls, and commercials showing candidates begging for our votes. Iowans get coy. We make them beg for it. We make them pay obeisance to the gods of soy and ethanol. We make them stand on bales of straw and sweat and deep throat corn dogs. We like them desperate. We call it retail politics.

But it all comes down to a night. Where we sit in a gym with our neighbors. Asking after each other’s children. Oh, Cadence is in high school? I remember buying Girl Scout cookies from her.

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Lyz Lenz
GEN
Writer for

Author of God Land. Columnist for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. The book Belabored is forthcoming from Bold Type Books in August of 2020.