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Cedar Rapids Republicans prepare for Caucus Night

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
Long-time GOP operative Jim Conklin shares his caucus knowledge with Linn County Republicans looking to caucus tonight for the various candidates.
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CEDAR
RAPIDS, Iowa – Here in Iowa’s second-biggest city, in the second-biggest county
– Linn County – the Republican caucus-goers in this more liberal corner of the
state are small but committed.

So, on
this cold and clear Caucus Day – a long-held tradition here in the Hawkeye
State, your Red Dirt Reporter and Red
Dirt Report
political writer and commentator Ted H. Smith opt to visit the
Linn County Republican organizing and training office.

Smith and I
introduce ourselves to the outspoken caucus organizer and long-time Republican
activist Jim Conklin.

Conklin, munching on an enormous sausage link and downing Coke Zeros,
is answering phones as well and after getting off the phone with the Sheriff’s
Office, he shakes his head in amazement and says: “I must be the only one in
the country who is not worried,” Worried about what? “Well, there seems to be
some concern that these Occupy protesters are going to somehow disrupt the
caucus.

Chad
Johnson a Ron Paul supporter from Marion, Iowa, wandered into the caucus office
and talked to Conklin and his aide Brenda. Johnson, who was also wearing a
black Ron Paul T-shirt and said he sings in a 60’s and 70’s cover band called
“Past Masters” – “we play everything from Chuck Berry to Shaun Cassidy and
everything in between” – and was wanting some political signs to wave.

“I’ve
been a life-long Republican,” Johnson said. “Regarding Ron Paul I think he
speaks to core conservative principles. He wants less corruption and fewer
bureaucrats.”

Gauging
his sense of where fellow Iowa voters were leaning, Johnson spoke highly of
Paul, saying he had seen signs and knew supporters. As for the other leading
Republican candidates, Johnson chuckles and says: “There aren’t any Romney
signs out there that I’ve seen. I did see one Rick Perry sign that popped up.”

There is
the sense that despite the media heavily promoting a Romney victory tonight, the former Massachusetts governor has only tepid
support. While listening to the caucus coverage on Des Moines radio
station WHO, a caller repeatedly calls Romney a “used car salesman” who needed
to watch his “phraseology,” a term that appropriately referenced the classic, Iowa-set
musical The Music Man, about a
confident man who professes to be a band director yet has no musical talent.
Could that caller be on to something?

But back
to Jim Conklin and his skeleton crew of volunteers. While talking to Smith and
I, he talked about his time as a GOP chair and how he had managed to anger the
wealthy party leaders over the years.

As
Conklin put it: “I don’t let them rule. They were elected to serve.” That
attitude has not one him many friends within the wealthier enclaves of the Iowa
GOP.

Conklin,
an electrical engineer and soccer coach when he’s not involved in Republican
politics, says he is often accused, by establishment Republicans, of being a
libertarian. But Conklin assures us he is not. Were Ron Paul, for instance, to
win the nomination, he would certainly support him. But he is open and honest
about who he supports: “They’re all bastards and Newt Gingrich is my bastard.”

And Ron
Paul, Conklin said, “can’t win nationally.” He said he dismisses Paul when he
goes off down the yellow-brick road of the gold standard and so forth.

But
Conklin respects Paul and his dedicated supporters.

“Ron
Paul is a phenomenon not because of who he is but because of who his supporters
are,” Conklin said. “These supporters are a young group that are tech savvy.”
You get the impression that Conklin is lamenting the fact that the older
supporters of more establishment candidates, like Romney and Gingrich, are not
as tech savvy. But it’s only an impression.

Oh, and
Conklin proudly says that in 2007 he was telling national media folks that Mike
Huckabee would win Iowa and John McCain would get the nomination. He was right
and he says its because McCain was essentially a liberal and that the GOP made
the mistake of pushing a moderate.

And
Conklin also wants a person of faith to be president but doesn’t want that
“faith” to govern the country. He called influential social conservative leader
Bob Vander Plaats “Vander Poof” (“I have no time for that guy”) and dismisses a
lot of the crypto-evangelicals as “CHRINOS” – Christians in Name Only. It is
clear that his outspoken nature has resulted in some toes getting stepped on.

Conklin
owns up to his mistakes in caucuses of yore. He has learned a lot and realizes
that getting young people in the process and drawing them into Republican
politics is important, especially in the era of online social media.

So,
Conklin waves the flag for Newt, although he said the current Iowa for Newt
crew in Des Moines have a lot to learn and need to “get their heads out of
their collective asses.” So, out here in blue Linn County, Conklin will be
waving the flag for Newt 2012. As he is talking, an 85-year old World War II
vet named Del wandered in looking for some Newt 2012 swag.

“Where I
live they don’t let us have signs. But I’ll take these stickers,” said Del.
Just then, his phone rang. It was a call from a campaign. He hung up. “This one
is for rent, Rick Santorum.”

Del said
Gingrich is the only one who could “whomp” President Obama in a debate and that
“Newt should be our man.” He said he planned to caucus for Newt tonight.

Interestingly,
Conklin said he thinks celebrity and pseudo-political gadfly Donald Trump,
while professing to be a Republican, will likely jump in the race “if the wrong
candidate is chosen,” thereby assuring that Obama is re-elected.

Whoever
goes on to win the Republican nomination this summer in Tampa will undoubtedly
encounter some corrupt Democratic operatives in the form of the disreputable
ACORN organization, now operating under a new name. Conklin said that Cedar
Rapids is a great representation of America in terms of its diversity – whites,
blacks, Hispanics, Asians and so forth. Already, ACORN types are going into
poorer, immigrant neighborhoods in Cedar Rapids and “strong-arming” new
arrivals into registering as Democrats. He said “same-day voter fraud” will
likely be rampant on Election Day, if previous incidents are any indication.

Conklin
is passionate about Iowa remaining “first-in-the-nation” when it comes to
getting a sense of what candidates are gathering support.

“We need
to remain first in the nation because we’re tolerant about letting people have
their voice heard,” Conklin said, adding that when it comes down to it, his
role in the party and getting people involved “is about building party
politics.”

After
leaving the caucus HQ, Smith and I get coffee at a Perkins restaurant. The next
table over, a group of middle-aged and older Iowans, talk about the candidates.
The name Ron Paul comes up a lot. The older man says “If you can look past some
of that stuff about the newsletters I think he’d make a good president.”
Another says he met Rick Perry and liked what he had to say. The older man then
says he plans to caucus tonight.

And just
so readers of Red Dirt Report
understand the process, the Iowa caucuses start at 7 p.m. across the state in
school classrooms and public libraries, primarily, and will take place is
nearly 1,800 different locations. During the caucus, which can take several
hours, the presidential poll is taken after a presidential candidate or their
representative speaks on their behalf.  As
Jim Conklin told Newt supporter Del this morning, keep the speech on behalf of
a candidate short. Come across as likable and don’t worry about “rehashing Newt’s
record.”

After
that, ballots will be passed out and the poll will be taken. Once the ballots
are filled out and the results are reported to both the precinct caucus and to
the Iowa GOP’s “secret location” (Conklin said as the ballots are tallied and called
in, the results can be seen in real time), something that has caused some
concern, especially among Ron Paul supporters who suspect that the party
establishment is conspiring against their candidate.

After
that, leaders are elected to the county central committee and precinct
committee leaders will be elected. Also, Republican delegates will be elected
that will ultimately go to the Iowa Republican State Convention and then on to
the Republican National Convention. Lastly, platform issues will be submitted and
discussed for consideration at the county’s Republican convention. But as Jim
Conklin told Red Dirt Report, if it’s
running long – up to midnight – the precinct chairmen have the right to shut it
down. Also, there are no Roberts Rules, so points of order and such do not have
to be considered.

Copyright 2012 West Marie Media

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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