Tuesday was Coming Out Day for Idaho Democrats.
Yes, the number of votes garnered for Senator Hillary Clinton — which would have been enough in any other year — fell before the boiling juggernaut of voters for Senator Barack Obama. But the disposition of our paltry 18 delegates was not the news.
What was the news was the overwhelming numbers of people who showed up – not just in the People’s Republic of Ada, but throughout the state. From Boundary County to Twin Falls, reports came in of three times and even five times as many attendees as in 2004, with rooms filling up, ballots running out, and people being turned away.
Like Howard Dean before him — but on steroids — Obama succeeded by galvanizing and motivating a whole new generation in the political process.
“All 44 Idaho counties had a Democratic caucus. Has that ever happened before?” wondered Dr. Jim Weatherby, professor emeritus at Boise State University and pundit.
In a state where some people say they’re afraid to put a Democratic bumper sticker on their cars, 6,500 people in Ada County alone were shouting “We are Democrats!”
But this was in a room full of other shouting people. A safe place. How to get them to shout it outside the room as well?
That’s the question that state and county Democratic organizations should be grappling with now. There is no doubt that Obama brought in many new people, and that many of the Idahoans for Obama organizers were not traditional Idaho Democrats. Can the existing party organization leverage these new resources and mobilize these new people to support state and district-level Democrats as well?
In what might be an ominous clue, in Ada County many of the new Obama supporters left after the first ballot, and many more left after the second, leaving just a few people around to be chosen as Obama delegates for the state convention. And the convention is the fun part. Are the people willing to spend an evening shouting “GO-BAMA!” also willing to do the months of work of knocking on doors for Idaho Democrats?
One thing is for sure: there will never again be a caucus like this one. Four years from now, it’s almost a certainty that caucuses will be held on the district or even on the precinct level, saving a lot of money and reducing the logistical challenges in this year’s events.
Moreover, four years from now will be 2012 – after the 2010 census, and likely to be after its associated redistricting. It’s not out of the question that Idaho could end up with three Congressional districts, and legislative districts in the Treasure Valley are likely to be redrawn – perhaps in a way that could benefit Democrats.
In the terminology of researcher Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Obama is a “black swan,” which refers not to his skin color or being ugly as a child but to his being a large-impact, hard-to-predict, and rare event beyond the realm of normal expectations. Examples of black swans include 9/11 and the Internet, and cause unexpected radical change.
“Isn’t it strange to see an event happening precisely because it was not supposed to happen?” according to Taleb.
You know. Like, a black Democrat looking to Idaho to help him become President.
Will Idaho Democrats be able to seize that change? Or will they be left holding a single, black, shining feather?