DUBUQUE, Iowa — “We got beat by the nuns,” said Carol Petrick, a disappointed supporter of Howard Dean as it became evident that her candidate was going to get whipped by John Kerry when the votes were recorded at Dubuque’s Precinct 13 caucus.
For all the talk about how Dean would pull new voters out for the caucuses, only a dozen people turned up to support the former Vermont governor who until last night was widely viewed as the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. A few more showed up for former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, who had until recent days been seen as Dean’s most serious competitor in Iowa. But when the final tally was taken, neither Dean nor Gephardt had enough supporters in the Windsor Park apartment complex’s community room to meet the threshold for winning delegates from Precinct 13.
Instead, the caucus was dominated by supporters of Kerry. While a number of those who caucused for Kerry were members of the Sisters of St. Francis religious order, which is headquartered on this heavily Catholic city’s north side, the reality was that support for the Massachusetts senator ran broad and deep in the working-class neighborhood. In that sense, Precinct 13 proved to be a microcosm for all of Iowa, where Kerry scored a major victory in Monday night’s first-in-the-nation caucus voting.
“This looks like the start of something big,” said Kerry backer Clark Zivojnovich, a union electrician who delighted in noting that most of the people caucusing in Precinct 13 wore white stickers that read, “I’m standing for John Kerry — He’s Fighting for Us.”
“People are starting to realize that John Kerry’s the only one who can beat George Bush,” added Zivojnovich. “And the one thing that matters most to Democrats in Iowa is beating Bush.”
While Gephardt and Dean beat each other to pieces in a bitter battle for the support of Iowa Democrats, Kerry surged by arguing that, as a decorated Vietnam veteran, he was best positioned to take on Bush in a fall race that could turn on national security issues.
Second place in Precinct 13 went to the rapidly-rising campaign of North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who presented himself as an optimistic populist who was more interested in talking about economic justice than in tearing down his opponents.
“Here Gephardt and Dean were supposed to be the frontrunners, and they just collapsed. It’s all Kerry and Edwards,” mused Tom Tully, the chairman of this one caucus out of the almost 1,993 that were held across Iowa Monday night.
Precinct 13 was relatively representative of the rest of Iowa. Kerry stunned pollsters and pundits by winning 38 percent of the vote at caucuses across the state, while Edwards secured an equally unexpected 32 percent. Dean mustered only 18 percent. And Gephardt, who won the Iowa caucuses in 1988, secured just 10 percent and began making arrangements to drop out of the race for the Democratic nomination. Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich, the only other candidate who campaigned aggressively in Iowa, won just 1 percent of the recorded votes, as many of his backers threw their support to Edwards as part of a last-minute deal between the candidates.