Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What really happened in the caucuses?

By Diane Silver

Did bands of unruly kids act as thugs for Obama in the Texas caucuses? Does Obama win caucuses in general because his supporters threaten defenseless, cowering Clintonites? That is the accusation included in comments on a post by my co-blogger Nancy Jane Moore.

Nancy has already responded once, noting that her experience in a caucus in Austin wasn't anything like that described by "K." She hasn't had a chance to respond yet to "JamesK." (The same person as K? There's no way to tell. Neither K nor JamesK posted a profile.)

I can only speak for my experience in Kansas. I went to a caucus in Lawrence that drew 2,200 people, far more than the handful of folks who usually attend. I live near the University of Kansas, and this caucus site was filled with college students. There were also many folks my age and older. (I'm 55.) I didn't see anyone intimidating anyone. We milled around for several hours, got tired, foot sore and hungry. We laughed and discussed politics, but no hoards of students were doing anything to Clinton supporters. I didn't even seen any individuals being impolite to anyone.

Hillary Clinton's supporters did seem miserable, though. There were barely enough of them to make up the 15 percent required for their candidate to be counted in the caucus. They sat quietly in one corner, looking rather stunned.

But this accusation of thuggery intrigued me, so I looked farther into what happened in Texas. I searched Google News, using the keywords Texas, caucus, police.

What I found were complaints about overwhelmed caucus sites and some concern about the large crowds getting out of hand. I found one incident where an Obama backer may have mishandled things and one or possibly two incidents where a Clinton backer mishandled things. For that last incident, involving former Dallas City Council member Sandra Crenshaw, even the local newspaper seemed to waffle over time about what happened and who was to blame.

So far, I haven't found any evidence of Obama's young supporters -- or any of his supporters -- engaging in wholesale intimidation.

Working backwards through time, this is what I found.

Dallas Morning News editorial
March 12
And if party leaders had any lingering uncertainty about the urgent need to simplify this process, the almost-too-strange-to-be-true Sandra Crenshaw saga should convince them to start rewriting their rules. The former Dallas City Council member ran a caucus that nearly turned violent and eventually ended in a standoff at a police substation after Ms. Crenshaw told Obama supporters that she planned to alter voting totals to bolster Mrs. Clinton.
Associated Press
March 11
In Hidalgo County, a border stronghold for Clinton, the count has been stymied because Democratic chairman Juan Maldonado changed his cell phone number after losing re-election and wasn't available for several days at his business, a bail-bond office that also offers state teacher certification.
Associated Press
March 6
Tempers flared among emotional supporters of Clinton and Obama. Birnberg said Houston police were dispatched to a half-dozen locations to keep matters under control.

"Someone walking into a room with a blue uniform on has a very calming effect," he said.
Dallas Morning News
March 6
Among the major complaints being investigated in Dallas County on Wednesday were reports that an Oak Cliff precinct chairwoman, former Dallas City Council member Sandra Crenshaw, was tailed to a Dallas police station by election volunteers. They say she said she was taking sign-in sheets home to "correct" them.

In another incident, an Obama backer from New York took over a caucus at Florence Middle School in southeast Dallas, and somehow lost all of the sign-in sheets dedicated to Mrs. Clinton.

"We're collecting information and we're forwarding it to the state" Democratic Party, Ms. Ewing said. "We're trying to weed out what's real from what's not."
Dallas Morning News
March 5
Election volunteers trailed former Dallas City Council member Sandra Crenshaw, who was serving as a precinct chairwoman, through Oak Cliff late Tuesday. They allege that she sent away hundreds of angry convention-goers and told them she was taking sign-in documents favoring Barack Obama home to "correct them."

Ms. Crenshaw, who supports Hillary Rodham Clinton, paints a different picture – of a mob of Obama supporters from other states who were so unruly that she had to seek refuge at a police substation.
Meanwhile, Salon posted an account of a caucus in San Antonio. Here are other reports from CBS News, The Washington Post, and the Austin American-Statesmen. The Washington Post and Austin American-Statesmen have the most in-depth review of problems in the Texas caucuses.

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