PHOTOS: Thousands Caucused at UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls
Candidates Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich made stops at the UNI-Dome in a last effort to persuade Iowa voters and organizers estimated at least 4000 attended the event, which went much more smoothly than the 2008 Black Hawk County Caucus.
Ron Paul won the state’s largest Republican Caucus, after several thousand Black Hawk County Republicans cast their vote Tuesday at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
As of 10 p.m., Paul had 24 percent of the county's voters with 98 percent of precincts reporting. He was closely followed by Mitt Romney with 23 percent and Rick Santorum with 21 percent. Newt Gingrich got 16 percent.
Gingrich and Michele Bachmann, along with a slew of candidate surrogates, addressed the crowds before the Caucus began just after 7 p.m., making last minute pitches for their struggling candidacies.
"I think people want to know who's the true core conservative in this race," Bachmann told Caucus goers. "We need to have someone who is in the image and likeness of a Ronald Reagan and a Margaret Thatcher who will stand up and take it to Barack Obama ... I will defeat him and then my goal is to go on and be the best president the United States has ever had."
Meanwhile Gingrich reminded Caucus goers of his wealth of political experience all the way back to Ronald Reagan—and then asked them to reward what he said was a "relentlessly positive campaign."
"You have a chance tonight to send a signal to America that the viciously negative campaigns are totally wrong for this year in America," he said. "You can do that by refusing to vote for anyone who has been running negative ads, and insist on voting for someone who has been positive."
Efforts such as Gingrich's—who carried 16 percent of Black Hawk County's vote— might not have been in vain. Even as Caucus-goers prepared to vote, some at the Dome said they hadn’t made up their minds.
“I came in here with kind of a general idea to vote for Newt,” David Tredwell, 47, of Cedar Falls ward 5, precinct 4, said before the voting started. But he said he might still switch candidates and was deciding between Gingrich, Rick Perry and Romney.
The event was much smoother than four years ago, he said. In 2008, 3,000 people caucused at Central Middle School in Waterloo, and at least 1,000 more were turned away, Black Hawk County Republican outreach chair Greg Tagtow said.
That year, the frustration of voters unable to enter building was high. Cars were trapped in the overfull, snow-filled parking lot, and long lines of people trying to register to vote kept people out in the cold.
This time, voters checked in inside the UNI-Dome, which had ample parking and plenty of room for all who wanted to participate. Though some precincts had long lines to check in, the lines moved quickly. Organizers postponed the start time by about five minutes to allow everyone a chance to check in.
“It’s a complete 180,” Tredwell said of this year’s organization. “Central was a mad house.”
Still, not everything was perfect. In the loud, echo-filled space, those advocating for their candidates at the precinct level often strained to be heard.
Within the Dome, individual precincts were scattered throughout the stadium, and each precinct cast its own votes. For each candidate, one representative per precinct was allowed a few minutes to address their neighbors in a last ditch attempt to convince them.
Justin Jensen, a local organizer for Paul, spoke on the Libertarian-leaning candidate’s behalf in the section of bleachers devoted to Cedar Falls Ward 1 Precinct 2.
“Sorry for my voice,” he shouted, hands cupped in a megaphone around his mouth, “I’ve had a cold.”
The 90 other precinct members leaned forward, straining to hear his arguments.
That precinct went to Romney, who got 30 votes, followed by Paul with 19 votes, Santorum with 14, Gingrich with 13, Bachmann with eight, and Perry with seven.
Each precinct collected paper ballots from its members, and volunteers then helped count the votes, which were read aloud to the precinct.
UNI-Dome-wide results were not announced to the media, but will be available later.
For some, this was their first Caucus.
“I’ve only lived here for a year and a half, and I’m really excited to be here,” Emily Forsyth, 28, of Cedar Falls Ward 3 Precinct 2, said. She voted for Mitt Romney, who she said she has been a fan of since his last campaign in 2008.
“I was really impressed with him at all the debates,” she said. "He's a good business leader."
Some Occupy Cedar Valley members also attended, but there were no visible protests. Local occupiers have said there goal was never to disrupt the Caucus, but simply to participate in their own way. For many, that meant voting uncommitted.
"I kind of had a fit of anxiety and thought, if they don't accept uncommitted, I'll write in Ralph Nader, but then I changed my mind," Occupy member Dawn Ask Martin, of Cedar Falls, said.
She held up her ballot, where she'd written "uncommitted" onto the blank line left for votes for "other." Sitting separately from her fellow Occupiers, who lived in different neighborhoods and thus were caucusing in different parts of the stadium, it was hard to tell how many Occupiers were present.
Uncommitted votes did appear to be counted. In Cedar Falls Ward 2 Precinct 1, "uncommitted" got one vote. Paul won that precinct with 37 votes, followed by Santorum with 27, Romney with 16, Bachmann and Gingrich with 11 each, Perry with four and Hunstman with three.
“I think it was a great success," Mac McDonald, the Black Hawk County Republican chair, said.
He guessed 5,000 voters attended, though he said the official numbers weren't yet available.
"It was bigger than what we had in 2008," Greg Tagtow, Black Hawk County Republican outreach chairman, said. "This is a good thing to have done."