Obama Wins Iowa's Democratic Caucuses

fromWOI

The Iowa caucuses — the first contest of the 2012 presidential nominating season — were held Tuesday night. President Obama was unopposed, but Democrats met in caucuses across the state for what was essentially a pep rally.

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Democrats have been trying to generate some enthusiasm. And last night in Iowa, Democrats also turned out, though Barack Obama faced no opposition.

Here's Iowa Public Radio's Sarah McCammon.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: With all the attention focused on the twists and turns in the GOP race, you could almost forget that Democrats were holding caucuses, too.

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MCCAMMON: Lincoln High School, in a working-class neighborhood near downtown Des Moines, was just one of many sites across the state where Democrats gathered last night. President Obama, appearing by teleconference remote from Washington, told these early supporters he hasn't forgotten them.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I want you to know that because of you - because of all the memories I have of being in, you know, your living rooms, or meeting you in a diner, or seeing you over at a campaign office - I have never lost that same source of inspiration that drove me to embark on this journey in the first place. You guys inspire me every single day.

MCCAMMON: The president urged supporters to maintain the same energy and optimism he witnessed in the state four years ago, when the state raised him from underdog to eventual nominee in the January caucuses and gave him an eight-point win in November. Megan Jacobs of the Iowa Democratic Party says even without a fight for the nomination, organizing now is important for the president's success in fall. And it all begins with the caucuses.

MEGAN JACOBS: That's huge, I mean that's how President Obama got his start last time around here in Iowa, with grassroots support, and that's how he's going to do it this time around.

MCCAMMON: But this time around, even the president and his backers acknowledge the state will be tough. In his message last night, Mr. Obama said it will be a big battle, but added that he's excited. During a brief question and answer session plagued by several technical problems, Carol White spoke from a caucus site in Cedar Rapids. She praised the president for pushing through healthcare reform.

CAROL WHITE: I am a breast cancer survivor and was a social worker for 33 years before retiring and know firsthand what a great accomplishment the Affordable Care Act is, among your other achievements. How do you respond to people who say you have not done enough?

OBAMA: You know, I think the main message that we're going to have in 2012 is that we've done a lot, but we've got a lot more to do. And that's why we need another four years to get it all done.

MCCAMMON: Heath care remains an important issue for 38-year-old Des Moines resident William Sheets, who came to the caucus with his elderly mother, whom he cares for full-time.

WILLIAM SHEETS: I'm a big supporter of the health care, and - because my daughters are in the health care system and they need some help in there - and we don't make that much money. And I'm here to show my support for the president. Even though I didn't support him the first time around, I wanted to show that this time around that I'm liking all the things he did and I'm here to support him.

MCCAMMON: Democratic leaders hope to engage voters like Sheets - persuading them to be with the president not only on caucus night and Election Day, but in the months in between - as volunteer campaign workers.

Betty Brim-Hunter is an official with the party's local county organization, as well as a state union leader. Speaking before the crowd of about 250, she asked supporters to sign up to knock on doors and make phone calls.

BETTY BRIM-HUNTER: Polk County Democrats will be calling you, the Obama campaign will be calling. You know, if we'd all just do a little bit, we can get it taken care of. So, thank you so much and let's go caucus.

MCCAMMON: The supporters got a good start last night, if numbers released by the Iowa Democratic Party are any indication. Officials say more than 25,000 Iowans attended Democratic caucuses, and more than 7500 promised to volunteer.

For NPR News, I'm Sarah McCammon in Des Moines.

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