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Apr 04, 2016 03:42PM ● By Michael Harris

I must admit I'm a political junkie at heart. I was intrigued by the political process and elections long before I entered politics. As a kid, I remember staying up late and watching the presidential nominating conventions. I was fascinated by the pomp and circumstance, the roll call, the floor fights, and the backroom deals.


Presidential conventions have been around since 1831. For decades, however, the party bosses, not the people, selected the convention delegates, and thus, their party’s presidential nominee. But everything changed when Teddy Roosevelt came out of retirement to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 1912.


Roosevelt had already served as president from 1901-1909, and in the tradition of George Washington, he decided not to seek a third consecutive term. However, he was deeply disturbed by the conduct of his handpicked successor, William Howard Taft, and the corrupt nature of his administration. So TR, always the progressive and reformer, decided to challenge Taft for the 1912 Republican nomination. “To overcome the power of the incumbent, TR seized on the idea of presidential primaries.”


The motto of his campaign was Let The People Rule, also the title of Geoffrey Cowan’s book, subtitled Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of the Presidential Primary. The 1912 election would be the first election in which convention delegates were not selected by political insiders but by "voters who could express a preference for a specific candidate."


Even though voters chose delegates in thirteen states, TR could not overcome the powerful Republican machinery and lost the nomination to Taft. This prompted TR to start a third party, the Progressive Party, and run as the "Bull Moose” candidate for president. The split in the traditional Republican vote helped the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson, win the election, even though he did not garner a majority of the votes cast.


Cowan’s book, both astute and detailed, paints a vivid picture of the glory and gore of the presidential primary process. However, it does not offer any insight into that enigma called “the caucus,” the process used in Iowa and fourteen other states and US territories to select presidential convention delegates.


If you're like me, you haven't a clue how the caucus process works. There are a number of interesting books on the subject, particularly Rachel Paine Caufield’s The Iowa Caucus.  But no book provides a better and more amusing explanation of the Iowa caucus process than a recent television episode of The Good Wife called "Iowa," available on-line and from your cable provider.


Alicia Florrick is the title character. Her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick, is a last-minute candidate in the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. To become a viable candidate, he must do well in neighboring Iowa, the first state to choose delegates for the presidential conventions. So his entourage boards his campaign bus and travels around Iowa trying to gain support.


The more small towns he visits, the more supporters he hopes to get. He tries to complete "the full Grassley,” visiting all 99 Iowa counties before the caucus date. He also attempts to abide by an old Iowa tradition of eating a "loose meat sandwich" in each county he visits. The results are hilarious.


In addition to a good laugh, you’ll learn more than you ever thought you needed to know about this quirky caucus process and how candidates try to woo caucus attendees to switch their allegiance at the last minute.


I'll review other books about presidents-past and president-wannabes before the November elections. In the meantime, regardless of whom you support, don't forget to vote.  Not only is this your right; it’s your responsibility!