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Des Moines Register: Attendance drops substantially for Iowa caucuses

By David Yepsen/Des Moines Register

January 28, 2000
Web posted at: 1:40 p.m. EST (1840 GMT)

Des Moines RegisterDES MOINES, Iowa (Des Moines Register) - An estimated 61,000 Democrats attended the party's 2000 caucuses Monday, state party officials said Thursday.

Rob Tully, the state party chairman, said he expects a final tally late next week after reports from the 2,131 precincts where caucuses were held have been counted. More than 86,000 Republicans participated in Monday's caucuses, with 98 percent of the precincts reporting.

Both numbers are significantly below turnout levels in 1988, the last time both parties had a caucus contest in the same year. More than 230,000 Democrats and Republicans turned out 12 years ago.

Tully said Vice President Al Gore won 63.4 percent of the state convention delegates while former Sen. Bill Bradley captured 35 percent, and 1.6 percent were uncommitted.

That delegate count will not change, but party officials said the 61,000 figure may go higher as results are tallied.

Tully has said turnouts in urban areas of the state were higher than in rural areas. Peggy Huppert, the co-chairwoman of the Polk County Democratic Central Committee, said Thursday a record 12,571 Democrats attended caucuses in Iowa's largest county. That tops the 1988 record turnout of 10,000.

In the race for county convention delegates, Huppert said Gore won 672 delegates, Bradley took 543, and four were uncommitted.

The Democrats have been criticized by conservative talk show hosts for not having exact figures available. The party doesn't record a raw vote for each candidate, but instead calculates the estimate of delegate strength. That process is in keeping with the state's pledge to New Hampshire that it will not compete with its first-in-the nation primary.

Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat who did not declare a preference for either candidate, said Thursday that releasing caucus attendance figures is important to maintain Iowa's role in the presidential nominating process.

"It seems to me that's something certainly Democrats ought to know as we try to hold our first-in-the-nation status," Vilsack said after a meeting with Des Moines Register reporters and editors.

The governor said the state Democratic Party was working to provide accurate numbers. He downplayed the criticism the party has taken over the crowd counts.

"At some point the Democrats are going to provide those numbers," Vilsack said.

Tully has said party workers taking the vote count in many cases forgot to record the attendance figure, but that number is included in a written record mailed to the party's Des Moines headquarters.

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