It’s about 8:00 Monday night. Projected onto the wall of a bar in St. Petersburg’s EDGE District is the televised image of a young bespectacled guy in a grey sweater unfolding small pieces of paper and reading what was written on them.
Time for a glass of wine.
A group of Sanders supporters, Tampa Bay for Bernie, is milling about the bar, Edge of 9. They’re saying that the Iowa caucus, the first presidential primary event in a series of dozens, is going to be a “game changer” for their man.
Watching MSNBC’s coverage on the barroom wall, I’m thinking they might be right. In a gymnasium in Iowa City, we see at least twice as many Bernie as Hillary Clinton supporters, and that’s how the caucuses are won: by counting how many people show up and for whom. The crowd here cheers.
But with returns coming in so slowly, it’s hard to pay much attention, except for when the young Democratic woman in Iowa City calls the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs “fucked up” on live TV.
Shit gets real somewhere around 10 p.m., when word gets out that Martin O’Malley, former Maryland governor, is
suspending his campaign, possibly because he’s getting less than 1 percent of the vote.
Soon after, a commentator says, “Bernie Sanders absolutely could overtake Hillary Clinton.” The die-hard Bernie fans are, of course, pleased.
At 10:20, on the Republican side, Rubio’s numbers are catching up to Trump’s, and Cruz is leading by several points.
10:22. Ted Cruz is the projected winner. Gross.
10:26. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee announces he is suspending his campaign, not that anyone cares except maybe Ted Nugent.
10:32. MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow calls Jeb Bush, once considered a frontrunner, a dead horse. How sad for someone who once seemed anointed — though he’s likely to do much better on Tuesday in New Hampshire. Sanders, meanwhile, delays his departure from Des Moines. He and Hillary are running neck and neck. In the minds of his supporters sipping wine in St. Pete, victory is imminent.
Rubio, officially in third place, starts talking to his fans at about 10:36. “They told me I needed to wait my turn, that I needed to wait in line,” he says. “This is your turn!” someone in his audience shouts. Rubio proceeds to deliver a speech using the same rhetoric that helped him win his Senate seat in 2010. Bernie fans wonder why the guy who came in third is sounding so presidential already. Easy. The person who wins Iowa tends to be a little too batshit for the rest of the country. In this case, it’s Cruz. As for Trump, he’ll probably get bored and drop out any day now. But who really fucking knows anymore?
At 10:29 Trump talks in relatively subdued tones about finishing second. What he doesn’t get is that most of his supporters in Iowa probably aren’t politically involved enough to attend a caucus, whereas any idiot can find his way to a polling place in a normal primary. Have faith, my orange friend.
About 50 minutes later, Cruz also trashes Democrats and invokes his religion incessantly. The St. Pete crowd sings the first few words of “Oh, Canada.”
At 11:30 it’s still tight on the Dem side. Despite this, Clinton and her family are behind a podium. “I am a progressive who gets things done for people,” she says. Her husband looks like he’s under sedation.
At close to midnight, Sanders addresses his audience. He avoids the negative bullshit against Republicans, instead targets billionaires and large corporations. He walks off the stage to Bowie’s “Starman.” (Sure, at a recent debate he said he wasn’t too familiar with Bowie, but his campaign appears to have remedied that.)
Hillary narrowly takes Iowa, though the results don’t become official till Tuesday. It wasn’t the absolute victory that Sanders supporters wanted, but he came so close to winning, his supporters came away with their optimism intact.
New Hampshire should be totally different, but just as telling. Sanders polls incredibly well there. On the GOP side, if Bush doesn’t land in the top three he may dip out early despite his monied support and status as the establishment’s guy. If he does exit, it’s possible his supporters will go to Rubio, who would then have to court religious fanatics (Cruz’s supporters) with homophobic rants and lure angry old white guys (Trump’s fans) with not-so-subtle bigotry.