Big turnout suggests a big night for Obama

Democrats crowd caucus sites as the voting begins.

Published January 4, 2008 1:17AM (EST)

The very first results are already coming in from Iowa, but the caucus sites sending them are so small that they probably don't mean much. What does matter: Turnout, particularly in the Democratic contest, and what we're hearing from across the state is that it's huge. Conventional wisdom -- and this time, we happen to think it's right -- says that huge turnout means a big night for Barack Obama.

Salon reporters are at three caucus locations in and around Des Moines, and they're confirming what you're probably seeing on TV. At location after location, there are dramatically more caucus-goers than there were four years ago, when John Kerry won the caucus and, ultimately, the Democratic nomination.

At a site near Drake University in Des Moines, turnout appears to be more than twice what it was in 2004, and the first round of voting seems to be tilting hard toward Barack Obama: He's drawing support from 144 caucus goers, more than Hillary Clinton and John Edwards are getting together.

Salon's Mike Madden reports:

Precinct 15, just north of downtown Des Moines, was overflowing almost to the sidewalk of the Grace Lutheran Church as caucus-goers tried to check in before the deadline. The caucus started 45 minutes late due to the crowd. About 110 people caucused here four years ago, and Edwards won four of the precinct's six delegates.

This year, so many people crowded in that it took the caucus chairwoman a few minutes to even figure out how to count them. (At least a third were caucusing for the first time, based on an informal survey as the meeting started.) The total came to 186 -- an increase of nearly 70 percent. That means getting any candidate who isn't supported by 28 people on the first ballot will be out of the running for a delegate.

At a third site, a reporter tells us that the turnout is at the level that ought to be making the Obama camp feel very good about its prospects as the night begins.

Update: ABC News says the Obama campaign is now saying that about 207,000 voters have turned out for the Democratic caucuses tonight, a number that's at the high end of his campaign's most optimistic projections. Just a week ago, the Des Moines Register said that 150,000 would be a "reasonable" expectation for tonight's caucuses.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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