Minnesota’s February 7, political caucuses meant something this year…sort of. This year they were part of a trifecta of non-binding events that included the Colorado caucus and the Missouri primary that awarded no delegates but nonetheless had a significant media impact in rendering Rick Santorum a viable challenger to Mitt Romney. In winning these three states the political world heralded that the party activists had again repudiated Romney. Thus, Minnesota’s caucuses had a signal effect even if no delegates were awarded. But there are real problems with the caucus process in Minnesota and across the country. Criticism of the Iowa caucus is growing as arguments are again mounted that it should not be first int nation since no delegates are awarded and its demographics are not representative of the country.
Similarly, the recently concluded Maine caucuses will be read in two ways–evidence that Romney is again a frontrunner after his win there or that he is in trouble after eeking out a narrow victory in his backyard again a weak Ron Paul in a state where no one else really campaigned against him. Yet with fewer than 6,000 Republicans participating in the Maine caucuses, one probably should not read too much into the results. Moreover, Ron Paul has a good argument in suggesting that there is a difference between winning caucus straw polls and collecting delegates and that despite his showing in the latter, he may be doing better with the former.
There are lots of problems with caucuses and straw polls. Beginning with the Iowa Straw Poll and up to the CPAC one over the weekend, one can make the argument that they are simply self-promotional media events that really mean nothing in the larger scheme of things. However, in a world of politianment where politics and media converge in a 24/7 cable news cycle and every state or group wants its 15 minutes of fame, they get reported on in a way disproportionate to their importance. Some will defend these straw polls and caucus systems as important tools to judge political strength and organization (Santorum’s wins might argue against that) or that they are great ways to activate the political base. But let me offer six final criticisms of the Minnesota caucus system.