The caucus ain’t no pizza party, friends.

Two things, people. 1) The caucus is no place for casual voters. 2) If you don’t drag a few casual voters with you, your candidate will be crushed.

The Reasonable Reporter saw this contradiction demonstrated in Reno’s precinct 1003.

The precinct’s huge bands of Hillary and Obama supporters included more than a few casuals, and that’s why the two candidates performed so well. But many of the casuals wore the demeanor of someone on a blind date that isn’t going well. When the proceedings bogged down because of a procedural dispute, the casuals began to squirm and glance at their watches. Some even shouted things like “let’s get on with it.” A few slipped out the door while the captains were consulting the rules.

The casuals were easy to spot. The sleepy-looking college men with jet-black dye jobs, standing in the registration line. They told the Reasonable Reporter they were changing from Independent to Democrat. Why were they doing that? Blank looks all around. It was apparently not a question any of them had pondered at length. After a couple of beats one replied “Because Obama is the man.”

Then there was the restless-looking guy who bolted for the door the moment the counts were complete. The Hillary and Obama groups hadn’t yet chosen their delegates.

“I’ve got two kids at home” he shrugged as he breezed by Hillary’s dismayed precinct captain.

There were no casuals among the John Edwards supporters, and it was wrenching to watch their distress as they were forced to abandon their candidate and choose between the larger groups.

Remember the endless rounds of mockus sessions where Democrats were trained to caucus by choosing pizzas? It always made perfect sense. Pepperoni was always viable, because lots of people like pepperoni. So was cheese. Anchovy supporters always had to choose another group. Only you never saw disappointment on the faces of the anchovy supporters. They were always laughing because, after all, who likes anchovies? And, more to the point, there was nothing at stake.

The real caucus ain’t no pizza party. It’s a cruelly effective tool for reducing the number of candidates.

The Edwards supporters in precinct 1003 had already absorbed the even less viable Kucinich supporters. The combined faction was still two bodies shy of viability. The now-enlarged Edwards group challenged the implementation of the rules. Some thought they should have a shot at peeling off people from the Hillary and Obama camps. But those people had already surrendered their candidate cards, and had been instructed to stay put.

Some of the Edwards group felt they’d been robbed of the “caucus,” since no discussion had taken place. And this, not crowded parking lots or ballot shortages, is the lesson the party needs to take to heart.

“I’m from Iowa,” one of the Edwards group announced. “And this is not a caucus, it’s a nose count.” She tried to persuade the captains that nobody should have been rendered off limits to lobbying until more discussion had taken place. Caucusing. Horse trading. They hadn’t had a chance to do it.

(Come and vote for pepperoni! It’s the tastiest pizza and your kids will love it! Come and vote for cheese! It’s got lots of calcium. Come and vote for vegetarian! It’s the healthiest!)

The former Iowa resident got up and walked out. “She’s right! That’s what it’s supposed to be about, “ another man shouted. “There’s been no caucusing.”

The Reasonable Reporter witnessed no caucusing, if caucusing means discussing the merits of the candidates. A rules clarification at party HQ confirmed the process had been technically correct. Horse trading means trading up. Viable groups absorb non-viable groups, not the other way around.

On the issue of caucusing, however, the answer is less definitive. They should have been caucusing from the moment they walked through the door, a spokesperson told the Reasonable Reporter. If that’s the case, first-time Nevada caucusers at precinct 1003 didn’t realize it. Instead, they waited for instructions. Some are still angry.

“I hope we never have another caucus,” one told the Reasonable Reporter on Monday. She had decided to participate after watching an Iowa caucus meeting on C-Span, and seeing lots of discussion and persuasion.

On the Republican side, where the process is simpler, the dissatisfaction is somewhat in the same vein. The din in the rooms made it impossible to hear the speeches given by prospective delegates. No audible discussion. Some gave up and went home.

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