The Big Tent Folds

Portraits of two Republican caucuses--one suburban, one urban-- underline the growing polarities in GOP ranks.

Bill Hanley steps up to the microphone. The delegate results are in; the top vote-getters include several people named Becker and Larson, as well as the mayor, the husband of the state representative, and Hanley. Both Awsumbs got stuck in the alternate column. "Establishment, every one of them," Lilly says, walking through the snowy parking lot to the minivan. "They did it again." (Monika Bauerlein)

Minneapolis, Ward 6, Precinct 5

HALF THE REPUBLICANS in the Phillips neighborhood fit handily into the teacher's lounge at Hans Christian Anderson Open school. It's Kurt Podner's job to sort them out by precinct and steer them toward this or that vinyl-topped conference table. Portraits of notable African Americans--the school's Black History Month display--look down on the proceedings. A lefty poster wishes the Air Force had to sell cookies to raise its budget. Missing, the caucus organizers realize as they peruse the rules, is a flag. "It's probably illegal in the public schools," someone quips. Twenty minutes later, Podner digs one up. It's not easy being an inner-city Republican.

A wedding photographer by trade, Podner's used to managing crowds. The deputy chair of the south Minneapolis Senate district, he doesn't wear a name tag, but everyone seems to know him. He's a Reagan Democrat, he tells me, who found God and joined the Republican party in 1981. He once ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Karen Clark and was about to do it again when he had his run-in with a pair of Minneapolis cops. "They came into my house," he speeds, "these feminist cops, and they said, 'we know you,' and they said, 'Oh, you hate women, huh?' and they tried to break my arm. They were in the old boys' club, you know? But they had to prove themselves even more because they're women."

Plenty of Podner's neighbors (if not his fellow Republicans) have had run-ins with the law. Outsiders know this neighborhood from the late-night news: crime scenes lit up with television lights and black bodies spread-eagled on sidewalks. But crime isn't a hot-button issue at this caucus. Mostly there is talk about abortion and a distinct air of stifled desperation. If, as Bob Dole has proclaimed, there is a battle raging for the heart and soul of the Republican party, the foot soldiers in the trenches of Phillips are bloodied and, in some cases, bowed.

"Ten years ago there were 35 people in this caucus," Tom Trites recalls. His precinct, which he convened with nine members present, has the best showing in the room tonight. "They'd come in, they'd vote for their pro-life candidates and their pro-life resolutions, and they'd leave. I tell you, this party," he shrugs. Trites's grizzled beard and lumbering gait give him a backwoods look, but in fact he works in a western suburb as a computer consultant. He traces his Republicanism back to Goldwater, and he's been a party activist all 12 years he's lived in Phillips. But he says he's ready to give up on both: He's moving out to the burbs as soon as the snows melt. When he gets there, he plans to "join the silent majority. That is, I'll sit on my hands."

Trites says there's just no room anymore in the Republican party for people like him: libertarian, and by extension pro-choice. He shrugs off third parties. In fact, he shrugs off parties altogether. "There's really only one party in this country," he explains. "One party with two faces. There's the Mommycrats; they tell you, 'be good and I'll give you a treat.' There's the Daddycrats; they tell you, 'be good or I'll bop you one.'"

Even with just nine voters showing up, the pro-lifers carry the day in Tom's caucus. By the time the delegates are chosen, an hour and a half has passed, during which the caucus has elected a chair, a vice chair, a secretary, a treasurer, not to mention the delegate and the alternate. The highlight is the straw poll: Keyes and Forbes tie up the race with three votes each. Alexander nets just one vote. Buchanan gets two. Dole is shut out.

In the bathroom shortly after 9 o'clock, a spunky 9-year-old wipes his forehead with a paper towel. Except for a pair of observers from a local high school, his is the first black face I've seen all night. "Are you here for the Republican caucuses?" I ask. "No," he says. "I'm here for the basketball." Then he warms up to me and begins to make small talk. "My best friend's dad has a gun," he says irrelevantly. "And he says he's going to use it."

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