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5 Ways Drake Students Can Experience the Caucuses

Posted: September 10, 2019 | By: Tanner Halleran and John Hirl Tagged: Blog

It is often said that the majority of the knowledge you gain in college will come from experiences outside of the classroom. Luckily for Drake students, the Iowa caucuses arrive on campus every four years to provide unique, impactful experiences for students to dive into. To introduce you to the caucuses, we’ve crafted a list of five things to look out for this semester. Our names are Tanner Halleran and John Hirl and we are both proud southeastern Iowans who’ve been in the state for past caucus cycles. While we have some experience already, we, like you, are excited to delve into the Iowa caucuses as engaged and critical students. So, whether you’re a native Iowan, or come to Drake from the suburbs (but say the nearest known location: Chicago, Kansas City or Minneapolis), here’s what you should expect when the caucuses arrive.

1.     Resume Opportunities Galore

In Iowa, specifically Drake, we have a unique opportunity that most universities and other higher education institutions across the country can’t offer their students. Every four years, when the Iowa caucus happens, students have the ability to build their resume by taking a very hands-on approach to civic engagement. Campaigns, interest groups and citizens alike come out in full force to participate in our often highly contested caucuses. This year, the Iowa caucuses will take place on February 3rd. To prepare for these, campaigns will be looking for volunteers and people to fill positions (sometimes these are paid and what’s better than getting paid?) to organize and enhance their turnout for the precinct level caucus. Beyond just campaigns and interest groups (primarily focused on issues and policy), you can also experience the caucus and build your resume in a multitude of other ways including working for news organizations. Many Drake students have worked for big name media organizations such as CNN, MSNBC, Fox and other local affiliates when they ambush Des Moines to cover the candidates.

2.     You Will Ask The Questions

Back in 2016, I (John) attended a Marco Rubio campaign event in my hometown of Oskaloosa, Iowa. At the conclusion of the event, I hopped in line to take photos and chat with the GOP rising star. When I finally got to the front of the line, I was granted the opportunity to ask Florida’s junior senator any question I wished. I could ask him a question regarding his bipartisan Gang of Eight immigration bill, or I could implore him to fight for a cause I care about. Instead, I asked who he thought would win the Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers set to take place the following week. Senator Rubio laughed at the question and stated that he believed Cam Newton and the Panthers would prove to be too much for the Broncos. In actuality, the Broncos came out victorious and, unfortunately for Rubio, President Trump proved to be too much for him. 

While my example is about a facetious question asked to a candidate, the caucuses provide event-goers the chance to confront candidates with hard hitting questions too. The answers to these questions can sometimes expose the candidates and quotes from these interactions have found themselves in attack ads in the past. This was the case in 2011 when, on the Iowa State Fair soapbox, then candidate Mitt Romney answered an attendee’s suggestion that he should raise taxes on corporations by stating “corporations are people”. Democrats quickly jumped on this quote and spun it to frame Romney in a negative light. While Romney did secure the Republican nomination, he did not win Iowa or the presidency. As demonstrated, being present for the caucuses allows for unmoderated access to the candidates and the opportunity to get answers for yourself.

3.     Have a Voice in Agenda Setting

Our demographic, Generation Z, arguably has the most at stake when it comes to policy proposals by president hopefuls. By attending candidate forums and events, you can ensure that the issues that have the biggest effect on you are heard and actions are taken to resolve and/or address them. Oftentimes, since Iowa is the first in the nation, caucuses provide the first tangible numbers for campaigns — policy is crafted here. It can relate to anything but often focuses on some of our more prominent features such as agriculture or healthcare. One example of this that struck me as wholly unique, as well as other Iowans, is when Senator Kristen Gillibrand campaigned across Iowa with a journal to record notes, concerns and ideas from Iowans. Too often, we don’t see this from candidates themselves but can observe staff taking the notes and doing the work. No matter if the candidates take the notes or the staff, you can still see how Iowans take a central place in the agenda setting because candidates will share their stories. 

4.     Impactful Experiences will find you

Being at Drake for the caucuses provides unique experiences even when you’re not seeking them out. In fact, many Drake students have a story or two to tell about unintentionally crossing paths with a candidate for the presidency. Fellow Iowa Caucus Project member Samantha Bayne remembers sitting in Mars Café last semester summoning the courage to finish a politics paper when California Senator Kamala Harris entered the room. Bayne shook the hand of the presidential hopeful and proceeded to make very little progress on her paper. This anecdote is just one example of how interesting experiences often find you when you’re a college student in the state of Iowa. It’s important to remember that the candidates are trying to persuade you. They are actively searching for passionate young people to join their campaign, and Drake students should expect to be approached by multiple campaigns seeking help. As mentioned previously, this gives Drake students unique opportunities to build resumes, and they often don’t have to go searching for candidates at all.

5.  Caucus!

Perhaps one of the most hectic but fascinating things is the Iowa Democratic caucus. To caucus, you must be a Democrat, but you can change your party affiliation the night of (this is beneficial to Independents). The process itself has multiple steps but the central component of the caucus is discussion. Why do you support this candidate and why should I? These are common questions that are disputed at the precinct-level caucus and it truly is exciting. Attendees will also break into Preference Groups for which candidate they support. Interestingly enough, you have the chance to have a viable, or valid, Uncommitted Preference Group which simply means that enough people haven’t decided who they are supporting and are therefore considered “uncommitted”. This has happened multiple times in the history of the Iowa Democratic caucus but perhaps one of the most notable is when Jimmy Carter came in second place in 1976 to the Uncommitted Preference Group. Following the breakout of Preference Groups, delegates will be awarded to viable groups for the County Convention. The Republican caucus process is a much simpler matter that consists of attendees at precinct caucus meetings casting their vote for their preferred candidate. The votes are then tallied, and delegates are chosen to proportionately represent the number of votes each candidate received in the precinct at the county convention. Another unique aspect of the caucus is that participants can submit platform planks, or issues, that will be voted on and could potentially be added to the state party’s platform. The caucus is truly an experience unlike any other and everyone should experience it. In participating, Iowa caucus-goers have a profound impact on the race for the White House and the future of the country.