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On Tour in the Iowa Caucus: The Big Day

The big day was finally here in Iowa. After a somewhat late night conversing with the beat reporters, pretending as though I belonged amongst them, I rolled out of bed a little groggy in the morning. However the excitement of the political theater that awaited quickly energized me. In the hotel lobby, Mitt Romney volunteers conversed calmly over breakfast while the news rolled out analysis of what the end of the day would bring. Everywhere you looked you were surrounded by caucus talk. That is, until you stepped out the hotel doors where those Iowans encountered showed little interest in their national spotlight. The stock the national media puts on Iowa is shocking, given the fact that in 2008 Republicans set a new record of only 21% party participation. That involvement is only 4% of Iowa’s population, such a small number for the nation to be focused on.

My friend and I headed to a high school where candidates where making a petition to win over first time voters. Whether or not this was helpful is debatable. It seemed to be more a final big press conference, especially considering that when the Secretary of State asked who out of the students in attendance were going to participate in the caucus only about 25 out of 800 raised their hands. Michelle Bachmann was the first to the stage. For under 10 minutes she explained the complexities of what an iPhone does and told the students that her tax plan would allow the students to wildly succeed in the business world. Throughout her time on stage Bachmann never caught on and she had to resort to a rally cry in support of the school’s mascot to earn any real applause.

A representative from the Obama campaign followed Bachmann and while she provided one statement supporting the President’s reelection campaign, she spent nearly the entire time giving a pep talk to the youth in attendance. Avoiding partisan talk, the organizer told the crowd that they hold immense stock in this and all elections and motivated them to develop a habit of participation in civil discourse.

Mitt Romney didn’t come to the school after his earlier rally, but four of his sons were present. Two spoke and took the opportunity to present more campaign points than other candidates were willing to do in front of the student audience. Again, the audience was less than enthused. Still, the students seemed more at ease with the confident Romney boys than Bachmann. The Romney’s talked up their father and attempted to critic Obama in the most polite way they could.

After a wait, Santorum came to the stage. His speech was notably better than the one presented during the previous day’s visit to the Altoona Pizza Ranch, but he too found it difficult to relate to the students. He provided a story about his immigrant grandfather and father and reiterated the importance of focusing on the family. Before stepping off the stage, Santorum presented an argument that perhaps only high school students would believe. To the former congressmen, Obama is attempting to build the country from the top down. Presumably Santorum was talking about the roll of government, but it created a strange juxtaposition especially coming from a trickle down economics candidate.

Lastly, Ron Paul took to the stage and finally the gym was filled with real, enthusiastic applause. Paul touted his Kelly Clarkson endorsement, although he said beforehand he wasn’t really familiar with the artist. Paul didn’t seem aware of a lot of things, including the reason young people support him. To him, it must be because they love the Constitution. Those students interviewed didn’t really know why they supported him either. When asked, they gave answers that almost always boiled down to the uniqueness of Paul in comparison to other Republican candidates. However vague this assessment may be, it is certainly true. Nonetheless it is probably equally true as Tagg Romney alluding to the fact that Mr. Paul is an unelectable candidate. Unelectability aside, Paul was very comfortable with the crowd. His youth appeal didn’t propel him to the top and it seems unlikely to have a great impact considering the likelihood of youth participation in states to come. It is a good sign however, as Paul and Romney continue to provide the only excitement I have encountered on the trail.

Upon the end of the event, students were left without what may be the most important issue to them. Not a single candidate mentioned anything about making college more affordable. In fact, it was a student speaker who spoke the most on the importance of after high school education. All candidates focused on post graduation jobs, but the candidates did not touch on the issue that gave Obama much of his support from young voters in 2008.

Notably missing was Perry and Gingrich, but that doesn’t mean Iowans weren ’t hearing about them. Perry continues to flood the airways in Iowa up to the last minute and Gingrich had been on nearly every news network; interviews being about all his campaign can afford.

Iowans made sure the vote came down to the wire, with Romney beating Santorum with a solid 8 votes. A win for Romney? Sure, but he still managed less votes than during his second place finish in 2008. It seems as though Romney is the imminent, defualt nominey (as much as some can’t stand him). Santorum will continue on, but he like Paul seems to be fighting an ultimately loosing cause. Paul supporters are surely more committed and the fear that he may run as an independent was much more evident from the mainstream Republicans participating in Iowa.  I can’t say that being here has made me any more aware of these candidates, but it has allowed me to experience a process that seems more important to the reporters following the candidates than the Iowans participating.

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