Students Attend Iowa Caucus

Photo courtesy of Kenny Stesin

Noah Abramovitz '14, Staff Writer

Earlier this month, a group of twenty-five Blake students and four teachers traveled to Des Moines, Iowa to experience the Iowa Caucus firsthand.

Caucuses are the first in a long string of such events intended to choose presidential candidates for both parties. A caucus is different from a normal primary vote in that it provides more of a forum of discussion between precinct members.

This year’s Republican Party caucus in Iowa finished in one of the closest votes ever, with Mitt Romney prevailing over Rick Santorum by a mere eight votes. In addition, while considered a longshot by many, countless hours of campaigning in Iowa earned the Libertarian candidate Ron Paul a third place finish.

Blake students traveled to two different caucusing locations each designated for specific precincts, one Des Moines’ neighboring suburb of Ankeny, and one in Urbandale, Iowa.

One of the many advantages of going on this trip was the level of autonomy given to the students. During moments of free time, students could elect to attend events and to volunteer for many different groups and campaigns. Some students chose to volunteer for a candidate who fit their political leanings, while others attended events simply to take in the experience.

                  Carolyn Patterson ’14 stated that “it was really fun to meet all the candidates and attend the rallies as well as to volunteer for the party of our choice… I learned a ton about politics and how campaigning works.”

On the first day upon the group’s arrival in Des Moines, three main groups split apart to volunteer with either the Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, or Obama campaigns. Each group participated in either door to door campaigning or phone banking.

The following day, students attended campaign rallies for various Republican candidates including Paul, Bachmann, Santorum, and Romney. These events allowed students to meet and ask questions of the various candidates. Each candidate’s choice of venue for each event expressed the ideals that his or her campaign wanted to encourage.

Mitt Romney’s rally took place in a warehouse, while Michele Bachmann held a meet and greet at several family owned restaurants in uptown Des Moines. At these rallies, students learned about the importance of image in campaigning and how it can affect a politician’s perception by voters.

One other major factor in this trip was the wide variety of distinguished people and organizations in attendance. This included the presence of many well-known journalists, such as David Brooks of the New York Times.

“You don’t really realize how much the media is involved in the process until you see it for yourself,” says Preston Wallin ‘14, “they really influence a lot in politics.”

Furthermore, while visiting the Iowa state capitol, Blake students observed the filming of a news segment for anchor Megyn Kelly’s show on Fox News, as she conducted live interviews with Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.

In addition, while attending a Ron Paul rally in a large downtown hotel, Nicole Kozlak ’13 had the chance to be interviewed by CNN’s Soledad O’Brien. O’Brien described her interviewee as a “Ron Paul supporter who is starting young… even though she is not old enough to participate in the caucuses.”

Other Blake students also participated in interviews. Tim Juang ’12, Matt McFarland ’12, and Tyler Dougan ’14 stated their reasons for their endorsement of the Ron Paul campaign while talking to a BBC correspondent.

Most importantly, students learned that the American political system isn’t only about the campaigns. Hirsh Shekhar ’14 eloquently expressed one of the main purposes of this trip when describing the presence of Occupy Wall Street at the Romney rally. “Their presence at one of Gov. Romney’s rallies not only incited the crowd, but provided Blake’s political tourists a rare opportunity to watch democracy in action. As Mitt Romney jokingly explained, the ability and courage of these protestors to share their concerns in an ill-disposed venue is [a] hallmark of a functioning democracy.”