Monday, December 12, 2011



As a political junkie and lover of the Hawkeye State, I have long been a huge fan of the Iowa caucuses. Besides my aforementioned affinities, the caucuses provide the most wide open contest of any year’s presidential race, at least in the sense that the caucuses generally feature the largest number of candidates because the contest takes place before the winnowing process begins in earnest. Furthermore, the caucuses demand more from the voters than simply entering a voting booth and punching out names at random for who knows what reasons. In order to participate in the caucuses, one must care enough to actually spend some time, often more than an hour, to express one’s views and support one’s candidate. Would that all our elections be held in a similar manner! But I digress. Organization and commitment pay off in Iowa and, since the caucuses count only the votes of those who actually care, surprising and counter-intuitive results are not at all surprising and counter-intuitive at the caucuses. Note the victories in 2008 of Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee.

This year’s Democratic caucuses will, of course, be a snoozer with no one challenging the President, but the GOP caucuses look to be among the most interesting in the last few election cycles. Right now, Newt Gingrich looks to have the lead, but Mitt Romney has, over the last several weeks, decided to make a contest of it and hence might still be able to pull this one off despite at least feigning lack of commitment to Iowa in the wake of the Huckabee surprise the Hawkeye State delivered him in 2008. But the most interesting story line in the race might be the chances of Ron Paul. Dr. Paul has run strong, or at least stronger than the naysayers thought he would (or should), in virtually every poll taken this election season. He remains among the top three candidates and there is talk that, with all the money and time he and his people have spent in Iowa and all the ground troops he has in the Hawkeye State, Dr. Paul might just “pull a Huckabee” this time around, winning the caucuses and thus throwing the entire race into upheaval.

Before those of us who love a political horse race and/or support Dr. Paul get excited at the prospect of a Ron Paul victory in my second favorite state, we should consider something that, as far as I have read (and I am at least fairly well informed on the politics of our once great nation), no one has mentioned: The caucuses take place this year on January 3, as they did last year. Note that Iowa’s three big state universities and its nearly innumerable small and medium-sized colleges and universities are on semester break at that time. There are a lot of potential votes among college students in the Hawkeye State; both the University of Iowa and Iowa State have enrollments in the mid 20,000 range, Northern Iowa has over 10,000 students, and Iowa boasts one of the largest and best assortments of small and mid-sized colleges and universities in the country. All of these students over the age of 18 are eligible to vote in Iowa. Of course, only a small fraction would participate in the caucuses; many are not registered, many are registered in other states, and even many, probably most, of those who are registered in Iowa would not put forth the effort necessary to participate in the caucuses. Still, if even a small fraction of those students participate in the caucuses, they could have a big impact on a political process in a small state in which only a relatively small number of eligible voters participate.

This is a problem for Dr. Paul, ironically, because he is so popular on college campuses despite his being the oldest candidate in the race. Apparently, college students like the idea of genuine adherence, rather than lip service, to the Constitution…or at least they like that idea this year; in 2008, they turned out big for Barack Obama. But again I digress. However, if the kids are back home in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, etc., during the caucuses, a large measure of Dr. Paul’s support will not be there for him. This could make a difference in a tight race.

On the other hand, one of the reasons then Senator Obama surprised then Senator Clinton in Iowa in 2008 was because of his support from Iowa’s vast student population; in fact, there was a lot of grousing that Mr. Obama won due to the votes of students from Illinois who were bussed back to Iowa on January 3 by Obama forces, many of whom were from Chicago and had loyalties that ran to Mr. Obama via a guy named Daley. It was kids from Illinois, that argument went, and, to a lesser extent, from other surrounding states, rather than Iowans, who won the Iowa caucuses for Mr. Obama.

If Dr. Paul’s ground forces in Iowa are as good as they are purported to be, one would hope to see convoys of busses plying I-80 and I-88 on the evening of January 2. If they aren’t, or if weather becomes a factor, the chances for Dr. Paul’s pulling off a Hawkeye State surprise on January 3 will be diminished, perhaps not greatly, but diminished nonetheless.

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