By Christyn Allen and Savannah Meade/ Seigenthaler News Service
Christyn Allen and Savannah Meadewere two of six MTSU journalism students who spent four days in Iowa covering the Iowa caucus system. Funding was provided by the Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies.
If Iowa is the powerful pulse of presidential campaigning, Des Moines might well be its heart.
Every four years, the state’s capitol provides the stage for candidates to claim voters before the unique Iowa system of community caucusing takes place on Feb. 3, 2020.
The candidates, along with thousands of volunteers, parachute into the city from around the country to participate in the political system. With their buttons and hats promoting the candidate of their choice, they are easy to spot.
But are the residents of Des Moines participating? Is the main drive behind such a political force coming from out of state or the locals?
Maybe the answer can be found in past numbers. According to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, the 2016 presidential election saw an active voter count of nearly 233,385 people in Polk County, the county that includes Des Moines. That left just over 19,000 inactive voters in the county. This would seem to suggest that Des Moines has a healthy participation in voting, but what about engagement in the process leading up to the balloting?
On Halloween night, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota hosted a conversation with voters at Bubba, a restaurant and bar in the city. There were about one hundred people crammed into the small bar fronting busy 10th Street, but many of them weren’t committed supporters of Klobuchar’s. Many were there to hear her perspective.
“I want to hear what she has to say about the democratic party, as a whole, how she aligns ideologically with the other candidates, and how she thinks her vision could pull the party together,” Des Moines resident Annie Clarkson said.
Another local, Julie Kline, said she wanted the senator’s take on several issues. “I would need to know she is going to protect my rights and just human rights. We have to keep abortion available to those who want it, and gay rights cannot be attacked anymore. Gay rights, women rights, equality. That’s what I need to know she’s going to be able to do,” Kline said.
Some audience members had issues in mind that they are passionate about and wanted to know where Klobuchar stood, and others came looking for a more moderate approach to the presidency.
“Her message of being a centrist appeals to me. I think in order to really bring the country together, we’re going to have to have someone closer to the middle, than on the outskirts,” J.B. Conlin, son of Klobuchar’s special guest, Roxanne Conlin, said. Conlin was the U.S. Attorney for Southern Iowa and the first woman to run for governor of the state of Iowa. She officially endorsed Klobuchar for president at the event.
Iowans get a unique way of choosing a candidate due to the caucus system, where community groups meet to choose a candidate for each party then those choices are ratified on the county, region and, finally, state level. Because of the time needed for this process Iowa’s presidential preference caucus is always first in the nation.
Because of Iowa’s unique role in the presidential election, the candidates are always touring the state. Some of the audience members for Thursday’s event had met with different candidates multiple times. For these locals, it’s all a part of the process.
“When you grow up here like I did, this isn’t anything different. I’ve met several candidates for each election because they come here at least 20 times, if they want to win,” Heather Vermeer said, “I grew up knowing politics and being around candidates like this. It’s cool. Everyone in Des Moines is usually pretty involved because we don’t know any different.”
Though, for some, the policies and issues aren’t as important as who has the best chance of winning the presidency. And others just want anyone but its current Commander in Chief.
“I don’t think a person who is too far to the left is going to beat Trump. It has to be someone who can appeal to moderate republicans and independents. Those people are why Trump is in office,” Clarkson said.
“We want Trump the f— out of the White House, and we think she can do it.” Courtney Conlin said bluntly.
With such a big pool of democratic candidates this cycle, it seems like many are waiting until the herd thins before deciding who they truly want to be president.
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