Iowa caucuses draw student volunteers for candidates

Amy Horst

Braving Saturday morning’s frigid weather, Josh Dibley and Shaun Laden paced around a cherry-colored rental van, munching on oranges and preparing to depart on a 140-mile Iowa road trip to build support for Howard Dean.

Once in Mason City, they planned to knock on doors and cheer at rallies in support of the former Vermont governor, their pick for the Democrat to face President George W. Bush in November’s election.

Dibley and Laden are two of many University students and faculty members who headed south in support of various Democrats vying for an Iowa caucus win, the nation’s first in a series of primaries and caucuses leading to the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate nomination.

In Iowa, Dean, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts battled over the weekend for votes as Monday drew near.

Kerry won the caucus Monday night, receiving 38 percent of state convention delegates.

College volunteers such as Dibley and Laden play an integral role in the caucus efforts, convincing Iowans to vote for candidates, restocking lawn signs and drumming up political enthusiasm in the state. The two students traveled

door-to-door in Mason City on Saturday afternoon, met with other Dean supporters that night and repeated the process Sunday.

“This is probably the most important thing we can be doing now,” said Laden, a political science and art history junior.

Student participation is even more important right now because students are less politically involved than in past years, said University political science professor Larry Jacobs.

Students, a group with typically low voter turnout, could have more power in politics than they think, he said.

“About 100 million Americans vote in presidential elections,” Jacobs said. “If you could get a 10 percent increase, it would upend the elections.”

Jacobs said interested students should identify what they think are important issues and then get involved.

“It’s not just going to the deli counter and taking whatever you’re served,” he said. “Students need to take their concerns into the political arena.”

Other University students journeyed to Iowa to do just that.

Will Nicholson, a second-year medical student, traveled to Iowa to learn more about the candidates’ stances on universal health care and AIDS prevention. He tracked down candidates in Mason City, Dubuque and Cedar Rapids to interrogate them.

“I like Kucinich, but Dean’s cool too because he has a medical degree,” Nicholson said. “I generally support the more progressive movements in politics, but that’s difficult now because there’s not a whole lot of Paul Wellstones out there anymore.”

In addition to students, faculty and staff from the University also attended the events in Iowa.

Joelle Tegwen, a senior word processing specialist in the College of Education and Human Development, went to Iowa to stump for Dean and to educate Iowans about the issues.

“I think it’s really important for people to get involved politically,” Tegwen said. “I want to try to give other people that energy and power for them to get involved.”

Dibley, however, needed little encouragement to get involved.

“We have the unique opportunity to be well informed and well connected as students,” said Dibley, a geography and history senior. “People get discouraged by politics, but by going to a caucus you can actually change things.”

For Nicholson, part of the experience was simply being in the state during the caucus.

“It must be wild to be an Iowan and have this happen every four years,” he said. “It’s interesting not to just see the issues, but the showmanship. It’s the greatest show on earth.”