Caucuses a ‘privilege’ for Iowans

by Sheyenne Manning

Students and members of the community were enlightened about the importance of the Iowa caucuses last Thursday at a forum sponsored by the Culver Center.

Simpson hosted a panel of political experts to discuss the importance of the Iowa caucuses and the impact it can have on the political campaign for presidency.

The panel included Kathie Obradovich, political columnist for the Des Moines Register, Dennis Goldford, Drake University professor of politics and John Skipper, political reporter and columnist for the Mason City Globe Gazette.

Skipper said if students appreciate that the caucuses open in Iowa for any reason, it should be that they have a chance to meet the president.

“One of the things I hope people took away from this, if they didn’t already realize, is if you live in Iowa, you have the chance to meet the next president of the United States,” Skipper said. “You just don’t know who it is at the time because they’re upcoming. It’s a real privilege here.”

Skipper pointed out the benefits and disadvantages of beginning the caucuses in Iowa. Some advantages are that Iowa allows a relationship between delegates and the people in a way that other states do not, or as Goldford said, “candidates are forced to treat voters as real people.”

Skipper pointed out the benefits of this quality.

“Iowa is attractive to candidates because Iowa is relatively accessible … inexpensive state where you can meet with small groups of people in a personal way,” Skipper said.

There are disadvantages to holding the first caucus in Iowa. It can be difficult for voters to participate because the time of day or the weather may not permit it.

Another critique is that Iowa doesn’t represent a realistic demographic of the nation. The majority of people who attend the caucus are of white European descent and are, on average, older than the general population, Goldford said.

Because the date of the caucuses has moved back almost an entire month, the panelists were asked how this could affect the outcome of the candidates’ first stop.

They agreed that the shortened schedule would have a greater affect on each candidate’s chances of moving on with success. They will each get less time in Iowa to make as strong an impression as they may have gotten in past years.

“No rational person would ever design this nominating system that we have, but it just grew up between the cracks,” Goldford said. “You would lengthen out the nomination process, which would give people more time to show different strengths, to show different weaknesses.”

After each panelist gave a brief introduction, the lecture hall was opened to questions. Several issues were addressed concerning how the media can affect the primaries or how candidates intend to stay afloat if they don’t meet expectations in Iowa.

The panel pointed out that a candidate’s staff could have an effect on how the public perceives them.

“They are quietly working under the radar while the candidate’s not here to try to make sure that he can meet expectations,” Obradovich said.

At the end of the panel discussion, all three panelists made themselves available for further questions or commentary.

Allie Walker, senior and undergraduate assistant to the Iowa History Center, said she enjoyed the forum event and learned more about the candidates.

“I think having Goldford was really good because he gave a little bit more of a history of it, and then having the two journalists was better for people who wanted to know more current things about the race,” Walker said.

After the event, Skipper said he was satisfied, but that he never has the chance to say everything he wants to say.

“I thought it was a great event,” Skipper said. “I learned a lot just listening from (the other panelists), I hope the audience learned from all of us.”

Senior Gregory Rhoulac came to the forum even with little prior knowledge about the Iowa caucuses, but learned a lot from the panel.

“I thought it was very informational,” Rhoulac said. “This is my fifth year in Iowa, but I don’t have a lot of experience with the caucuses so it was just great to understand more and more about the caucuses and actually get some input and information from guys who really studied this, have written books about this, have, not only research experience, but they live here.”

The Iowa caucuses will take place Jan. 3, 2012 and people of all ages are encouraged to participate.