Minnesota students get close up look at campaign in Iowaby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
Voters across Iowa will be heading to caucuses in less than a month. Some of them will be Minnesotans who go to school in Iowa. Many of them consider it a once in a lifetime opportunity.
St. Paul, Minn. — The Luther College Democrats meet at 9:30 every Monday night. That may seem late to those who handed in their cap and gown years ago, but these college students are just getting started. Last Monday's meeting had a party atmosphere, since it's the last time the group will meet this semester. Organizers ordered pizza and handed out t-shirts that say "Everyone loves a good party" on the front and "Luther College Democrats" on the back.
There are 16 Luther College Democrats eating pizza this night. The only one who talks business is Dave Carrier, a junior at Luther who is studying political science and education studies. He is also the Assistant Regional Field Director for Delaware Senator Joe Biden.
Carrier is from Waconia, Minnesota and is one of many Minnesota students who attend Luther. He's sitting next to Melissa Berg, who is also a junior, also supports Biden and is also from Minnesota. Berg grew up in Minnetonka. The two are obviously active in politics and Carrier says there's nothing like the Iowa caucuses.
"In Iowa you're surrounded by people who take a closer look at the candidates then anywhere else in the country except maybe New Hampshire," he says.
"Growing up in Minnesota I never, ever would have said 'I'm not going to vote for you until I meet you,' because that would never happen because I would never vote," adds Berg.
But these students have found themselves in the unusual position of meeting the presidential hopefuls face to face. Often. Carrier says he has met every Democratic candidate for president and three of the GOP candidates. Berg says she's met many of the candidates as well.
About a third of Luther students are from Minnesota, a third are from Iowa and a third are from the rest of the country. But as long as they're living in the state to go to school, they can take part in the Iowa caucuses:
"I feel a little bad telling my friends from Minnesota that their vote counts more in Iowa," says Colton Long, a junior at Luther.
Long is a Republican who works for Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's campaign. He's also from Iowa. Long has been lobbying every student, not just those from Minnesota, telling them that their participation in the Jan. 3 caucuses could shape the race for president.
"Historically, if you can win Iowa and New Hampshire, you pretty much have the nomination wrapped up," he says. "Winning Iowa doesn't necessarily mean you'll win the nomination, but it's a step in the right direction."
Another member of the Luther College Republicans, junior Jake Rosholt, says he's not exactly sure which candidate he's going to back.
"It depends on the day," he says. "Today is Monday, and I'm really in a Ron Paul mood."
Rosholt is from Montrose, Minnesota. He says he likes Ron Paul's approach to limited government. But he also likes Romney's executive experience, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's authenticity and Arizona Sen. John McCain's military background.
Rosholt says he'll sit down sometime this month and will make a firm commitment to a candidate.
Even though he is uncertain about his vote, Rosholt says he will take part in the caucuses. He calls it a unique opportunity, since he he'll move to Minnesota or Wisconsin after graduation.
"It's just a great opportunity to have your voice be heard," he says. "A great experience to see how the caucus is done. It's not like any other primary. It's not casting a ballot and putting it in a box. There's a more personal touch to it. It's a great opportunity and I decided to take it."
Many of the campaigns are working hard to convince college students take part in the Iowa caucuses. The candidate who is probably working the hardest is Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. The Democrat has been criss-crossing the state reminding college students to take part in the caucuses.
Two Luther students are working to deliver those students for Obama. Rachel Loeffler-Kemp is a first year student from Duluth.
"I have a lot of friends who are politically active who are going to school out East or on the West Coast and they say 'that's so sweet that you're in Iowa. I never thought Iowa would be the place to be," she says.
Loeffler-Kemp and Steven Thai of Blaine say they've been trying to convince fellow Luther students to attend the caucuses and back Obama. Thai, a freshman, says he was a bit reluctant to register to vote in Iowa instead of Minnesota. He decided that his vote will count more in Iowa.
"It was first when I was, do I really want to vote in Iowa or will it matter more in Minnesota?" he says. "And I thought about it. I can only vote in Iowa once. I'm only going to be here for four years. Iowa sets the tone as it has since the 70's of where the country will go. Minnesota will play a role in that but it won't play as big a role as Iowa will."
Thai and Loeffler-Kemp say they'll continue to recruit Luther students to participate in the caucuses when they return for their January term. They say one argument they'll make is that there isn't anything better to do in Decorah on a cold January night.
- Morning Edition, 12/10/2007, 6:42 a.m.