Winter break could be factor in Iowa caucusesby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
Candidates and campaigns are trying to convince college students who go to school in Iowa but live in other states to come back for the Jan. 3 caucuses.
St. Paul, Minn. — Andy Oyaas says he's excited to have a break from school. He's from Minneapolis, but he goes to school at the University of Iowa.
"I have one month off from my hectic schedule of tests and classes," he said.
Oyaas said he's politically active and backs Democratic candidate Barack Obama. He said he's even attended an Obama rally in Des Moines. But Oyaas said he won't be returning to support Obama in the caucuses.
"I'm a city guy. I can't stay in Iowa too long, for too many months out of the year," Oyaas said. "I would love to be here for the caucuses, but at the same time I need to escape Iowa as well."
Several schools, including the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and Grinnell College, have winter break scheduled when the caucuses occur.
Atul Nakhasi, president of the University of Iowa Democrats, said his organization has been working hard to convince students to participate in the caucuses. He's hoping that students from Iowa will caucus where they grew up, and out-of-state students will come back for the event. He said his group is even willing to help out for those who make the trip.
"We have the resources to pay for gas mileage, to pay for hotel rooms to pay for their stay back here on the third," Nakhasi said.
Younger people traditionally tend not to vote. Nakhasi said he's worried that with the caucuses scheduled so early in the year it'll be even harder to get students involved.
"This will make it difficult for us," he said. "It's a cold Thursday night, most likely, on Jan. 3 at 7 p.m. where students have to go find their precincts, and then be there on time and give it an hour or two or however long that process is going to take for them. It's a big commitment."
The earlier caucus date isn't just worrying college students. Barack Obama's campaign has made major efforts to convince college students to caucus. The campaign distributed flyers encouraging out-of-state students to return to campus to caucus.
Those efforts have upset some of Obama's competitors. Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd and members of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign suggested that the caucuses should be only for Iowa residents.
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe defended the campaign's efforts during a recent conference call.
"We, as a party and as a country, should be about encouraging participation," Plouffe said. "Obviously, these students didn't have any choice in when the caucus date was. And if it happened two weeks later they might be in their dorm room, and there would be no question here."
While the Obama campaign is relying on college students to help the campaign, college Republicans say their candidates see student support as an added benefit. Three members of the Luther College Republicans were happy to talk politics in the basement of the student union earlier this month.
Luther College Republicans President Jake Rosholt sat at a table with juniors Colton Long and Sarah Knoploh. Luther College will start its January term on the same day of the caucuses, so the campaigns don't have to convince out-of-state students to return.
Long, who works for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's campaign, said many Republican campaigns are more focused on getting other groups to vote.
"While the college student base is a really important base of voters to have, especially in Iowa, they really try to pick the low-hanging fruit -- which are the ones that are most likely to vote, and that's simply the people of the older generation," Long said. "That doesn't mean they neglect people our age, but they do utilize the youth vote to help bring in older people as well as younger people."
In fact, even one of Romney's most dedicated supporters won't be able to attend caucuses. Sarah Knoploh said she won't be able to vote for Romney because she'll be studying abroad.
"For a while, I know that there was talk that they might move the caucus up to December," Knoploh said. "I was really excited about that. I thought that was great. So when they finally set it to Jan. 3, I was kind of disappointed, but there wasn't much I can do about it."
Knoploh said she's recruited five of her friends to caucus in her place. How many students will caucus at other campuses is still an open question, and none of the campaigns knows what impact the student vote will have on caucus night.
- All Things Considered, 12/28/2007, 5:20 p.m.