Students to trek to Iowa caucuses, join campaigns

Jerome C. Pandell

More than 25 Northwestern students will take Iowa by storm this weekend — but this won’t be your typical college road trip.

The students are traveling to learn more about the Iowa caucuses, which take place Monday, and to volunteer for the campaigns of the eight candidates hoping to become the Democrats’ presidential nominee.

Colorado native Joe Curnow, an Education junior, is joining 17 other students for a trip to Des Moines sponsored by the School of Education’s Service Learning Certificate Program. The group leaves for Iowa Sunday afternoon.

“My state doesn’t do the caucuses, so this is a very rare opportunity to engage in a unique political process,” said Curnow, who recently returned to Evanston after spending a quarter in Brazil. “It’s a great opportunity to learn a lot more about the candidates because I feel I’ve been sort of out of the loop being in a different country.”

Although she hopes to learn more about all the candidates and their platforms, Curnow said she plans to volunteer for the campaign of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

“My primary motivation for going on the trip is not necessarily to forward the Dean agenda, though I do support him and I think he is a strong candidate,” she said. “I really appreciate Dean’s focus on health care, and he has a kind of charisma that I think will be important in this race.”

The goal of the Service Learning Certificate Program is “to promote civic participation and community activism,” according to director Bruce Nelson, who said campaigning and observing the caucus procedures is a chance “to see democracy in action.”

“It is an opportunity to go out and live by our principles,” said Nelson, who will drive one of three minivans filled with students to Des Moines, where the group will bed down in sleeping bags inside the First Christian Church.

Nelson, an instructor in the School of Education, said students will volunteer with a campaign of their choice upon arriving, and continue through Monday evening.

“At night, we will attend one of the (post-caucus) rallies at a hotel and hope to see the candidates in person,” Nelson said.

A smaller group of students will drive to Davenport, Iowa, Saturday to work for the campaign of U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, Communication ’62.

“We will be running and staffing the phone banks, helping out the labor supporters and driving around the old ladies (to caucus sites),” said Lauren Lowenstein, the leader of the Gephardt supporters from NU and a Weinberg sophomore. “Right now they are in the massive get-out-the vote stage.”

At NU, student groups recognized by the university cannot endorse a specific candidate, which Lowenstein said has made finding other Gephardt supporters difficult.

“I feel like Gephardt has a real supporter base here. They’re just hard to find and the university’s not making it any easier,” said Lowenstein, who has recruited some supporters from Beta Theta Pi, Gephardt’s old fraternity.

Students who aren’t hitting the road this weekend will be watching closely from a distance.

Naureen Shah, a Daily columnist, met U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio last September when he spoke at a conference of the Islamic Society of North America held in Chicago.

Shah said Kucinich could win Iowa because many caucus-goers could still be undecided.

“I think that Dennis Kucinich is a candidate that people are overlooking,” said Shah, a Medill senior. “Obviously he’s a politician, but his record is one that shows that he is the kind of candidate that doesn’t do whatever’s popular at the moment.”

Should Kucinich not be the Democrats’ nominee, Shah added, the eventual candidate should look to him for ideas.

One NU student supporting retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who is skipping the Iowa caucuses in favor of the Jan. 27 New Hampshire primary, said she doubts Clark’s decision to bypass the caucuses will hurt his candidacy.

“There’s been so much focus on Dean that it gives the other candidates a chance to steal the show,” said Meredith Kesner, a Medill senior. “I don’t think Iowa is the be-all-end-all state.

“It’s a good taste test, but it’s not the end.”

A version of this story appeared Thursday on CNN.com.