Election 2008: NU Iowans show support in caucuses

Christina Salter

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In the media-hyped circus leading up to the Iowa caucuses, candidates visit and revisit small towns, plaster the television with ads and run up telephone bills hoping to secure supporters.

This year’s caucuses drew record numbers of first-time voters – including some Northwestern students – to schools, community centers and the occasional living room for what students described as an exciting but sometimes confusing process.

Weinberg junior Robert Chang, who caucused at the student union at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, said his site was fairly well organized, but also casual and social.

Chang came into the caucus torn between the three major Democratic candidates: Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. He ended up going with his gut feeling.

“Literally at the last second, I ended up at Obama’s area,” he said.

Friends from NU have been interested in his caucus experience, he said.

“I had a friend Facebook me and say, ‘I’ve been watching your state on TV for about five hours and I just wanted you to know that,'” Chang said. “Another friend from California said he didn’t know anything important happened in Iowa.”

Especially for Democrats, the caucus process is complicated. While Republican caucusgoers take a written vote, Democrats move about the meeting place to form groups of those supporting each candidate.

When the groups are counted, each must have 15 percent of those present to remain in the running. If a group does not, other groups can try to convince caucusers to switch to their candidate.

Due to the complicated Democratic process, Weinberg senior Chris D’Angelo ended up caucusing for Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Conn., even though he supports Obama for president.

D’Angelo, a Bettendorf, Iowa, native, voted in the 2004 elections but caucused for the first time in 2008. His roommate worked for Obama’s campaign office and motivated him to support the candidate, he said.

D’Angelo said at his caucus site Obama took a huge lead from the start, and both Edwards and Clinton had enough support to get one delegate each. Biden did not make the 15 percent minimum, and Obama supporters worried that Biden’s supporters would move to the Clinton group and allow her to gain enough support for another delegate.

Because Clinton was seen as more of a threat to Obama than Biden, D’Angelo moved to Biden’s group and convinced a few other Obama supporters to do the same. Obama remained the winner, but Biden’s group was large enough to prevent Clinton from getting another delegate.

D’Angelo said a Clinton supporter accused him of cheating and “manipulating the system,” but he said he knew she was just trying to confuse him enough to back out.

“It got intense there for a moment,” D’Angelo said. “I was like, ‘This is pretty sweet.'”

For Weinberg freshman Erik Peterson, the caucuses were a disorganized but worthwhile experience.

Peterson, who caucused for Obama, said voter registration at his Democratic caucus site in LeClaire, Iowa, was ineffective and time-consuming.

Peterson said he likes the attention Iowa gets for the caucuses, but thinks the results don’t reflect the country’s opinions.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee got a disproportionate amount of votes due to Iowa’s large evangelical population, he said.

“There could be worse choices for the first state, but Iowa is probably not the best,” Peterson said.

Christina Salter can be reached at c-salter@northwestern.edu.