The countdown to Iowa is over as voters in the Hawkeye state caucus tonight in the first official contest of the 2012 presidential election cycle.
Turnout among students for those caucuses is uncertain given that today falls in the midst of winter break. But that timing is perfect for some young politicos who have plenty of time to focus their attention on last minute campaign events and caucus organizing.
One of those students is Natalie Ginty, a University of Iowa junior and chair of the Iowa Federation of College Republicans, who is helping to organize the caucus of predominantly student populated precincts at the University of Iowa.
In that work, Ginty said her focus is on organizing volunteers to check-in caucus goers and also provide access to same day registration – the aspect she called her biggest task.
“There’s a lot more that goes into it than people think,” she said.
As part of that preparation, Ginty said it’s nearly impossible to predict turnout. She said 350 people attended caucuses at that location in 2008 and this time around there are preparations for as many as 650 caucus-goers.
“I’d say college students are more excited than the regular public,” Ginty said.
Near Iowa State University, Ingrid Bisenius will be working a smaller caucus precinct. The Iowa State senior and Iowa Federation of College Republicans secretary said no more than 65 caucus goers are expected where she will be.
Tonight’s caucuses cap months of interaction between Iowans and the candidates, especially for students.
“In Iowa if there’s a will, there’s a way to meet the candidates,” Bisenius said.
That’s a luxury not shared by many states and one that both Bisenius and Ginty said they are grateful for. Each of them reports having met all of the major candidates multiple times.
It’s that interaction that Ginty said creates the real excitement among students. It’s an excitement in a way isolated from older Iowans, who experience the candidates more through news coverage, telephone calls and mailed material.
“We don’t have the annoyance factor like they do,” she said of students’ experience compared with other Iowans.
The candidates seem to recognize that student experience in reaching out to student voters through multiple campus visits.
“We’re not sold on seeing a campaign ad,” Ginty said. “We’re sold on meeting the candidate four or five times.”
For students heading into the caucuses, supporting a candidate they can trust seems to be key, according to Bisenius. At the same time, Ginty said she knows groups of students supporting each of the individual candidates.
“Young people are just as divided up,” Ginty said of who students are deciding to support.
In that support, both Ginty and Bisenius said poll results and the recent surge of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum could influence students who don’t want to waste their votes.
Both said students pay attention to where their vote can really make a difference. Lagging poll numbers could tip a student’s support from one candidate to another right up until caucus night.
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