Iowans held the nation in rapt attention Tuesday as voters in that state gathered to register their presidential preference in the first caucuses of the 2012 presidential election cycle.
Those voters gathered at hundreds of locations across the Hawkeye state to participate in the storied political process, but one location in particular was a little different — it was a caucus completely created and operated by college students.
That uniqueness wasn’t lost on Sam Pritchard, who served as one of the caucus precinct chairs. The Drake University sophomore marketing major said political rhetoric is often focused on the next generation – something this caucus demonstrated with more than words.
“It hits closer to home when that next generation is running the political process,” Pritchard said.
The caucus location on the campus of Drake University in Des Moines was the culmination of a semester of political involvement for students there. The last month alone has included traditional candidate visits and a nationally televised debate, in addition to a large student straw poll.
Eric Baker was the driving force behind the caucus location. The sophomore international business and politics major is an intern with the Republican Party of Iowa and it was in that role that Baker had a conversation with the state caucus coordinator who suggested the Drake site.
“I talked to the right people and it ended up working out,” he said.
From there, Baker and his fellow students coordinated with the university and county Republican Party to cement the caucus details.
“It’s incredibly empowering to be a college student and getting to work in politics first hand,” Baker said.
With that work, this was Pritchard’s first caucus – to attend – much less lead. So although school is still on winter break, the 20-year-old made sure to study all he could to have a solid grasp of the process.
Caucus goers at the Drake site were a mix of students and community members.
Pritchard said there weren’t as many students in attendance as he would have liked, but a couple of students actually traveled from as far as Indiana and Colorado to be back on campus to caucus.
That attendance was largely a result of the caucus falling during students’ winter vacation after the date was moved from early February by the state Republican Party.
Students not back to caucus on Tuesday did have an unofficial chance to index their opinions in a student straw poll conducted a few weeks ago, just before final exams. Candidates Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich topped students’ preferences in that tally.
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