URBANDALE – Mike Crane of Urbandale was – for the longest while – one of the 41-percenters – that much sought-after segment of the Iowa population that Republican presidential candidates have been wooing for weeks in the Iowa Caucus.
Tuesday night was decision time for Crane and the other 120,000-plus Iowans who filled school libraries, gymnasiums, churches and other locations that serve as the 1,744 precinct caucus sites and vote for a candidate for the Republican nomination.
Fitting the reputation of Iowans who caucus, many of these were informed and engaged in the campaign. Crane said he was in turns favoring former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for his business experiences, U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota for her foreign policy experience and stance on immigration, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry because he “just likes him.”
No matter who won the nomination though, Crane said he or she would have his support.
This particular precinct was Jensen Elementary School gymnasium in the Des Moines area. Its 296 attendees carried on its proceedings in manner that was probably much like caucuses in the other 1,743 precincts, except for one incident – the impromptu arrival of Karen Santorum, the wife of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
She spoke briefly about what she saw as her husband’s virtues as a presidential candidate who has strong family values.
“We home school. We have seven children,” she said, pointing to the back of the room, where Elizabeth, Peter, Patrick, and Sarah Maria stood by the entrance and waved into the room.
Speaking more about her husband, she said that he put national security first and would fight to bring jobs back to the United States.
She apparently had an impact on the caucus.
Ninety-six of the attendees voted for Rick Santorum, making him the victor, as did voters in about 60 of Iowa’s 99 counties on the rode to a tie for first place statewide with Romney.
But, in this precinct, Santorum beat the other GOP candidates on the ballot by a wide margin, with Romney coming in a distant second with 53 votes.
The rest of the meeting saw mild support for the other candidates, Michelle Bachmann and Newt Gingrich being the only other ones who had speakers to represent them.
A caucus chairman was elected with resounding affirmative votes, with a single tongue-in-cheek vote in dissension that was met with widespread laughter. Shortly after the pledge of allegiance, the meeting kicked off with a general exhortation from a caucus goer concerned about the influence of negative PAC ads on the minds of voters.
“We’ve been barraged in the last few months in Iowa with PAC money ads, and we don’t know where it’s coming from,” the unidentified speaker said, going on to ask that voters not to allow negative political ads to influence their decisions.
“I’ve been doing this since the Reagan years,” said Dennis Andrews, who caucused with his wife Kathleen, a precinct block captain. They stood at the doors signing people in and distributing voter registration cards, telling voters not to lose their ballots as they slipped green pieces of paper into their hands. Andrews said he’s a Bachmann supporter and that he would be reluctant to vote for anyone else if she lost.
“I decided in the last hour or two,” Andrews said, grinning wryly, “I was leaning towards Perry most of the day. But he’s just so much like GW,” he said, apparently referring to former president George W. Bush. “He doesn’t seem like the brightest bulb.”
Leaning on his walker, Kenneth Koll, 84, recalled caucusing for Jimmy Carter, and standing in line to vote for John F. Kennedy in 1960. He wouldn’t say who he who would support, but was adamant that it wouldn’t be Santorum.
“If he couldn’t win back his seat in Congress,” Koll said, “how does he expect to win the presidency?”
Crane’s son, Zach, 17, had even fewer things to say about any of the candidates, as this was his first caucus experience.
“I just want to hear it all and see how it works,” Crane said.
The high school senior attended the meeting for a government class, and though he was interested in learning the process, he also had tickets to a local basketball game shortly after the caucus, according to his father. Mike Crane.
Still, he pointed out that while Iowa was an adequate standard for deciding the possible future president of the United States, there is still a long way to go.
“This is just the first mile of a marathon,” he said.
(Mike Anderson is a senior journalism major at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication)