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Early Caucus Date Could Neutralize Student Support For Obama, Others

This story was written by Dean Treftz, The Daily Iowan
With a new, earlier date for both the Republicans and Democrats, caucusing will be more complicated for Iowa students and those who hope to benefit from them.

The caucuses, now on Jan. 3, are firmly in the middle of winter break for University of Iowa students, as opposed to the previous date of Jan. 14, one week before classes resume. While in-state students can caucus in their hometowns, students from other states must drive back to Iowa City two days after New Years Day in order to participate.

The new date could be a problem for the campaign of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who is courting students heavily and leads Democrats among younger voters, according to the UI Hawkeye Poll.

"I see this Jan. 3 as a real problem for Obama," said Steve Grubbs, who has worked on several caucus campaigns and organized Republicans on campus during his time as a student at the UI.

Campaigns must identify Iowa native students who can make an impact by caucusing in their hometowns, Grubbs said.

With fewer than two months until students scatter from Iowa City, the clock is ticking.

"The campaigns have pretty good strategies in trying to stay in touch with the students," said UI Democrats President Atul Nakhasi. "Face-to-face contact works the best, which we unfortunately don't have over the winter break."

Students such as UI freshman Megan Marchellino could merely change their caucus locations. Marchellino said she isn't sure whether she will be back in Iowa City for the Jan. 14 date, but knows she will be in Sioux City on Jan. 3.

"Those who live in Iowa can go home and caucus," said UI College Republicans Chairman Greg Baker. "Illinois students, that's where the problem is."

He estimated that around 40 percent of the UI College Republicans hail from Illinois.

"We're trying to get some incentives out there to get them to come in [to Iowa City] to vote," he said.

Baker is still working to organize a "super caucus" for student-dominated precincts at the IMU, he said, despite a likely drop in attendance.

While some will undoubtedly drive back to Iowa City, the new date may keep many Illinois students from caucusing.

"The candidate I like isn't doing so well here, it'd probably help to get my vote in there," said Gina Kaczanowski, a UI sophomore and supporter of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Kaczanowski, from Cicero Ill., was considering coming back to Iowa City early if the caucuses were on Jan. 14, but she said Jan. 3 is too close to the holidays for her.

Both Baker and Nakhasi said they had heard of campaigns looking into busing students in from Illinois.

"That would be a logistical nightmare," Grubbs said.

He previously tried to get students out to the Republican straw poll in Ames with little success.

"With only requiring one day of your time, we would struggle to get 50 UI students to go to Ames," he said. "In order to make any real impact, you'd have to do much more than 50."

Grubbs said campaigns are better served focusing on native Iowans spread throughout the state on Jan. 3.

Sophomore Matt Haines now will likely caucus in Shell Rock, Iowa.

He said he sees that the new date could affect Illinois students but said, "Students who it's really important to will do it anyway."
© 2007 The Daily Iowan via U-WIRE