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  • Writer's picturePaige Jansen

7 Years Apart: My Experience With Republican Caucus Events

I never thought I would attend a Republican caucus event again. Seven years later, I found myself back at one.

Growing up in Iowa in a semi-politically engaged family, I was introduced to the Iowa Caucuses before I understood the significance of them. In 2016, I attended two Republican presidential candidate events days before the Iowa caucuses. On January 31, I attended Florida Senator Marco Rubio's rally at the Ramada Inn in Urbandale. A day later, I attended former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's rally at Wellman's Pub in West Des Moines.

Looking back at these events, I do not remember most of what happened. After researching and refreshing my memory, I found out that 600 individuals attended the Marco Rubio event and that Senator Chuck Grassley spoke at the rally before introducing Rubio. At Christie's event, Governor Terry Branstad introduced Christie, which ended up being his last event in Iowa before the caucuses. In the end, Marco Rubio placed third with 23.1% of the vote, and Chris Christie ended in 10th place with 1.8% of the vote.

This caucus cycle, I recently attended a Nikki Haley Town Hall at Jethro's BBQ ‘n Bacon Bacon in West Des Moines. For a Saturday at 9 a.m., the restaurant was flooded with voters and media wanting to see what she had to say. I was impressed by Nikki Haley. While I knew some about her before the event, I did not fully know her background and the experiences she had had. She was very well-spoken and able to keep the crowd engaged with her arguments and points. Haley was not afraid to call out the Republican party when it came to careless spending. She was also very well-versed in foreign policy, which seemed to lose the crowd a bit. I believe if she was able to pull ahead in the polls, she would do very well in the general election.

One feeling did not change in the seven years. I always felt a sense of uncomfortableness. When I was 15, I felt like I was in a space where I did not belong. I couldn’t vote, and I was severely unaware of what was happening in our country and the world at the time. I was in a brand new environment that I had never experienced, surrounded by people who seemed like they did. Now, I know I belong and have experience in the area. Instead, my uncomfortableness stemmed from the knowledge that I was surrounded by others who shared different values from myself, and I would not know how they would respond if they knew that my political beliefs differed from theirs. While I have been in a lot more polarized spaces than a Nikki Haley Town Hall an early Saturday morning, this fear lingered in the back of my mind. I have a feeling it will never disperse for the rest of this project.

While candidate event experiences aren't what sparked my interest in politics, they were an opportunity I took for granted then. I am incredibly fortunate to be a part of a family that allowed me to be politically engaged in the Iowa Caucuses before I understood the significance of it. To this day, I am still amazed by the magic (and the chaos) of the Iowa caucus. I will never lose my appreciation for the experiences we get to undergo while being in a vibrant political landscape.


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