Established in 2011, the Iowa Caucus Project boasts four cohorts of college students telling the story of the Iowa caucuses through experiencing the Iowa caucuses. Leading into the 2024 caucuses, we wanted to catch up with the 2020 Iowa Caucus Project staffers, tap into their wisdom, and see what stuck with them four years later.
John Hirl was a Staffer for the 2020 Iowa Caucus Project. John graduated from Drake University in 2020 with degrees in Politics and Strategic Political Communications. After working in the Iowa State Government for a few years, John enrolled as a law student at Harvard Law School.
Q: What was your role with the Iowa Caucus Project?
I was the podcast host for the Iowa Caucus Project Podcast! I hosted a weekly show featuring journalists, activits, and academics to talk about their caucus experiences and predictions.
Q: Four years after your participation in the project, what has stuck with you?
Just how special the caucuses are to Iowa and the truly unprecedented opportunity they provide political science students to study politics in action. No other students in the country have the chance to do what Drake students can – meet every presidential candidate (maybe multiple times), interact with national media figures, and have an outsized voice in the candidate selection process.
Q: Do you have an "only in Iowa" story? If so, what is it?
I am a big football fan, so I like to ask candidates about their teams. Once in high school, I asked Marco Rubio (I was a big supporter of Senator Rubio during his 2016 campaign) who he thought would win the Super Bowl between the Panthers and Broncos that year. The Senator said the Panthers. Both he and the Panthers would go on to have disappointing results.
Q: What words of wisdom do you have for current Drake University students anticipating the 2024 Iowa precinct caucuses?
Pay attention to the ideas gaining popularity in Iowa because they are the best indicators for the future of each party! I was a student during the 2020 cycle and saw how ideas from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren pushed the whole field to the left. Joe Biden entered the race as a moderate but quickly adopted a more progressive platform in response to this pressure – a platform he would carry with him to the White House. The fundemental ideas for Build Back Better (which, of course, did not pass in full) started in Sander's 2016 Iowa campaign and the Sanders/Warren 2020 Iowa campaigns. I'd expect whoever becomes the nominee for the Republicans this year to adopt the most popular stances of the field.
Q: How closely have you been watching this caucus cycle? Do you have any thoughts as to how they will play out?
This caucus cycle will test if the normal presumptions of caucus campaining still hold true, and if the traditional Kingmakers can move the needle. Ron Desantis is doing everything right – campaining in all 99 counties, investing in his ground game, and courting evangelicals. He has also nabbed endorsements from the Governor and Bob Vander Plaats. In any other year, that recipe would make him the strongest contender by a mile, but this cycle he has yet to cut into former President Trump's lead and finds himself battling Nikki Haley for second place. There is still a lot of time before Republicans declare their preferences, but if Desantis does not finish at least a strong second place it may be time for campaigns to re-think how they approach Iowa. Or, maybe it is just the case that a former President who remains popular among his party will be tough to beat no matter how you campaign. We will see!
Check out where the other 2020 Iowa Caucus Staffers are now here!