2020 campaigning ramps up on UI campus in fall semester

A number of 2020 presidential campaigns have started organizing in earnest on campus during the fall semester. Student organizers are focusing on personal networking to generate support.


Megan Nagorzanski

Warren stickers are seen during a Hawkeyes for Warren meeting at the Iowa City Public Library on Wednesday, September 4, 2019. (Megan Nagorzanski/The Daily Iowan)

Caleb McCullough, Politics Reporter

On the T. Anne Cleary Walkway, tailgating near Kinnick Stadium, and tucked away in meeting rooms at the Iowa City Public Library, University of Iowa students are working hard to elect who they hope will be the next president.

Presidential campaigns have ramped up their campus presence during the fall semester. Student volunteers have often worked with campaign staffers to start several student organizations for different candidates.

Campaigns are reaching out to students in the months before the Iowa caucuses to capture what organizers say is an important voting bloc for Democratic candidates.

In 2018, people aged 18-24 made up 11.4 percent of registered voters in Iowa. Democrats in that age group made up the highest percentage of voters registered to a specific party, and Democrats were also the most likely to vote in that age group, with a 50.1 percent turnout.

Universities also serve as incubators for young and energetic organizers and volunteers.

At the second meeting of the Hawkeyes for Pete student organization on Tuesday, the group went over recruitment strategies, encouraging members to reach out to friends and classmates to generate interest for South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Dubbed “relational organizing,” this type of organizing is a cornerstone of Buttigieg’s campaign, and the group hopes it will help the campaign take off on campus.

“Instead of just making cold calls, or going door-to-door, we’re using our individual networks to expand information about Mayor Pete,” said UI senior Isabelle teDuits, one of the student group’s founding members. “So we’re kind of reflecting that on campus here.”

Personal networking is a common theme among the campaigns. Hawkeyes for Warren, a student group in support of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, held its first official meeting on Wednesday, and the group explored ideas for organizing, communicating, and reaching out to different groups on campus with a focus on networking to build interest.

The group’s president, UI student Isabelle Webber, said organizing in Iowa is especially valuable because Iowans know the importance of the caucus and their role in it.

“People in Iowa expect to see that work, because they know they’re special,” she said. “They want to be courted.”

Isabella Zox, a field organizer for New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign, said the campaign wants to create a campus community that is passionate about Booker.

“That’s been a big part of our campaign more generally, making sure that there’s a community within our supporters, and they’re all friends that are able to reach out to their communities,” she said. “Just kind of creating a more network-oriented movement.”

Starting during move-in week, student volunteers for several Democratic presidential hopefuls hosted tabling events, handed out flyers, and engaged with students to promote their candidate.

“We definitely had a pretty positive response,” said Hazel Rosenblum-Sellers, an Iowa City field organizer for California Sen. Kamala Harris’ campaign. “There are students who are enthusiastic about Kamala, but I would say even more so, we are getting a lot of students who are very enthusiastic about learning more about the caucus and about the process.”

RELATED: Elizabeth Warren operation reaches early to Iowa campuses 

A major goal for many of these student groups is to ensure students are informed about the Iowa caucuses before Feb. 3. Webber said Hawkeyes for Warren spent time during move-in week making sure freshmen from outside the state were registered in Iowa so they could participate in the caucus.

Hawkeyes for Harris will hold a mock caucus on Sept. 15, and Hawkeyes for Pete is planning a similar event in the future.

Rosenblum-Sellers said the primary goal of the caucus training is to teach students about the caucus process and how to participate, whether or not they end up supporting Harris.

“I just think more than anything, I want to make sure that students have all the information that’s out there about how to register to vote, how to caucus, why the caucus is so important; its history,” she said. “And so we’re going to be going over all of that at our caucus training.”