A ‘Hawkeye Caucus:’ Five University of Iowa students reflect upon commitments to presidential hopefuls
As the Iowa caucuses begin today, five University of Iowa students have devoted all of their time outside the classroom to their chosen candidate for several months.
February 2, 2020
A triple-major with hope for effective policy. A woman from a Republican family stepping foot on a liberal campus. A student with conservative viewpoints trying to create relationships with those who hold opposing views. A Jewish identity searching for a candidate to support her beliefs. A woman of color hoping to make politics a lifelong career.
The University of Iowa is at the center of heavily Democratic Johnson County, and each caucusing student has their own story as to how they got into Iowa politics.
For some, college is a time to grow and develop new experiences. Coming to the UI could prompt new environments and surroundings. While some engage in research, join clubs, or play sports, others take it upon themselves to devote time to presidential campaigns ahead of the Iowa caucuses.
UI Visiting Professor David Redlawsk said there are significant responsibilities placed upon students who get involved in the Iowa caucuses.
“[Student organizers] often either just graduated college or in some cases put college on hold while they’ve gone to work full time for a campaign,” Redlawsk said.
Traditionally, younger generations do not turn out to vote or caucus at rates as high as older generations. This year, however, turnout among younger generations is expected to be higher, according to the CIRCLE-Tisch College/Suffolk, UI youth poll.
For the 2020 Iowa caucuses, The Daily Iowan chose to highlight five Hawkeyes who devoted their time to helping their preferred candidate get elected.
Zoe Swinton for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
While typing away at her iPhone on her social-media platforms, fourth-year UI student Zoe Swinton said she has sent hundreds of texts, spent hours canvassing, and sent four mass emails to the student body since her last year at the UI began.
At 9 years old, Swinton’s parents brought her to various rallies and she watched prominent political races on TV. Dreading watching politics growing up, young Swinton knew she never wanted to take part in it — but recognized it was important to pay attention.
In 2014, Swinton heard her preferred candidate — Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speak for the first time. The 2016 cycle would come around, the first year Swinton would be of legal voting age.
I want to do everything I can right now to get him elected.
— Zoe Swinton for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
“I got really excited about what he was proposing,” Swinton said. “I think because it related directly to me, and it felt like what he was offering was going to actually change my life, whereas other politicians’ policies just kind of affected it a little bit. I got really excited about the prospect of it.”
Swinton said as a Sanders campaign intern, on average she typically leaves her apartment at 8 a.m. and will not return until midnight between a heavy class schedule and caucus planning. As a triple major in ethics and public policy, psychology, and anthropology, Swinton could have as many as five classes to attend in her day, and every minute in between would be devoted to organizing.
Being the president of the Hawkeyes for Bernie student organization and a full-time student, the soon-to-be UI graduate plans to continue her busy schedule with the campaign until she can find work. Swinton said she believes in Sanders because she feels his policies are universal and filled with integrity.
“I want to do everything I can right now to get him elected,” Swinton said. “Sacrificing a little bit in my life right now is going to benefit the majority.”
Isabelle te Duits for South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg
UI senior Isabelle te Duits’ Iowa City family supported Republican candidates all of her life and raised her to share those values. As she grew older and began to develop her own opinions, it created tension within the family. The once Republican household learned to steer away from political conversations.
Parents shape their children’s viewpoints in many ways. According to a study done by the American Family Survey, voting parents are more likely to have conversations with their children about politics and various political beliefs very early on in child development. The beliefs can sometimes be carried on for the rest of a child’s life.
“I wasn’t really able to form my own opinions and know what I truly believed — I just heard stuff from my parents and that’s what I took as gospel,” te Duits said. “I didn’t really question it.”
Pete came into my life and I just haven’t looked back since.
— Isabelle te Duits
College life proved to be a new landscape for the marketing-analytics student, and she navigated through beliefs and opinions she had never heard before — those of the Democratic Party.
As te Duits continued at the UI, she began to follow a podcast, Pod Save America, to help her better understand the “big gorilla” she called politics.
The interest for more information led her to watch the Democratic debates, leading her to her preferred candidate, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Te Duits said she believes that Buttigieg’s ideas will unify the country.
“Pete came into my life and I just haven’t looked back since,” te Duits said. “It was really him who got me into politics and wanting to volunteer.”
As the current co-chair of UI student organization Hawkeyes for Pete, te Duits devotes her time in between classes to get students aware of the different Buttigieg-related events on campus via social media. She also will be a captain for an Iowa City precinct and volunteers for the national Buttigieg campaign.
In her time with his campaign, te Duits has seen and heard stories of people with Republican backgrounds committing to caucus for Buttigieg through canvassing efforts — what she believes helps others understand why she changed her beliefs.
“I think that background has really changed my perception and how I how I see politics — I want things to get done,” te Duits said. “I think that polarization really inhibits things from getting done.
Te Duits said her mother voted for the Democratic Party for the first time in 2018 — a time at which te Duits felt as though she had made a breakthrough with her parents and their beliefs. Now, te Duits’ mother is caucusing and volunteering for Buttigieg, all while supporting her daughter.
“But now it’s definitely difficult having discussions with some of my family members,” te Duits said. “My dad doesn’t like talking to me about politics and stuff and I love talking because I like to understand their side and why they believe the things that they do.”
Jack Bryson for President Trump
When first-year student Jack Bryson came to the UI, he discovered that not many of those around him shared his conservative views.
A political-science major, Bryson had always been intrigued by politics of both sides and wanted to learn more. After the 2016 primaries, Bryson began studying the history of past elections and making more political observations in his spare time.
“I would research information for both sides, I watch the news, watch video analyses,” he said. “And ever since the summer of 2016, I’ve been pretty steadily following politics on both sides and just how the government plays out.”
Bryson quickly aligned himself with the Republican Party — which would become a key part of his day-to-day life at the UI. Coming off his first semester, Bryson currently volunteers and leads the UI’s Students for Trump chapter.
Part of the appeal of … going [to the UI] was being involved with the campaigns during the whole caucus side.
— Jack Bryson
For Bryson, President Trump’s stances on national security threats motivate him to work for Trump as his candidate to win this November.
The Sheridan, Iowa native said outside of campaign work and advocacy, he enjoys working out at the Campus Wellness and Recreation Center and holds a part-time job on campus.
“Part of the appeal of … going [to the UI] was being involved with the campaigns during the whole caucus side,” Bryson said. “And thankfully, I was able to be gifted an opportunity to earn leadership positions already just as a freshman.”
Bryson said he found it hard to speak to friends about his stances on politics, yet doesn’t let that hinder his beliefs or their friendship.
“I like to put people ahead of politics, and that’s why I just find it really relieving to me that I’ve been able to make fantastic friends who live on the floor with me and all completely disagree with me on politics,” Bryson said. “My best friends and I have been able to put the issues away and see each other as people.”
While he is aware that his friends do not prefer his ideology, Bryson said he does not feel targeted for his beliefs. During his least busy course workdays, Bryson said he makes nearly 250 phone calls to voters.
“As a country, we should be able to see the good in people, regardless of their ideology and just be able to be friends, communicate, be civil,” Bryson said. “And I think what I’ve done on campus so far to be an example that possibility. So, I see, I see a future for a more unified nation.”
Shayna Jaskolka for Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
Second-year UI student Shayna Jaskolka feels her primary issue when choosing a candidate is the country in which her family’s roots were planted — Israel.
As a woman proud of her Jewish identity, Jaskolka leans toward candidates she believes will support her identities.
The political-science major began to develop her own interests in politics following the Parkland, Florida shooting of 2018. The tragedy pushed Jaskolka and her high-school friends to establish a chapter of Students Against School Shootings to advocate for safer classroom environments.
Following her advocacy work, Jaskolka said she began working for NextGen America, a liberal-leaning Democratic organization that promotes young voter turnout. In the summer of 2019, she began volunteering within Democratic Senator from New Jersey Cory Booker’s campaign. Jaskolka believed in Booker’s plans and hoped he would garner attention to the issues faced in Israel and anti-Semitism.
“Cory Booker is still my candidate,” Jaskolka said. “He stood for everything that I stood for. He was kind of my perfect candidate.”
However, when Booker suspended his presidential campaign on Jan. 13, Jaskolka was forced to consider other options. After familiarizing herself with the candidates, Jaskolka realized she wanted to support and caucus for Elizabeth Warren.
“Elizabeth Warren was already kind of second on my list, but Israel is my top issue and she is not the best on that,” Jaskolka said. “But I talked with another one of the organizers who deeply, deeply loves Israel and the way she played it to me is that Elizabeth was trying to fight white supremacy. That is one of the top issues that is the biggest threat to Jewish Americans right now. That is something I can wholeheartedly get behind.”
Jaskolka can also be referred to with a different title on social media — denim jacket girl.
Cory Booker is still my candidate. He stood for everything that I stood for. He was kind of my perfect candidate.
— Shayna Jaskolka
The first time Jaskolka had met “her candidate” in person she had nothing for him to sign — her light blue denim jacket would have to suffice.
“[The next day after meeting Booker], I was meeting Elizabeth Warren and was like, ‘You know what, I’ll have her do it, too.’ So, then she signed it next and it kind of became a thing,” Jaskolka said.
With plans to meet all of the Democratic candidates, Jaskolka said she continued the trend until every single candidate signed her jacket.
“I want someone with good policies, but also a good personality to be my president,” Jaskolka said.
Haley Edwards for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
While politics is oftentimes prevalent during dinner-table conversations or left unspoken, one UI senior always found the idea of it intriguing.
Haley Edwards arrived at the UI with doubts about making a field like politics her career. Within her first year, she declared a major in psychology, because she considered politics to be a “hobby” rather than a career.
In 2016, Edwards’ attitude toward her “hobby” changed once she had paid closer attention to the candidates — Edwards would caucus for the first time.
“When the Democratic candidates were all duking it out, I felt a connection because I had stakes in what they were talking about,” Edwards said. “This led me down a road to think, ‘Making political change seems so big, but very doable when you put the work into it and care.’ ”
I am a queer woman of color. I am a first-gen student. I am from a household of a single mother. But, there are bigger things than me that affect everyone else.
— Haley Edwards
Edwards changed her major to political science after the 2016 caucuses and began to pursue opportunities to get involved.
After Warren formally launched her White House bid on Feb. 19, 2019, Edwards would push for a spot on her team — receiving her ultimate position as a campaign intern. The position would ignite a fire for Edwards, as she began to knock doors and canvass on the UI campus.
“It’s so worth it,” Edwards said. “Regardless of whether you are working on a campaign, or even volunteering for one shift a week, it gives you so many opportunities.”
Some of Edwards’ busiest days involve a 6 a.m. wake-up time as she balances two jobs and a full-time course load, with what she said is a “work, class, work, class,” schedule, with no real free time in between. Yet, Edwards regrets none of her decisions.
“I can’t sit out,” Edwards said. “I am a queer woman of color. I am a first-gen student. I am from a household of a single mother. But, there are bigger things than me that affect everyone else.”