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On the Trail

Students study firsthand the uniqueness of Iowa presidential politics

Student Cassidy Precht with Amy Klubuchar

From The Ichabod - Spring 2020

Iowa commands months of attention in presidential politics every four years. Campaigns and dreams are born and die in this state as the two major political parties begin the process of choosing their nominee for the nation’s highest office. Washburn University students get a front-row seat.

Bob Beatty, chair and professor, political science, started teaching Iowa Caucus in 2003, a class offered every four years the fall before the January caucus. Students take multiple trips to Iowa to study their assigned candidate at events and attend multi-candidate gatherings.

Junior political science major Adam Young transferred to Washburn last fall and enrolled in the class after undergoing chemotherapy to treat stage 4 cancer. The chemotherapy and the year out of school that followed made Young physically and mentally unhealthy and brought depression and suicidal thoughts. He still had a chemotherapy port on his chest in Iowa, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren noticed it and took the opportunity to praise his resilience.

Student Adam Young with Elizabeth Warren“She understood I was a strong person because of what I had been through,” Young said. “That was definitely the highlight of my time in Iowa, that realization, whether they mean it or not – her interaction with me was very genuine – they have to play the part of being genuine, transparent and available to the people of Iowa.”

The experiences in Iowa came at time of immense healing and personal growth for Young.

“I was a new person when I came to Washburn,” he said. “I was introduced to all these people and opportunities and I decided to take full advantage of it. With a political science degree, I’m going to learn and grow in every aspect of life. People like Dr. Beatty are teaching me to relate to people better, to be more aware, how to run a successful presidential campaign. Anything and everything.”

Not every student taking the class has similar personal growth, but they do get unique experiences. In Beatty’s conversations with candidates, they have praised him for the class’ concept. Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, a 2012 Republican candidate for the nomination, told Beatty that, as a former professor, he loved the idea.

“Iowa allows the students to have this really intense experience and observe candidates very closely,” Beatty said. “I think the candidates like the idea of students studying what it takes to run for president and doing so in an experiential way.”

Iowa saw more than 20 Democrats last fall vying to face President Donald Trump in this November’s general election. In 2015, Trump and more than a dozen other Republicans campaigned in Iowa, along with a handful of Democrats.

Screenshot of an Instragram post showing students working out with Tulsi GabbardThis year’s class did not lack interesting experiences. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a major in the National Guard, invited two Washburn students to workout with her after she got to know them, and she shared the experience on her Instagram account. Sen. Cory Booker recorded a cell phone message for Beatty on a student’s phone.

“Cory Booker went out of his way to talk about the goals of the class, which is to get students beyond the media views and get into what it takes to run for president,” Beatty said. “He talked about that a little bit and he thanked me, which is very touching.”

Junior political science and religious studies double-major Cassidy Precht attended a Sen. Amy Klobuchar event that featured the music of a Prince impersonator. Young saw Julián Castro, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, enter an event with a mariachi band and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke pump up supporters by yelling and cursing in a style he isn’t afraid to publicly display. As Beatty intended, the students learned about running a presidential campaign, even among the craziness that is Iowa.

“I think Iowa can make or break a campaign,” Precht said. “I realized the importance of an organized team and a budget. If you run out of money, you’re in trouble on a campaign.”

The kerfuffle in January surrounding the delayed release of caucus results caused many to question if Iowa will continue being the first contest. Either way, Beatty said this year’s experiences and the class were the best he’s ever been a part of.

“The main takeaway is politics is accessible,” Beatty said. “Even the most famous candidate is not unreachable. He or she will talk to you and answer questions. And that's important because it tells the students if they want to be in the field, they can do it. These are human beings.”

The Ichabod Winter 2021 issue

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2021 winter edition online and look for it in mailboxes in January.

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