If you want an up-close and personal view of Washington politics, try a seat in Iowa. And no, it's not just about then-Sen. Barack Obama’s multiple visits to Grinnell College during the last election cycle, or Vice President Joe Biden's campaign stop here on Tuesday.
“Iowa has become a battleground fixture in the presidential general election,” says Barbara Trish, associate professor of political science. “Layer that on the continued importance of the state in nomination politics, and it’s a given that there will be abundant opportunities for student political activity at Grinnell — activity that has a real impact.”
Iowa native Andrea Nemecek ’14, agrees. In Iowa, she says “you have a lot of opportunities to be front and center in the national political arena. Because of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses and role as a key swing state, we’re privileged to have the opportunity to see presidential candidates in very intimate settings and actually get to know them. This doesn’t happen in many other states. This is because politics are done differently in Iowa. In Iowa, politics is personal.”
Chicagoan Sam Mulopulos ’14, a leader in the Campus Conservatives group, says, “I’ve always been interested in politics. However, coming to Iowa with its ‘first in the nation’ status and significance to national politics has definitely made me more involved in local and national level campaigns.”
Mulopulos says his involvement with the Poweshiek County Republican Party — which is “filled with plenty of wonderful and interesting people” — led to interactions and campaign opportunities with national level campaigns. “For those students who want to take the initiative and get involved, there’s really no limit to what a student can do politically,” he says. It has also made him appreciate his vote more. "In Iowa, where things can really go both ways, I feel I have more relevance as a voter,” he explains.
Nemecek says, “A big part of the reason I chose to go to school in Iowa was so I could continue my political involvement. Since starting school at Grinnell, I’ve had a lot of great opportunities, such as being able to speak at an event with President Obama, being able to meet the president several times, and most recently, being able to attend the Democratic National Convention, where I was one of two people to announce Iowa’s votes for Barack Obama during the roll-call vote.”
No matter your political persuasion, says Mulopulos, “there's a plethora of opportunities for students to get involved. Especially during election season, candidates from both parties are constantly looking for people to canvass, knock on doors, hand out campaign literature, etc.”
Nemecek, co-chair of Campus Democrats, sees even more opportunities as the 2016 Iowa caucus approaches. “Candidates who are testing the waters for the 2016 presidential election have already started to visit Iowa and they will continue to do so more frequently. My advice to Grinnell students is to see as many candidates as possible and to really embrace Iowa’s unique political culture.”
Both Nemecek and Mulopulos encourage students to share their political viewpoints, and be respectful other others. “Our main goal is to make sure students vote and are engaged in the political process, regardless of their party affiliation. We really work hard to facilitate an open dialogue about politics,” Nemecek says. Her advice? “Do not be afraid to speak up, because diversity of thought makes Grinnell a better and more interesting place to go to school.”
Mulopulos knows it can be a challenge, but adds “students should not be afraid to be proud of their beliefs.” Students who believe in limited government and fiscal responsibility, he says, are “not any less ‘Grinnellian.’”
And what a great opportunity to be heard. As Trish explains, “It’s so rare in the United States for individuals to have this sort of close-up view and to have such a profound influence on national politics."