The Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service hosted a simulation of the upcoming Feb. 1 Iowa caucus that culminated with victories for Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Copley Formal Lounge on Wednesday.
The event, titled the “Iowa Mockus,” featured former Associated Press White House Correspondent Nedra Pickler moderating the discourse between IPPS fellow Patrick Dillon, the former Deputy Political Director for President Barack Obama, and Sara Fagen, the former White House Political Director for President George W. Bush.
The event began with opening remarks from IPPS Executive Director Mo Elleithee (SFS ’94) and Will Simons (COL ’16), a member of Dillon’s student strategy team. Fagen then opened by defending Iowa — a small agrarian state whose population is over 90 percent white — as the locale for one of the most pivotal events of the general election.
“As an Iowan, I am quite proud of the Iowa caucus and I think there is a robust defense of why Iowa goes first and why it should continue to go first,” Fagen said. “In Iowa, it is not unusual for candidates to do events that are with 10 to 15 people, which is unheard of in presidential politics, and sometimes gaffes occur and you really get the sense of how someone’s mettle is tested.”
The speakers then outlined the different structures of the primary elections for each party. Dillon described the chaos that occurs on the Democratic side due to the party’s minimum viability threshold of 15 percent. The threshold is the minimum number of caucus attendees required for a candidate to be registered as viable and to advance to the next convention. Depending on which candidates are able to meet the threshold, attendees realign themselves in support.
“This is the principle of the caucus: If we’re going to reward you with delegates and advance you to the next stage on the Democratic side, you can’t just show up. You need at least some of level of organizing to make sure you have a real presence in the room,”
Dillon said. “So hypothetically, if candidates A and B have enough people, and you’ve got a candidate C who doesn’t, there is a phase called realignment, which is essentially taking all the people who are not viable and throwing them to the wolves.”
According to Fagen, the process for selecting a Republican winner is less dramatic.
“We’re a little neater and tidier on the Republican side,” Fagen said. “You can just show up and you have to sit through the process of the election of the chair, and listen to the candidate representatives speak on behalf of their favorites, but then you can vote and leave. Only the true die-hard activists tend to stay for the party business, the election of the delegates and the discussion for any recommendations for the county platform. We, effectively, have more of a preference poll.”
Pickler highlighted the Iowa caucus’ failure to select the Republican candidate who eventually snagged the party nomination in the last two election cycles, which saw Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum clinch victories in 2008 and 2012, respectively.
“New Hampshire goes second, although they like to call themselves first because they are the first primary, but they like to say that ‘Iowa picks corn and New Hampshire picks presidents,’” Pickler said.
Fagen and Dillon also shared their predictions for the upcoming caucus and the implications of each candidate’s win. Dillon said that contrary to prevailing pundit opinion, he believes Clinton will edge over Sanders despite his recent surge in polls.
“Hillary has not taken anything for granted in Iowa and has taken a sort of serious precinct caucus operation since day one, and that sort of does matter at the end of the day,” Dillon said. “The Sanders campaign is trying to bottle some of the same magic that the Obama campaign did in 2008, but I think the difference was that the Obama campaign had some of the best organizers in a generation and I’m not sure that is the case with the Sanders campaign.”
Fagen predicted Ted Cruz (R-T.X.) would defeat Donald Trump, citing her belief that Trump’s supporters will be less inclined to take on the commitment of attending the caucus.
“While Trump has enormous support and enormous energy around his campaign, many of his people are new,” Fagen said. “Keep in mind, in a caucus, you have to come out on a cold night in January, go to a place you may or may not be familiar with, sit around in a room with a bunch of people you may or may not know and be willing to listen to people talk about their respective candidates.”
In the latter half of the event, Democratic- and Republican-affiliated students participated in their own caucus, arguing on behalf of their candidates to sway undecided voters. Clinton’s campaign boasted a sweeping 89 vote percent victory over Sanders’ 11 percent. Among Republican voters, the vote was more brokered: Marco Rubio earned 30 percent, John Kasich 20 percent and Jeb Bush 15 percent. Dillon and Fagen led each side and conducted the voting.
President and founder of Hoyas for Hillary Amanda Shepherd (SFS ’18) spoke on behalf of Clinton while Georgetown for Rubio Campaign Manage Hunter Estes (SFS ’19) spoke on behalf of Rubio.
Shepherd emphasized her excitement at having the chance to convince undecided students to vote for Clinton.
“I wanted to show how passionate I am about her, while also making it clear that she is the most knowledgeable and most qualified,” Shepherd said. “When the time came to sway some of the undecideds, I listened to their particular concerns. Georgetown students are very knowledgeable on the issues, so the questions were very substantive and I welcomed the opportunity to address their concerns.”
D.C. Students for Rubio board member Zach Hughbanks (COL ’18) said that although he is confident about Rubio’s prospects as the GOP nominee, he is skeptical that the results at the actual Iowa caucus will resemble those of the Georgetown Mockus.
“Obviously, the rhetoric here is different, the vocabulary is different, and so they touched on things like college affordability which I don’t think would be the same in a town hall in Iowa,” Hughbanks said. “But a lot of the effectiveness you can tell was just better orators, people who were very prepared in their speech.”
Elleithee, who previously attended the Iowa caucus as Clinton’s spokesperson during her 2008 campaign, said that the degree of energy present at the Mockus was comparable to the actual event.
“I just loved the passion in this room tonight,” Elleithee said. “The Georgetown students came to play, they came to win, they were fired up and I think they learned something in the process. I think a lot of students were very hazy on the whole viability thing on the Democratic side or the differences in the caucus between the two parties, so everyone got something out of it.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article indicated that Fagen was the former Deputy White House Political Director. She was the Political Director.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.