Hopeful presidential candidates have gathered in Iowa to try to demonstrate themselves next Monday as viable for the Democratic party’s nomination. A new club of Knox students mobilized this week in support of their pick, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
Junior Matt Milewski, sophomores Poornima Tata and Patrick Mulchrone, organizers for ‘Students for Bernie Ñ an off-shoot of the Knox Young Democratic Socialists of America chapter Ñ hosted collective phone bank sessions on Monday and Wednesday in Taylor and Ferris Lounge. The students worked from a list of over 1,000 Iowa phone numbers provided to them by the official Sanders campaign.
“When you knock on a door or call on the phone, you have to make a series of asks on people. The first one is of course, ‘Do you support Senator Sanders?’ If they support Senator Sanders, or if they are a ‘lean Sanders’, we would ask them if they would commit to caucus,” said Milewski.
Rather than use ballot boxes, on Feb. 3, Iowans will meet in over 1,000 precinct caucus locations around the state and sort themselves into physical groups. If a candidate’s group does not meet 15 percent of the amount of votes at the caucus site, that candidate is deemed unviable.
The caucus serves as Iowa’s primary for the general election in November. It is the first primary in the country, giving it symbolic and political importance for the candidates.
“Iowa is a really strange political animal in this primary season because you don’t show up to a polling booth. The way I like to phrase it is you go to an elementary school auditorium and you stand for your candidate and then you do a headcount,” said Mulchrone.
Caucus-goers can debate with members of the opposite candidate groups to try to sway votes. For this reason, the Knox students sought not only to identify pro-Bernie Iowans interested in caucus, but also those interested in adopting leadership roles at caucus.
“In 2016 I think we (the Bernie campaign) lost under half a percentage point in Iowa and several of those caucuses were decided by a coin flip.We want to have the strongest precinct captains, strongest whips that keep people together,” Mulchrone said. “I think the average Bernie supporter is far more enthusiastic, far more committed to the campaign.”
Tata said the club called over 900 phone numbers recently over a two-day span and that they have made a series of weekend trips to Iowa to canvass in person. Senior Franzi Hofhansel, the only other student who appeared at the events this week besides the organizers, volunteered for the phone bank on Monday for her first time.
“I just know the caucuses are coming up and I just want to try and do my part I guess. I know Iowa, for Bernie obviously, was lost by a very small amount so I feel like small stuff can make a difference,” Holfhansel said.
Mulchrone instructed Hofhansel that she could ask the call-receivers what issues in their community they were troubled by, or tell a personal story which connected to the Vermont Senator’s policies. Other tips were not to pass judgement on any of the receiver’s answers, not to be afraid of silence and to simply close the conversation if the receiver remains unconvinced.
“There’s a script and you can always fall back on the script. I often change (it)because I feel like people know you’re talking from (one),” Mulchrone said.
Mulchrone said the club is using their support for the Iowa caucuses as a way to train students for the future of the Bernie campaign.
As of Monday, Milewski said the club had 85 people on their distlist and 20-30 on the campaign’s official cellphone app. Working off data provided to them by the the National Students for Bernie Initiative, Milewski said ‘Students for Bernie’ is pursuing a strategy to create a network of college students who can each convince 10 of their peers to vote for Bernie.
“So the math is 19 million college students were eligible to vote, 6 million of them, if the polls are correct, support Bernie. That’s twice as many as he lost the entire Democratic primary by last time,” Milewski said. “So the logic being there, if we can animate enough college students to vote for Bernie, and to also organize for him more importantly, (the) college student vote can swing the primary.”