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Students observe caucus

Kate Gales | Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Notre Dame and Purdue students witnessed firsthand the Iowa caucus in which Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry finished first, with North Carolina Sen. John Edwards a close second and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in third.

Notre Dame senior Casey Fitzmaurice, along with 34 students from Notre Dame and Purdue, worked for Sen. Edwards, whose second-place finish surprised many political analysts. CNN.com called Edwards’ high voter numbers “surprising.”

“We knew when we came out here that organization was the most important thing about Iowa,” Fitzmaurice said. “But we didn’t really understand that until we were given the responsibility.”

Fitzmaurice said she believed that the door-to-door campaigning students did on Edwards’ behalf contributed to his finish with 32 percent of the vote. Kerry received 38 percent, Dean finished with 18 percent and former House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt totaled 11 percent.

“We covered four precincts, and our efforts meant that we won them,” Fitzmaurice said. “[We] knocked Dean out in our precincts, and that could have made a huge difference.”

Fitzmaurice said hundreds of students from Indiana, North Carolina, Georgia, Wisconsin, Arizona and California spent the weekend in Iowa working on the Edwards’ campaign.

“As soon as they hear Edwards’ message, they’re willing to drive out here and come out,” she said.

“Our group [from Indiana] got such a great response,” Fitzmaurice said. “We divided between Waterloo and Mason City, and each group was lucky enough to have Sen. Edwards for an event. We got to meet him, have pictures and support him in front of the Iowan voters … There were huge turnouts – people were overflowing into hallways.”

A political science major, Fitzmaurice enjoyed the hands-on campaign experience, which included calling committed voters to make sure they attended the caucus. One Edwards supporter had to be called four times after falling asleep and forgetting to attend.

“This is a completely unique way to elect a president,” Fitzmaurice said. “Now we have a better understanding of it … It’s a completely valuable experience.”

Casey Stanton, co-organizer of the trip, echoed Fitzmaurice’s enthusiasm.

“It only took two minutes in a room with [Edwards] while giving a speech to be completely won over,” said co-organizer Casey Stanton. “We think that’s how the rest of the country is going to feel.”

The students plan to continue working for Edwards in Indiana, raising the 4,500 signatures needed to put him on the ballot and working the primaries, most importantly in Michigan.