Thirteen political science students and two professors traveled in January to Des Moines, where they spent seven days participating and shadowing Republican presidential nominee hopefuls in advance of the state’s unique caucus process.
Iowa Republican nominating caucuses took place on Jan. 15, in which former President Donald Trump won with 51% of the votes. For more than half a century, the Iowa caucus — a series of party meetings that pitch presidential candidates and during which attendees cast their secret ballots — has been a key indicator for the presidential primaries.
The students are in Political Science Assistant Professor Jarred Cuellar’s special topics course, “Iowa: 2024 Nominations,” which is offered every four years to align with the U.S. presidential elections. The goal: Connect classroom concepts with real-world political processes that will determine the Republican presidential nominee who will face off against incumbent President Joe Biden on Nov. 5. (The Democratic party will begin its 2024 presidential primary in South Carolina on Feb. 3.)
The students were in Iowa from Jan. 2-9 and were accompanied by Cuellar and department chair Professor Mario Guerrero.
“For students, this entering the world of grassroots politics — they are future leaders,” Cuellar said. “For a lot of them, this is a chance to see the political process outside California. It wasn’t just getting an up-close look as an observer, but also knocking on doors. It’s part of the learn-by-doing that sets us apart. There’s no department I’ve seen like I have at Cal Poly Pomona where you get an excellent education in the classroom and amazing faculty that take you out there in person to put experience to the theories.”
While in Des Moines, students were required to volunteer for either the Get Out the Vote campaign or a candidate campaign. Their activities included:
- Door-to-door canvassing with former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and attending the first stop of his “Return to Normal” tour.
- Participating in a Q&A at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign stop followed by an exclusive CPP meet-and-greet.
- Attending a six-hour Donald Trump rally where students engaged with Trump caucus captains.
“I feel like I’ve learned a lot about the Republican side of things that I wouldn’t be able to experience from reading books or articles,” said Darani Sanchez Cervera, a political science junior. “It’s a different culture from what I’m used to here in California. In Iowa, people heavily believe in how the government should be run and by whom.”
She compared the bombastic tone of the rallies where “most candidates would say anything to make a headline and gain attention for the publicity that would attract new supporters” with the more personal interaction she had with Hutchinson as they canvassed a neighborhood.
“To their surprise, many were shocked by seeing a presidential candidate on their door and were very proud of it,” she said. “Although a few people didn’t bother or didn’t want to speak with us, the governor was polite and said, ‘Without rejection, you can’t start anywhere.’ That resonated with me because even though the whole [Cal Poly Pomona] group was filled with Democrats, he wasn’t scared to speak to us and allow us to volunteer in his campaign.”
Political science senior Yeltzin Rodriguez Luna enrolled in Cuellar’s class to see first-hand how presidential campaigns and the Iowa caucus work, and to meet candidates with different beliefs and perspectives.
As a DACA recipient, she aspires to be a campaign manager for presidential elections because “I believe it is important to try and have a president that can lead our country in a compassionate manner, keeping in mind all individuals who live and work here.”
For fellow political science senior Zé Manuel Ferreyra, meeting candidates and Iowa voters in person and participating in the political process brought the political process to life. “What surprised me about the trip and was something that I would have never experienced had I not gone, was the differences in geography, issues and demographics,” he said. “From farms and corn to the ‘get over it’ remarks from Trump following a school shooting in the state (and subsequent strong Second Amendment support amongst voters), and the higher white population as well as the much lower Latino population in the state and especially at the candidate rallies reminded me that Southern California is just a small part of the United States and that not everywhere is going to feel like home.”