Forty-eight more hours and this story continues to grow. First a summary of where we've been for those just coming to this. If you've been following along all week, you can skip down to the next section.
On November 30th, Iowa columnist David Yepsen published a blog called "The Illinois Caucus," decrying the Obama campaigns attempt to organize Iowa students originally from out of state to participate in the caucus. This was very quickly followed by statements from the Clinton and Dodd campaigns, also attacking Obama and/or casting doubt on the legitimacy of student participation. After some pushback from bloggers and youth organizers, Clinton and Dodd issued retractions of their statements, while Yepsen kept hammering away on the issue. In general, there was dissatisfaction with those retractions, which many organizers felt did not go far enough. This was confirmed when Bill Clinton made some ambiguous statements about student participation on the stump, deploying an extra-legal standard by asking students to "vote their conscience" and only participate if they felt Iowa was their true home. Coverage in the blogs heated up with front-page posts on both Open Left and Daily Kos. At the same time, Richardson and Biden both issued statements questioning the voting rights of students with dishonest arguments equating students with out-of-state campaign staffers.
Next, reaction from the mainstream media and youth organizations started to kick in. First the Young Democrats and Rock the Vote issued statements on the matter, and then the Iowa Student PIRG weighed-in, with over 20 student leaders backing a statement affirming the rights of students to caucus. As those statements came out, the issue started to appear in the mainstream media, particularly in the New York Post, Salon.com, Newsweek, The Politico, and Time. Mostly these stories pushed back against Yepsen, though a few like that in Time and the New York Post took Yepsen's frame. As these stories began trickling out, the Clinton and Dodd campaign issued new statements clarifying their position, again in support of student caucusing.
Which brings us to the last two days.
Yesterday youth groups kicked it up a notch. The Young Democrats took the fight to Yepsen, buying a full-page ad in his paper the Des Moines Register, as well as taking out an ad-buy on Facebook targeted at Iowa students. The Young Democrats have also created a website, www.youcancaucus.com, for students confused about the issue, and have already sent out emails to their entire list on the issue.
The Young Voter PAC has taken a two-pronged approach to the issue. They've had a FaceBook group up and running for days, and are currently raising money to help students who want to return to caucus find travel and find lodging (throw them $20 if you can spare it). The group has also been working behind the scenes to get the caniddates to clarify/retract their statements. Young Voter PAC released a press release late last night reporting on those efforts. Out of all the credible candidates (or those who have made previous statements on this issue), only Joe Biden has yet to declare support for student voting rights:
Hillary Clinton: "Hillary wants every student who lives in Iowa and wants to caucus in Iowa and is eligible to caucus in Iowa to do so. We hope that they will and we hope that they will caucus for Hillary. The Iowa caucus is special because it is based on Iowa values. We hope and trust that every campaign is making sure that potential caucus goers have all the information they need, and in no way explicitly or implicitly encourages anyone to break the law by participating in two places. Not only is it okay to engage students in Iowa, but it is critical to ensure that they are active participants in the process, and we are doing everything we can to get them out to caucus." -Howard Wolfson, Communications Director
Chris Dodd: "Clearly students who are eligible can vote under the law and of course we welcome the participation of Iowa students in the caucuses" - Hari Sevugan, Communications Director
John Edwards: "The Democratic Party has set clear rules on who can caucus and all the campaigns should follow those rules. Students who move here for college and are properly registered have always been able to caucus." - Dan Leistikow, Iowa Communications Director
Barack Obama: "Barack Obama doesn't believe that we should disenfranchise Iowans who meet all the requirements for caucus participation simply because they're in college. We should be encouraging young people to participate in the political process -- not looking for ways to shut them out." - Jen Psaki, Campaign Spokeswoman
Bill Richardson: "Governor Bill Richardson looks forward to students caucusing for him on January 3rd. He believes that the caucus process is an excellent opportunity for young voters, and he encourages all students who are eligible to participate and experience the excitement of the first-in-the-nation caucus." - Roberts Becker, Iowa State Director
We've also seen more media coverage. I had previously thought that the media coverage on this might have peaked, but today the New York Times published an excellent editorial that came out strong for college students.
Student are rightly up in arms about these statements. The law in Iowa is crystal clear: students who attend school in the state are entitled to register to vote in the state as long they are not registered anywhere else. The two parties' rules say registered voters may participate in caucuses in the precincts where they are registered. Students have the same right to do so as any other Iowan. But statements challenging their right to vote may intimidate some students into staying home.
Hammered by student groups, the candidates have reframed their statements. But the episode has left a bad taste in the mouths of many students and of the groups that have been working feverishly to bring more of them into the electoral process. Anything that undermines student voting is bad for politics and bad for the nation.
While I agree that this really has left a bad taste in the mouths of youth organizers, I've also been incredibly heartened by this event. Over the past two weeks, we've seen a number of things. We've seen progressive bloggers and youth organizers working together on an issue - something that rarely happens. We've seen youth organizations really coalesce around an issue and support each other. The result is that what would normally have been a blip on the media radar - a few panders to Iowa nativists at the expense of students - has blown up into a national issue in the paper of record. Not only that, but we won on the issue. Big time. Every campaign except for Biden retracted their comments, and the Edwards campaign - which was totally above this fray - weighed in as well.
The other reason I'm heartened is that this issue - while we've won it now, and it's something of a shame that we had to fight it within our own party - is going to resurface. As I've noted before, this is typically a Republican tactic, and they are sure to use it come the fall. In swing states across the country (including Iowa), Republicans are not going to want students to register and vote where they attend school. They'll talk about "taxpaying citizens" and legal residency requirements, in-state vs. out-of-state tuition, and we'll have to fight this battle all over again, just as we did in 2004. This was practice for that battle, and we've already laid the groundwork to get the media and the state parties on our side in this battle. We've slapped down all those arguments (even though the Supreme Court had already done so in 1979) and preemptively reframed this as a voting rights issue. That will be useful in the general election. Really, kudos all around on this one to everyone who contributed and continues to contribute.