Greetings from Marshalltown

Where the campaigning was frenzied, the voters worried, and the outlook bleak

By contrast, the Dean rally the next day at Marshalltown Community College felt listless. The oft-repeated claim that the Dean campaign is attracting hordes of new voters didn't seem evident here. There were plenty of college kids on hand, the much-vaunted Deanie Babies wearing hunter-orange "Perfect Storm" knit caps. But then again, college kids are always attracted to upstart presidential campaigns.

The two rallies did have one thing in common: The majority of those in attendance weren't from Marshalltown. In large part, that reflects the real purpose of such events--which, beyond supplying the obligatory photo ops, includes whipping up the army of volunteer door-knockers who have come from other states to boost their candidate's chances. But the reliance on out-of-towners also demonstrated the larger quandary of the Democratic Party in communities like Marshalltown.

On a strictly demographic basis, Marshalltown ought to be a Democratic stronghold. It isn't, and one reason is the party's relative lack of success in appealing to natural constituencies. Consider the Latinos. In the last decade, the Latino population in Marshall County has grown tenfold. Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of talk of drawing Latinos into the caucuses. But the civic participation among Latinos in Iowa has yet to blossom; the state doesn't have a single Hispanic legislator, and voter participation among Latinos is notoriously low. Which may explain why the Latinos for Dean placard at the Marshalltown rally was passed around like a hot potato among various decidedly non-Latino rally-goers.

Her guy won: Betty Stotser, a book shop owner in Marshalltown, backed Kerry
Mike Mosedale
Her guy won: Betty Stotser, a book shop owner in Marshalltown, backed Kerry

Back at the Bookmark, Betty Stotser said she has yet to see a single Mexican person at any of the rallies or other political events she regularly attends. Maybe that will change as Marshalltown's newest citizens become more acculturated, she hypothesized. But meantime, more young people need to become involved for the Democrats to have a chance in the area. And that doesn't seem to be happening.

At the Diner, an inexpensive restaurant located just down Main Street from Stotser's store, the caucus season isn't the subject of much conversation. At first blush, Erin McBride--a 21-year-old single mom who works as a waitress there--would seem to be a good target voter for any Democratic candidate.

But to McBride, the campaign sounds like so much static. She chooses to tune it out. Like many younger voters, her apathy about politics seems attributable to a combination of willful ignorance and justifiable cynicism.

"It's just like wrestling. All the candidates are in training, just like the wrestlers. Some are short, some are tall, some have loud voices, some have annoying voices," she said. "But I really don't think it makes any difference who is president."

At that point, a much older waitress chimes in with her two cents on the campaign. "It's just a bunch of guys tooting their own horns."

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