Spencer Short — Staff Writer
On Thursday, January 16, the Prairie Winds Event Center in Orange City was packed with campaign staff, potential voters, press, and a small police presence as South Bend, Indiana mayor and Democratic Presidential Nominee Pete Buttigieg arrived on scene. Buttigieg’s town hall event was an attempt to sway the voters of northwest Iowa to his side. However, considering this region’s notorious conservative reputation, this is a tall order.
With the Iowa Caucus coming up fast, happening on February 3rd, Democratic candidates are in the home stretch. Buttigieg, currently sitting at a far 4th place in recent RealClear polls, winning Iowa is almost certainly the mayor’s last chance to be able to qualify for a shot at becoming the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nominee.
Starting off the afternoon being introduced by various local residents, Buttigieg began his speech with full force, getting straight into the anti-Trump rhetoric and common Democratic talking points, such as promised actions on climate change, gun-control legislation, tax increases on wealthier citizens, along with protections for the rights of LGBTQ+ persons, a topic that is very close the mayor, as he himself is a married, gay man.
The topic of faith was also a centerpiece of Buttigieg’s event, with him sharing his personal faith, and how he believes every person equally reserves the right to practice their faith as they see fit. He also lamented the ‘religious monopoly the Republican Party’ has, saying, “God does not belong to a political party of the United States of America.”
Scott Culpepper, a Dordt history professor who makes it his goal to attend as many local town halls as possible, regardless of political affiliation, was impressed by Buttigieg’s willingness to discuss faith, especially in an area where many of its residents are so devout.
“I feel that [Buttigieg] was able to articulate progressive Christianity very well,” Culpepper said, “Seeing other Democratic candidates speak against faith so often causes a lot of fear for Christians, and I really do think Buttigieg is sincere about what he believes.”
During the question-and-answer portion of the town hall, although short, attendees voiced their concerns about the future of the nation, and what Buttigieg planned to do about them, if elected. Each question was original, some having to do with Buttigieg’s personal experience with the military, as he served for seven months in Afghanistan.
When asked if he felt that “the United States is ready for a gay president,” Buttigieg said he won mayoral re-election with 80% of the vote in Indiana, where Mike Pence, the current Vice President and outspoken LGBTQ+ critic, was the serving Governor at the time.
“If that can happen in Mike Pence’s Indiana,” said Buttigieg, “then that shows that Americans will ultimately judge you on the results you have to offer.”
In retrospect, Culpepper felt that Buttigieg “had good engagement” throughout the town hall, and that “the very fact [he] made an appearance in Iowa definitely changes the voting dynamic.”
But with so many people nowadays voting less and less often, with the United States listed as having one of the smallest voter turnout percentages of First-World Nations, according to Pew Research Center, do events like the Caucus and other activities even matter? Culpepper seems to believe so.
“Students here have such a unique opportunity, especially here at Dordt… since Iowa is the first Caucus in the nation,” said Culpepper, “it gives a good sense of what the voters are thinking. I’d recommend getting involved, no matter who you support. Get to know the policy issues you care about and go take advantage of [your unique position.]”