Around 60 Georgetown University students, faculty and members of college political groups gathered for the Iowa caucus watch party in Old North hosted by the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service on Monday night.
The caucus culminated in a Republican Party victory for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-T.X.), whose 27.7 percent of delegate votes — corresponding to eight delegates — beat out Donald Trump, who received 24.4 percent of delegate votes, corresponding to seven delegates.
The Democrats saw a much closer match, as 99 percent of precincts reported Hillary Clinton as the winner as of 2:14 a.m. Tuesday morning, beating out Bernie Sanders (I-V.T.) with 49.9 percent of the delegate votes to Sanders’ 49.6 percent.
Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who received the support of less than 1 percent of caucus-goers, announced the suspension of his campaign in the midst of the caucus. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who received 1.8 percent of the vote and no delegates, also announced the suspension of his campaign.
Former Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and IPPS 2015 fall fellow Buffy Wicks, who also served as senior staff on President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, joined former Republican National Committee Political Director and Iowa Republican Party Executive Director Gentry Collins in answering questions from the audience while results from the Iowa caucus were projected on a screen in the room. The two drew on their personal experiences in past caucuses. Additionally, another screen was set up to allow Georgetown students currently in Iowa to Skype in to discuss the updates.
The event was co-hosted by the Georgetown Public Policy Student Association, the Georgetown Public Policy Review, the Georgetown University College Democrats and the Georgetown University College Republicans.
IPPS Executive Director Mo Elleithee (SFS ’94), who also served as communications director for the Democratic National Party and as senior spokesperson for Clinton’s 2008 campaign, opened the event by expressing excitement for the caucus itself and its ability to answer questions that the nation has wondered about for over a year.
He then introduced Wicks and Collins as veterans of the Iowa caucus to the audience.
“It is an exciting night for all who are even remotely interested in politics as we explore many of the questions that we have been asking for a year and a half — including ‘Can Donald Trump actually win anything?’” Elleithee said.
The Iowa Caucus differs from other state primaries. In each of Iowa’s 1,682 precincts, voters gather at a set location to cast their votes. Iowa then allocates delegates based on how Iowans cast their votes. Iowa is also known for the small size of its caucuses — certain precincts decide the winners by a coin toss when the race is tight.
Additionally, certain caucuses are held in voters’ homes.
The Republican and Democratic caucuses themselves differ in that Republicans indicate their preferences by a show of hands or by secret ballot. Democrats gather in “preference groups,” and at each location, each candidate must garner a certain amount of votes, which in most cases is 15 percent. If they do not receive that number, the members must realign with other candidates for a final vote.
Collins emphasized the historical successes of the Republican and Democratic Iowa caucuses in predicting how the national election will play out. Since 1972, the Iowa caucus has had a 42 percent success rate in predicting the Democratic nominee for president and a 50-percent success rate in predicting the Republican nominee.
“On both sides, Iowa has a long history of either picking the eventual nominee or, more often in the Republican case, winnowing out the field of candidates and providing more clarity for subsequent states about what the decision really is,” Collins said. “The winnowing process is the first major step on the road to the White House.”
Elleithee highlighted the importance of the Iowa caucus as not only the first major electoral event of the presidential nominating process but also as a means for candidates to gain attention and support from other voters.
“There’s two things at stake tonight,” Elleithee said. “There’s the number of delegates but there’s also the claim to momentum.”
The three speakers shared their thoughts as developments, such as O’Malley’s decision to suspend his campaign, were revealed. Collins commented that several O’Malley supporters decided to re-register as Republican voters in order to cast their votes for Republican candidates.
Wicks said in the panel discussion that the Iowa caucus is not so much about delegates, but about its psychological impact.
“The biggest thing about Iowa is just the expectations,” Wicks said. “I was at a precinct, Des Moines 46th, watching a campaign that I worked on for a year unravel in front of my eyes, watching my candidate [Howard Dean] lose, and it was really hard to watch because you literally are watching it as it’s happening. And I got back to the headquarters in Des Moines and was walking into the war room, and the campaign manager was almost in tears.”
Wicks expressed excitement about the success of the watch party, especially given that students stayed for the duration of the caucus.
“It’s great that there are so many students interested in this. Georgetown is a very active student body. I think it’s great that after three hours and no one’s leaving, in fact more people are coming,” Wicks said. “I think it’s great that the students are so politically minded, which gives me hope for the future.”
Collins agreed that the students contributed greatly to the success of the event, especially given that supporters of a variety of candidates made a showing.
“I enjoyed it enormously. First of all it was a really impressive turnout, even though we’re stuck here in a hot, crowded room students seem to be sticking with it mostly,” Collins said. “What’s really exciting to me is to see the range of support across both parties for a variety of candidates.”
Collins went on to express how impressed and excited he was by the commitment of the audience that attended the watch party.
“To see a group of young people this engaged across both parties and supporting a whole range of candidates taking it this seriously, showing a lot of commitment to be here — and not for credit by the way — is really impressive,” Collins said. “It’s exciting to be a part of it.”
D.C. Students for Rubio Board Member Zach Hughbanks (COL ’18) said the event was a success because of the variety of viewpoints represented by the attendants and the experience of the panelists.
“It’s great to get people who’ve actually been in the trenches and understand what’s going on to moderate,” Hughbanks said. “It’s great seeing all these people who are politically involved on Georgetown’s campus come together; seeing Hillary supporters here, Sanders supporters here and us [Rubio supporters] enjoying the event together.”
Hoya Staff Writers Ian Scoville and Syed Humza Moinuddin contributed reporting.