LESTER, Iowa — The focal point for Ross Mogler’s living room isn’t a big-screen television. It’s a fireplace that cracks on nights like this, keeping the bachelor toasty.
Mogler, 21, bought this house last April Fools Day. He doesn’t own a TV. He reads the Sioux City Journal, the Wall Street Journal and Forbes Magazine.
“No time to watch TV,” he says. “I’m always working on the farm.”
The young Republican listens to talk radio, the usual suspects: Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh. “Sometimes I have to turn Beck and Rush off,” he admits.
He also reads, reads, reads when it comes to the economy, immigration, health care and national security.
Mogler plans to host a GOP Caucus at his home when the Iowa Caucuses unfold a year from today. As a West Lyon High School senior, he sat in this living room during the last caucus, debating the merits of candidates Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.
“Huckabee won out,” Mogler says. “The debate went on for so long that when we finally called in results from our site, Huckabee had already been declared the winner in Iowa.”
Time was, having an Iowa Caucus in a living room was as common as a U.S. flag lapel pin. There were lots of Iowans who, by virtue of the state’s “First in the Nation” caucus status, wouldn’t consider voting for a candidate until he or she sat down for a living room chat.
Former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter put those living rooms to work in 1975, rising from obscurity as a peanut farmer to the Oval Office with his 1976 election. The Iowa Caucuses served as his national launch even though he finished 10 points behind “uncommitted” on the Democratic side. Birch Bayh was third. You all remember Birch.
Since those early days, most caucuses have moved to schools and community centers to accommodate crowds and the bright lights and Blackberrys of CNN, CSPAN, Fox News, The New York Times and more. Chatting among friends has given way to scripts, sound bytes and well-oiled (and funded) marketing teams.
The run-up starts more than a year in advance as candidates test political waters. Sarah Palin wasn’t just signing books in Sioux City and Spirit Lake last year.
And while today’s Caucuses have a corporate feel, there remain pockets where folks bake brownies and invite fellow voters to line up for their candidate.
There were four such Lyon County residences on the Democratic side three years ago. Just one Republican residence. This was it.
Rich and Reba Crawford owned the home and its adjacent Horse Motel business at the time. It was old hat for the Crawfords, whose GOP Caucus hospitality dates back to their time in Alta, Iowa, two decades ago.
They moved to Colorado Springs, Colo., in 2010 to be close to their children. “I was very disappointed to learn Colorado doesn’t have a caucus,” Reba Crawford says. “I loved getting our house and food ready.”
She’s excited their home’s new owner intends to keep their caucus spirit alive.
Mogler met Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann Romney, when she stopped here to campaign in the 2008 election cycle. He followed Romney after that point, and was set to caucus for the former Massachusetts governor when Scott Metzger of Lester brought up healthcare in Massachusetts.
“Scott Metzger talked about how Mitt had been part of socialized healthcare in Massachusetts,” Mogler says. “I think the free market is the way to go.”
And so Mogler went for Huckabee.
In a way, that’s how the process works. The very word “caucus” is said to be an Algonquin Indian label for “elder.”
While Huckabee didn’t earn the GOP nomination (it went to Sen. John McCain of Arizona), Mogler was sold on the process. He’ll participate at home when it plays out 365 days from now.
“We have to get the deficit under control,” says Mogler, who feeds hogs and cattle while growing corn and soybeans with his family. “We also need immigration reform. We’re in the heart of the Midwest and we’re worried about people coming over the border.”
As it was in January 2008, this living room will feature robust discussion about healthcare.
“I don’t like the way things are going,” Mogler says, shaking his head.
His fireplace, rest assured, won’t be the only thing roaring one year from tonight.
By Tim Gallagher, Sioux City Journal