Friends Johnathan Langenberg and Thomas Frieden, both 18-year-old University of Northern Iowa freshmen, were glad they stayed around their hometown of Fairfax to participate in their first Iowa caucus.
“It was great,” Langenberg said after the crisply-run GOP meeting at the Guaranty Bank Fairfax community room. “It’s fun to see this large a turnout for this event, to see how we can influence the national race.”
Langenberg’s choice, Mitt Romney, barely outpolled Frieden’s, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, 43-42, but the friends were happy with the night’s result.
“I hadn’t decided until last night,” said Langenberg. “I was strongly on the side of Ron Paul.”
“It was between Paul and Romney,” agreed Frieden. “It was just a gut feeling.”
Trailing Romney and Paul were Newt Gingrich (34 votes), Rick Santorum (32), Rick Perry (14), and Michele Bachmann (13). Tuesday night’s 178-participant turnout was a 15.5 percent increase over 2008, when Romney was outpolled 40-38 by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Several would-be voters were locked out, according to party rules, when precinct chairwoman Dawn Brown closed the front doors promptly at 7 p.m. Brown allowed surrogate speakers two minutes to make their candidates’ cases. Speakers quickly made their pitches for Santorum, Bachmann, Perry, Paul, Gingrich, and Romney, and the votes were collected by 7:35.
“In ’08 we were out of here in 45 minutes,” Brown said. “I aim to beat our goal this year – I’m a huge Virginia Tech fan.”
Virginia Tech met Michigan in Tuesday night’s Sugar Bowl, kicking off simultaneously with the caucuses.
Like Langenberg and Frieden, Fred Wood came to the caucus with two candidates in mind.
“We’re going to see what they have to say about them,” said Wood, 66. “It’s so hard. I’m just asking the Lord to tell me who to vote for.”
The choice came down to Paul or Perry for Wood, who’d caucused before but not lately.
“It’s been 10, 15 years since I’ve been,” he said. “ At this time in history I sure don’t want Obama any more. I’m sure Mr. Obama’s all right, but he’s not good for the country.”
Frieden said he was undecided “until I walked in the door. All day I was on the computer, researching the candidates.”
For Langenberg, it came down to “electability.”
“I just felt Mitt by far has the best chance to win,” he said. “We need real change, and we need the best shot.”
Still, “Paul’s plans for economic policy is by far stronger than any other candidate’s,” according to Langenberg, and the two friends hope Paul can influence the process in New Hampshire and beyond.
“Paul was my guy, but I really see Mitt Romney getting a better chance at the nomination,” said Frieden, adding he’d be “ecstatic” at a Romney-Paul ticket.