Des Moines, IA - The expression, "As Iowa goes, so goes the nation," has been put to the test this Republican primary season. With Florida and South Carolina each moving their primaries up, and New Hampshire yet to decide on a date for their traditionally early season contest, the Iowa Republican party leadership worked overtime to ensure the state maintained its first-in-the-nation status. Meanwhile, on the campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Natalie Ginty is heading up a political ground game urging fellow students to join the effort to unseat President Obama in 2012.
Speaking by phone from Iowa City, the Chair of the Iowa Federation of College Republicans (IFCR) discussed the role of political parties on college campuses, the field of candidates seeking the Republican nomination, and offered a tip to any Republican who is listening: a strong Republican candidate with a strategy to curb unemployment could sway many of the same people who voted for Barack Obama last time around.
"All those students who were sold on hope and change back in 2008 are now looking toward graduation and the likelihood of not having a job after college," said the Iowa City native.
"People aren't likely to be as sold on him (President Obama) this time."
With thousands of members spread across 17 chapters statewide, the IFCR serves as an effective mobilization force. Taking their cues primarily from the State Central Committee, the group provides grassroots support to advance Republican causes and candidates and has produced noteworthy leaders over the years. Current Iowa Governor Terry Branstad once served as a chapter chair at the University of Iowa, and on a national level, Karl Rove was once the chairman of the College Republican National Committee.
Ginty said she personally is still undecided about whom she will vote for in the upcoming caucuses and seems equally unsure about who will ultimately get the party's nomination.
"I think it's up in the air, at this point," said the 21-year-old biochemistry major, who caucused for Mitt Romney in 2008.
"Governor Perry and Governor Romney seem to be leading at this point but whoever it is will be a good option and will have the full support of the party."
While asserting that college Republicans today are likely less conservative on social issues than their parents or even college Republican predecessors, Ginty said the current crop of students' strong stance on economic issues more than makes up for it. In September, Alex Schriver, the Chairman of the College Republican National Committee, penned the economy focused editorial titled, "Obama has let my generation down," in which the author complains that President Obama "has buried millennials beneath a mountain of debt."
Ginty, meanwhile, noted that that her own UI chapter will be heading to the state's 18th Senate District over the next few weeks to canvass in support of Republican candidate Cindy Golding, in advance of the a November 8 Special Election. In September, Democratic Senator Swati Dandekar resigned her Senate seat, opening the door to what most expect to be a well-funded and contentious district race.
A Republican win in this district will tie the Senate at 25-25, ending a Democrat majority in Iowa, and creating the possibilty that a Republican led marriage ban will pass a vote in the Senate. According to the website of One Iowa, the state's largest LGBT advocacy organization, Golding supports putting the existing marriage law up for statewide popular vote. Her opponent, Democrat Liz Mathis, has said that she supports the 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision that ruled in favor of marriage equality for gay and lesbian Iowans.
In the presidential race, social conservatives, particularly in Iowa, remain divided among several candidates.
"Our club is really varied in terms of the personal positions of our members," said Ginty. "We have people who support Ron Paul, the Tea Party, as well as people who would like to have seen a candidate like (Mike) Huckabee run," referring to the former Governor of Arkansas, and winner of the 2008 Iowa Caucus.
Ginty disputed the suggestion that there is a pecking order in the Republican Party which favors candidates with strong name recognition amongst conservative insiders and lengthy government resumes.
"I don't think so," Ginty replied, pointing out that the Republican field includes a woman (Rep. Michele Bachmann), an African-American (businessman Herman Cain), and an openly gay candidate (political consultant Fred Karger).
Ginty, who attended the Iowa Straw Poll this summer, confessed to suffering from a case of debate fatigue and said the frequency of primary season debates might be preventing candidates from developing a clear campaign platform or a strategic plan to turn the country around.
"I'm happy that the group is pretty well established, now that Perry has gotten a few opportunities to participate," she said. "But at a certain point, it just gets a little repetitive."
Responding to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's announcement that he would not seek the Republican nomination, Ginty blamed the media for "stringing the story along," after he consistently said he had no intention to run. One week after making headlines for his first announcement, he made another, announcing his decision to endorse former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
"I would've loved to have seen Christie run," she said. "But I can respect a governor with just two or three years' worth of experience admitting that he's not ready,"
Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's recent announcement that she too would stay out of the fray didn't suprise her.
"She's a capitalist," Ginty declared. "She's making a lot of money right now, reaching a lot of people with her particular message," referring to the revenue generated by the former Alaska governor's extensive schedule of speaking engagements and her previous work as a contributing pundit for Fox News.
"It's clearly not as influential as being president, but there is still a lot of influence there."
Commenting on others candidates in the race, she described former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as the "ideas man of the party," even describing his campaign as the "most professional and organized" of the entire field.
Ginty may find more than a few dissenters on that one. The overhauled Gingrich campaign, which has seen a slight jump in the polls this fall, was in disarray as recently as June following a mass exodus of senior staff, and still finds itself far behind in terms of fundraising.
"I agree with his stance that we need to cut spending and focus on raising revenue," she said. "The more jobs we can create, the more income tax we'll generate."
But Ginty, like Gingrich, is no stranger to playing the role of contrarian. Last spring, she appeared on two Fox News programs hosted by Greta Van Susteren and Glenn Beck after a political firestorm erupted on campus during a College Republicans-organized event known as "Conservative Coming Out Week."
The week-long event encouraging students to feel comfortable expressing their political views publicly included a "Red vs. Blue" kick ball game (cancelled by the College Democrats) and a "Red vs Blue" blood drive co-sponsored by the College Democrats There was a screening of the film "Journeys with George," as well as an "Animal Rights barbecue," and another event which, according to the invitation, urged students to "pick up a doctor's note to miss class for [being] 'sick of stress', just like the Wisconsin public employees during the union protests."
As was reported last spring in various media outlets, the initial, university approved "coming out" invitation which was sent to all university email accounts prompted a vulgar response from University of Iowa Anthropology and Gender Studies Professor Ellen Lewin.
Lewin's three word reply which read, "F--- YOU, REPUBLICANS," provoked a "campus-wide debate on civil discourse," according to Des Moines Register reporter Jens Krogstad.
Professor Lewin later explained that her email was a product of "inflamed political passions", particularly because of the organizer's use of a term closely associated with gay people who acknowledge their sexuality to family and friends.
"The goal of 'Conservative Coming Out Week' was for Republicans to be honest with their community to who they are: Republicans," wrote Ginty in an April 23 letter published on Federation's website. "I believe we accomplished that."
Amidst the controversy, the UI College Democrats elected to take a neutral position on the week's itinerary of events.
Nate Fiala, the President of the UI Democrats, said the College Republican's "coming out" campaign rhetoric was offensive to some members of the Iowa City community, but maintains that he and Ginty share a good relationship and commonly will contact one another about issues and ways to encourage informative bipartisan discourse and inter-party cooperation on campus.
This fall, the Daily Iowan agreed to run a twice-monthly University of Iowa Democrat/Republican exchange in which both sides will answer one prompt. Round one of the series focused on jobs. The Republican plan ran on September 8. A day later, the Democrats presented their response.
"We have a great relationship," Fiala said, agreeing that he and his campus counterpart share a healthier relationship than President Obama and House Speaker Boehner.
Fiala, on the other hand, does not share Ginty's belief that Republicans will eventually identify a candidate who can beat President Obama in the general election.
"We have already tapped into the grassroots campaign style that worked in 2008," said Fiala.
"We've also established a fact sheet the lays out very clearly to voters what the President has accomplished, and the ways in which he has helped students, their families, and friends."
In addition to noting what he considers to be the president's accomplishments, which included the health care reform law, the stimulus package, and the recently signed the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (DADT) Repeal Bill, Fiala said the major hurdle Republicans face is not with Obama but, instead, within their own party.
"The Republicans have two leading candidates who each have significant electability problems," Fiala said of Mitt Romney and Governor Perry.
"Romney is feared by Republicans, and Perry is feared by Americans."
Iowa Republican leaders have tentatively agreed to hold the Iowa Caucus on January 3.
Michael J. Hunt is a citizen journalist reporting from Iowa. If you would like to contribute coverage of the 2012 election season for the Huffington Post's Off the Bus platform, please sign up at www.offthebus.org.