Des Moines, IA -- While most college professors are enjoying their respective winter breaks this time of year, University of Iowa Political Science professor Tim Hagle is working long hours and logging significant mileage in the lead-up to Tuesday's Iowa Caucus. As both a professor and the faculty advisor for the College Republicans on campus, Hagle has been a keen observer of this year's caucus season, providing unique perspective on what does and doesn't work for candidates hoping to attract enough voters to be successful in Iowa.
"In terms of the way campaigns work, you always have to take advantage of new ways of reaching voters, particularly younger voters, but you can't abandon the old way," said Hagle, speaking by phone from Iowa City before departing for Des Moines on Monday morning.
"That phone call or face-to-face meeting where you can look a candidate in the eye, shake their hand, and tell them where you stand, is still important to the Iowa voter," said Hagle. "Campaigns, meanwhile, need to realize that there are always new ways of reaching out to people so it's really an ever expanding series of opportunities."
Retail politics can come in many forms, but most pundits and candidates agree that Iowa is the standard bearer. The lifespan of this political practice is debatable.
In comparison to past election cycles, Hagle, who has been at University of Iowa for 20 years, said Republican campaigns got a later start in the state this year and, thus, are less organized, particularly in terms of student mobilization efforts. The one exception, said Hagle, may be 2008 contender Ron Paul, who enjoys above average name recognition among young voters and has effectively emphasized a "youth vote," on Iowa campuses.
"Even though certain candidates were coming into Iowa regularly, they hadn't declared and didn't have their campaign operations up and running by the spring semester, so as a result of that we didn't see students get organized over the summer like we've have in the past," he said. "When the fall semester hit, the campaigns were already behind the curve."
The January 3 Iowa Caucus date also may have hurt candidates' ability to mobilize students , he said, because most of them go home for the holidays and don't return until the second or third week of January.
Another difference from years past is Hagle's own decision to not publicly state his candidate preference. While he confessed that he is still "undecided," surprisingly, his decision to keep his choice quiet is said to be largely because he's been speaking to the media much more this time around.
The self-described "Twitter addict," who said he is teased by students about not having a Facebook account, recently surpassed 1100 tweets and has over 300 people following his feed. He said he enjoys the ability to follow reporters and favorite columnists more easily, without having to spend time searching for their stories.
"But I probably waste as much time on Twitter as I did looking for stories on news sites," he joked.
Meanwhile, unwilling to lump himself into a specific class of undecided voters, he shared his opinion of what is conceivably going on in the minds of the fluctuating number of remaining uncommitted Iowa Republican caucus goers headed to the polls Tuesday.
"When you see these reports that show 40% of Iowans are undecided, or whatever number they're throwing around the last day or so, it's not quite that folks are undecided, or persuadable," he said. "It's usually when they have eliminated a couple of the alternatives that they then begin to talk to their neighbors, they listen to a few more of the speeches, and then they'll cast their ballots accordingly," he explained.
Hagle's caucus location is at a local elementary school in Iowa City. In 2000, he played a leadership role as a Precinct Chair for President George W. Bush. Later, he became a member of the Republican Party's Central Committee in Johnson County where he served as a temporary Caucus Chair. This Tuesday, in addition to participating in the caucus, he expects to be doing a lot of media and will be participating in a live on-air segment for Iowa Public Radio.
Undecided or not, he joins other Republican observers who dismiss the suggestion of this being a "weak field" simply because party leaders haven't chosen to rally behind any one particular candidate.
"One of the main things Republicans are looking for is someone that can beat President Obama," he said. "Republicans don't like his policies, they don't think he is doing a good job, but it's very difficult to beat an incumbent so they're very concerned about not making mistakes."
Hagle said shifting polls numbers, mild controversies, as well as the rise and fall of contenders such as Herman Cain is typical of any presidential race.
"They (voters) have taken a hard look, especially here in Iowa," he said. "But every candidate is going to have some drawbacks of one sort or another. There seems to be a mentality of looking for the perfect candidate, but the perfect candidate doesn't exist, and I think that is why you're seeing an emphasis on the weaknesses of a candidate. But there are some very good candidates in the field."
Recalling a crowded and at times very contentious Democratic field in 1992, Hagle noted, "Those Democrats were being derisively characterized as the 'seven dwarfs' and seen as not having the stature to take on then President George H.W. Bush."
Twenty years removed from President Clinton's victory over Bush, Hagle suggested that Republicans would likely rather have Clinton back in office, as opposed to President Obama, "because he was able to work with Republicans." Former House Speaker and Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has also made this assertion.
"But you never know what you're going to get," Hagle said. "There are a lot of outside factors. Twenty years later, the economy again is going to be critical in this election."
Michael J. Hunt, @MJH510, is a political observer, trained in Oakland, based in the Heartland. If you would like to contribute as a citizen journalist to The Huffington Post's coverage of the 2012 elections, please contact us at www. offthebus.org