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Meet the biggest, little-known players from the Iowa caucuses

Written by The Anand Market

Updated on:

What sets Iowa’s caucuses apart from most other states’ primaries is persuasion: the idea that even if someone enters their voting site with a preferred candidate, they may still be willing to change your mind.

Although campaigning is generally prohibited at polling places in other states, in the gyms, auditoriums, churches and community centers where Iowans will gather Monday night, it is actively encouraged. And the people officially charged with doing it – precinct captains – are among the most important players in the caucuses. However, they are little known to outside observers.

The goal is to have a captain for each candidate, on each site. They try to personally persuade people before the debates begin, and then comes the central responsibility: a brief speech explaining why their neighbors should support their candidate.

Some are veteran operatives: one of Ron DeSantis’ captains is a former co-chair of the Iowa Republican Party, and one of Nikki Haley’s captains is a state senator.

But many are just ordinary Iowans who have decided to volunteer, often for the first time. Meet four of them:

Support Donald J. Trump in Des Moines

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“I was a little wary because, oh, wait a minute, this seems important and I should know what I’m doing,” Mary Doyle said of her role as huddle captain.Credit…Hilary Swift for the New York Times

When Mary Doyle, 69, attended a Trump rally last summer, she checked a box on a form saying she wanted to help the campaign. On Monday, she will be district captain – a position she was reluctant to accept.

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“I was a little wary because, oh, wait a minute, this seems big and I should know what I’m doing,” she said.

Ms Doyle, who works in data analytics, said she would prepare her speech carefully to stop herself from rambling. “My mind sometimes thinks faster than my words can come out,” she said.

In an interview on Saturday, she said she believed Mr. Trump was the only candidate capable of “getting this country back into shape” and, in the midst of international crises, “standing up and dictating to other countries what we go make “. TO DO.”

“I don’t want young children today to not be able to enjoy the country like I was able to enjoy it,” she said.

She said she “wouldn’t deny” that Mr. Trump had an ego. “But I saw something in him. I just feel something about him.

Supporting Nikki Haley in Hudson

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‘I’m going to emphasize character,’ John Weihs said he planned his speech in support of Nikki Haley.Credit…Hilary Swift for the New York Times

John Weihs is Nikki Haley’s only campaign captain at a site that hosts three-district caucuses. He will therefore have to deliver his speech three times, in three different rooms in the same school.

But he said he was ready. “I feel pretty good,” he said in an interview Saturday.

Mr. Weihs, 58, retired from John Deere, describes himself as a moderate conservative: He crossed the aisle to support Amy Klobuchar in the 2020 Democratic caucuses, but reluctantly voted for Mr. Trump in the general election.

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“I’m going to emphasize character,” he said of his speech.

He doesn’t intend to speak negatively about Mr. Trump, he said, “because I know it will turn people off, but I just want to compare the two by emphasizing his strengths . »

These assets? He listed “positive leadership, experience, intellect” and her belief that “she is open to feedback and discussion, but can also stand her ground and be persuasive, and reach agreements rather than to be in combat mode all the time.”

Support Ron DeSantis in Des Moines

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“I don’t want to be someone who sits on the sidelines and complains,” Lori Tiangco said.Credit…Hilary Swift for the New York Times

Lori Tiangco — who will be a precinct captain for Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida in another room at the same school where Ms. Doyle will be a captain for Mr. Trump — has volunteered for Republican candidates dating back to George W. Bush. In past caucuses, she has served as both captain (representing her preferred candidate) and chair (overseeing the entire proceedings).

“I don’t want to be someone who sits on the sidelines and complains,” said Ms. Tiangco, 56, a criminal background checker.

She said her speech would focus on the economy — her loved ones work two jobs to survive, she said, and she struggles to get diabetes test strips — as well as the safety of borders and his belief that the government is taking away Americans’ freedoms. , as with calls for gun restrictions.

She praised Mr. DeSantis’ military service and said she saw him as “defending the rights of parents,” regarding schools that mandate teachings about diversity, equity and inclusion in their programs.

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“I just feel like he’s the only candidate that gives us hope,” she said. “When he said he was going to do something, he did it.”

Supporting Vivek Ramaswamy in Sioux City

Joanne Keane doesn’t consider herself “a political person,” so she surprised herself when, at a rally in support of Vivek Ramaswamy, she raised her hand to volunteer.

Ms. Keane, 57, immigrated from Vietnam 34 years ago, after the country held her father prisoner for 10 years for helping the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.

She sees Mr. Ramaswamy as the candidate best able to preserve the promise of the United States as she has experienced it.

“I left behind my homeland, which is Vietnam, and America is the promised land,” she said, adding: “I want my children to see America as a promised land, and I want this promised land to last, to have a national nation. identify.”

She was attracted by Mr. Ramaswamy’s list of “10 truths”, including that “there are two genders”, “reverse racism is racism”, “an open border is not a border”, “capitalism lifts people out of poverty” and – most importantly , she said – “God is real.”

Being smart and wielding power is not enough, she said.

“You must have the virtue of humanity, of the human race,” she said.