By Matt Kittle, IowaPolitics.com
DUBUQUE, IOWA — Just off the first exit of the U.S. 151 Bridge that connects
Wisconsin and Iowa, just inside the limits of Iowa’s oldest city, it was
business as usual early Tuesday afternoon at Mystique Casino.
Hundreds of gamblers at scores of slot machines were trying their luck.
The casino’s next door restaurant neighbor, Houlihan’s, was mostly quiet — a few
stragglers or late arrivals from the afternoon lunch crowd and, perhaps
surprisingly, very little talk of politics.
It seemed like just another day on Dubuque’s former City Island, but today the
eyes of the nation, the world, were affixed on this city of about 60,000
residents and its state of just more than 3 million — a state that has a
significant say in the dialogue of American democracy.
“I guess it goes back to its normal self” on Wednesday, said Jason Ehlers,
Houlihan’s manager, reflecting on the glare of media attention Dubuque and Iowa
have entertained in the months leading up to the state’s first-in-the-nation
presidential caucuses. He seemed resigned to the idea of how fleeting fame can
After Tuesday night, when Iowa decides its favorite Republican presidential
candidate at the middle schools, colleges, hotels and other public and private
buildings making up the 1,774 caucus sites statewide, the national media
attention retreats to New Hampshire and the next political battleground.
“We’ll get by,” Ehlers said of the expected media void.
But Tuesday night, Iowa shines.
Matt Giese, chairman of the Dubuque County Republican Party, said he was
concerned Tuesday afternoon that all goes without a hitch Tuesday night at the
county’s four caucus sites.
Dubuque County’s GOP, like its brethren statewide, opened up an additional
caucus site to make room for what is expected to be a heavy turnout, thanks to
the clear weather and surging political interest.
Florida’s decision to push up its presidential preference primary to Jan. 31,
forced Iowa’s hand and complicated planning, Giese said.
“I hope people don’t get too frustrated if the parking isn’t the best,” Giese
said. “That’s the hand we were dealt.”
He didn’t sound worried about Dubuque County Republicans. After all, Giese said,
this isn’t “their first rodeo.”
Across town, Steven Brody, executive director of Dubuque County Right to Life,
said he wasn’t making any endorsements or predictions. The organization, part of
a vocal and active network in the party’s conservative base, doesn’t take sides.
Brody said he was advising caucusgoers to vote their consciences. He said he
doesn’t care for the political wisdom that says Iowa Republicans should forget
their basic convictions and go with the candidate with the best chance to beat
President Barack Obama.
“We are kind of tired of hearing people say put your issues aside for the good
of the party,” Brody said. “We felt we’ve been burned before.
“We know it didn’t work in 2008,” he said of GOP’s support of U.S. Sen. John
McCain, R-Arizona, no darling of the anti-abortion movement.
Perhaps that idea of voting conscience over expedience is why Rick Santorum has
climbed so high in the latest polls, some showing a statistical tie with top
Iowa caucus contenders former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas U.S. Rep.
Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and seen as among the
strongest social conservatives in the field, has been a staunch opponent of
Rallying the troops
Just off Kennedy Road, in a busy retail district, the Dubuque County Democratic
Party office was mostly quiet. But the Democrats had their own caucuses and
political business to take care of late Tuesday.
While their presidential candidate is set, Iowa Democrats are expected to host
caucuses statewide, mostly to re-energize the troops for the battle ahead.
Obama is scheduled to speak via video camera to Democrats statewide, urging the
same kind of grassroots, volunteer campaign that carried him to the White House
“The Obama campaign has tried to make its volunteer organization friend to
friend, neighbor to neighbor,” said Ken Kraus, a member of the Dubuque County
Democrats and the Obama 2012 drive. “That’s what’s been so strong about it.”