STORY BY JOSH HUGHES
Since at least 2000, every major newspaper has asked the same question about presidential candidates: “Who would you rather have a beer with?”
At the Des Moines Social Club, why wait for the candidates? Have a beer anyway.
“It’s time to get engaged with politics. It’s time to care about the issues. It’s time to help pick the next president of the United States,” said Des Moines Register Editor Amalie Nash in a July 5th online announcement.
“Give a Damn, Des Moines,” as the event series has been named, seeks to engage millennials and other young people in the democratic process to find their spot in Iowa’s special place as the first in the nation caucus.
The event series, which held its first mock caucus, or “mockus,” on Thursday night, has two more like it planned for this fall.
The event, named “The Best Damn Brewery Mockus,” invited Des Moines breweries to vie for the title of “President of the Beer Caucus.”
Breweries offered samples of their finest beverages to of-age attendees, and the attendees then voted Democratic caucus style, for the best one.
In October, the Des Moines Register will sponsor an additional event explaining the Republican caucus process by having attendees vote on “The Most Important Damn Issue,” and in November, the Democratic and Republican state party chairs will discuss said issues in what is “…Not a Damn Debate.”
When there’s free beer, the crowd is never small. Fortunately, the crowd at the Social Club was also diverse. Both the young and even some of the old turned out to get a taste of the process.
“I’ve caucused every time since 1951,” said 83-year-old Jim Murphy, “and I’ve always caucused as a Democrat!”
Murphy heard about the event through his connections in Polk County and is excited to caucus in 2016, but doesn’t yet have a candidate.
“It’ll either be Joe Biden or Hillary (Clinton),” Murphy says.
At the other end of the spectrum is 29-year-old Mackenzie Sheehan. She’s caucused before, in 2004 and 2008, but not with great success.
“I caucused for John Edwards twice, so no luck,” Sheehan said. “My parents are very political, and I was raised in a family that valued your vote, and so I’ve always taken advantage of it.”
Sheehan exemplifies the kind of millennial that “Give a Damn, Des Moines” wants to attract. In 2012, caucus goers aged 17-29 made up just 15 percent of the electorate.
Recent polling shows that Iowans under 34 will represent just 24 percent and 19 percent of Democratic and Republican caucus goers, respectively.
It remains to be seen if the next two events in the series will be as successful as this one. Without the incentive of free beer, it’s likely there will be a slight drop-off in turnout.
If that’s the case, it’s fair to assume the Iowa Democratic Party and the Republican Party of Iowa might be in the beer business come Feb. 1.