Dec 312007
Authors: Aaron Hedge

Stopping in Iowa City in hopes of giving the Republican frontrunners some exposure after covering a Democratic event in Council Bluffs was probably a bad idea.

The socially conservative Republicans have pretty much abandoned the biggest college town in Iowa. Rudy Giuliani was the only hopeful with any noticeable effort – or even an office here.

Mitt Romney, John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson don’t seem interested in the college-age group. And even Rudy has abandoned the state in hopes of greener pastures closer to his New York base in New Hampshire.

So when we saw a small military surplus store on the outskirts of the city, we couldn’t help but stop in to find out what the proprietors of what might be presumed a traditionally conservative establishment might think. Interestingly enough, we found two pro-war liberal-leaning single mothers.

Brenda Roe, who works the register at CC Military Surplus, has an interesting view on foreign policy for a Democrat.

While she is not sure which Democrat she supports right now, she says Hillary has the most practical outline for withdrawal from Iraq and the best health care plan out of any of the candidates she has heard from. Like many other Iowans, however, she will walk in to her caucus on Thursday night on the fence between a decision on one of the big gun lefties.

Brenda described people in the Iowa City area as either conservative and elite or liberal and poor or not strongly tied to the city.

“It’s conservative for the doctors and attorneys and people who own stuff, but the college is all liberal,” she said.

But her situation on the margins is a little different.

While selling Editor-in-Chief David McSwane a paratrooper knife, Brenda explained that, though she has never caucused before, she is considering it this year because of the complicated issues at stake.

Moving her short, stocky figure around the shop, she helped us with notes and told us about the store’s inventory with help from her boss, the store manager Missy Michel-Daugherty.

Neither of the women, who are also sisters, have caucused before. Brenda hasn’t because she used to work as a legal secretary for a very politically active law firm and didn’t want to deal with political bullshit on her time off. Missy never caucused because she has always been too busy working nearly 100 hours a week to keep surplus moving through her store. Still, she can’t afford to supply her employees with health care because of the small-business nature of the surplus industry.

Roe had worked for a trucking company the year before, but quit this year to work for Missy. After leaving her comprehensive health care plan along with her trucking job, Brenda now has to worry about her 14-year-old’s well-being, despite working as hard as she ever had.

“It’s not because we’re not doing our job,” she said. “It’s because (health care’s) not available.”

Clinton’s plan would mandate continued health care, when a consumer switches job.

The surplus store, located in a shopping center on the frigid plains east of town, is filled with Airsoft and Paintballing supplies, pro-war bumper stickers that say things like “Got Freedom? (Iraqis don’t),” olive green anglehead flashlights and American flags.

Roe’s views on the war reflected the ambience in the shop. She wants the war in Iraq to continue until the country is established as a sovereign entity in order to ensure a stable environment in the Middle East.

While most Democratic candidates are one way or the other on Iraq, Hillary is the only candidate with a health care plan that Roe likes and wants to keep U.S. military presence in Iraq until the civil unrest ends.

And the GOP doesn’t offer her solace either.

With the Republican candidates focusing their attention on the conservative, rural western half of Iowa and the New Hampshire primaries, Roe finds some of their policies hard to swallow. Mitt and Mike don’t strike her fancy because of their hollow talk, she said.

“Lots of pretty words and nothing behind it,” she said of the Huckabee campaign.

But with the frontrunners stoking pissing matches in the tense days leading up to the premier presidential event in the country, Brenda and Missy keep paying attention to the lighter aspects of life, encouraging a young group of college reporters to spend New Year’s Eve taking advantage the biggest hot female contingent in the state courtesy of the University of Iowa.

“It’s New Year’s,” Brenda said. “You’ll like the way the ladies are dressed.”

Hoping for some fun tonight and a more promising conservative base awaiting us in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines tomorrow, my colleagues and I keep bringing you coverage as the race unravels.


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