As the road to the White House kicked off in Iowa, students gathered at Tommy’s Place to follow the presidential contenders as they vied for caucus-goers in a live analysis and panel discussion.
The event, which featured panelists including former California State Sen. Tony Strickland, former Democratic Assemblywoman Cindy Montañez, USC College Democrats Vice President Nick Germain and second year USC Gould School of Law student and Republican Chase Bakaly, focused on the impact Iowa will have on the race going forward.
The discussion, moderated by Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics Director Dan Schnur and Daily Trojan Managing Editor Emma Peplow, began with predictions about what the caucus results would mean for the remainder of primary elections. Strickland predicted that Sen. Ted Cruz had the most at stake in the Republican race, highlighting the importance that Iowa will play in determining each party’s nominee.
““If [Cruz] is not successful here, I don’t see how he can pull off the nomination moving forward,” Strickland said. “If he can’t win in Iowa, it will be hard to see where he does win — other than in Texas.”
Germain noted that the results of the Democratic race might very well be determined by college-aged students.
“We see the establishment behind Clinton and progressives behind Sanders,” Germain said. “It depends how many college kids and high school seniors get out to vote.”
As early entrance polls came in showing Sen. Cruz and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leading in Republican and Democratic polls, respectively, the panel discussed the rise of anti-establishment candidates. Strickland attributed the popularity of candidates like Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders to dissatisfaction on both sides of the aisle with regard to how things are done in Washington.
“I think the American people want something new,” Strickland said. “If you’re talking to a Democrat, they want someone more progressive. If you’re talking to a Republican, they want someone who is actually going to get things done.”
Montañez echoed these sentiments, emphasizing the important role new voters will play in the outcome of the caucus.
“The establishment helps determine elections in many different ways,” Montanez said. “The only way we change that is by getting new voters to polling locations.”
The panelists discussed what they described as a “civil war” within the Republican party, noting the distinctions between candidates such as Sen. Marco Rubio and Trump. Bakaly noted how Trump’s lead in Iowa could mark a change in the Republican party’s strategy moving forward.
“Cruz is running a traditional campaign, but Trump has only been to Iowa a handful of times,” Bakaly said. “We might see that the traditional way Republicans have won Iowa might be over if Trump wins.”
Strickland credited Trump’s substantial lead in the Republican party to opponents underestimating his popularity, cautioning Democrats against hoping that the Democratic candidate faces him in the general elections.
“I would argue that Donald Trump doesn’t have a Republican brand — he has a Trump brand that is not Republican,” Strickland said. “He has marketed his brand, Trump, as success.”
Looking forward to New Hampshire, the panel made predictions regarding what they think the parties will focus on going forward.
“From the Republican side in New Hampshire, it’s important to focus on if Marco Rubio can maintain the momentum,” Peplow said. “From the Democratic side, I’d be interested to see if Bernie Sanders can poll as closely to Hillary Clinton and keep up the grassroots support.”
Of the approximately 80 students in attendance, some said they had already decided who they will vote for. Petra Reyes, a sophomore majoring in political science who said she will vote for Sen. Sanders in the primary, said Sanders has the most to gain from the Iowa caucus .
“I think [Sanders] has a lot to gain if he wins Iowa, similarly to how Barack Obama won Iowa in 2008,” Reyes said. “It propelled him forward throughout the rest of the primaries.”
Luke Phillips, a senior majoring in international relations who has decided to vote for Sen. Marco Rubio in the primary, said he was not surprised by the early poll outcomes.
“The fact that Marco is trailing at third doesn’t surprise me at all,” Phillips said. “I don’t think the winners in the primaries are going to be the thing that determines who advances to the general election.”