Students got jazzed about politics during youth mock caucus at Cedar Rapids high school

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) - If it were up to Cedar Rapids’ middle and high school students, Sen. Bernie Sanders would win the Democratic Caucus in Linn County.

About 100 area students participated as part of the statewide youth mock caucus Thursday at Washington High School. The youth caucus is a program launched by the Secretary of State’s Office to teach young Iowans about the unique, and at times confusing, method of choosing a Republican and Democratic nominee for the general presidential election.

Across the state, more than 1,600 students caucused in 24 counties as part of the mock caucus, casting votes for their favorite candidate. The exercise is intended to prepare them to do the same when they reach voting age in Iowa.

“The reason we did this was to show this is very important to Iowa, and the future of Iowa,” said Bret Nilles, chair of the Linn County Democrats. “The idea that the parties can work together, and we want to make the caucuses strong today, tomorrow and way into the future.”

Consistent with the rules differences between Republicans and Democrats, students voted in a straw poll for the Republican caucus, writing down the names of their preferred candidate. For the curious: Ben Carson won on the Republican side with Rick Santorum coming in a close second.

For the Democratic caucus, students darted hither and thither in the cafeteria at Washington High School try to decide which candidate they would align themselves with and then trying to convince fellow students to join their side. In the end, the students coalesced around Sanders as their preferred candidated on the Democratic side.

Beyond voting, students also learned the ins and outs of both party’s caucuses, from how to elect a delegate to send to the convention, how to pick a platform plank, and what it means to have a viable candidate.

While most students weren’t voting age, the energy and buzz in the room has some counting down until their 18th birthdays.

15-year-old Mason Zastron, a sophomore at Prairie High School, said the first time he attended a caucus was for President Barack Obama during his first campaign.

“Ever since then, I’ve been really interested in politics,” he said. “It’s just really inspiring to see this huge amount of people who are willing to be this into politics.”

And only in Iowa would a presidential candidate make a guest appearence at a high school event. Sen. Rick Santorum briefly talked to students about the importance of Iowa’s first in the nation caucus, which he won in 2012 by a narrow margain against Mitt Romney.

“Do your job. This is a tremendous responsibility that you have to pick the leader of the free world,” Santorum said. “You have the first crack at it, and you have the biggest impact than any voter in this country. Take that responsibility seriously.”

That fact wasn’t lost on some students that night who’ve been raised to appreciate the importance and privledge of the Iowa Caucus.

“This is my future, all of these people that we’re here voting for,” said Elizabeth Thompson, a junior at Jefferson High School. “I just think it’s important to get involved and be aware about politics.”