Older Iowans will select GOP candidate in caucuses

Older men declare war, but it is the youth that must fight and die. - Herbert Hoover

The top tier of Republican presidential candidates trumpeted a march to war during last Tuesday's debate, a call that can only mean boots on the ground.

Those boots will be filled by younger Americans, the ones typically absent from Iowa's first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses just seven weeks away.

Drake University research of 2012 GOP caucus voters shows them to be much older and with far more men than the state at large.

For all the hullabaloo about the power of Iowa's partisan caucuses, the fact remains that Iowans registered as independents, or no-party voters, are the biggest bloc in our town. These independents are younger than the 52-53 year average age of active main party voters in Scott County.

Yet they're the biggest group, at least around here.

Davenport voter registration records show 41 percent are no party, 36 percent are Democrats and 22.4 percent are Republican. In Bettendorf, 40 percent register no party, 33 percent are Republican and 26 percent are Democrat.

Statewide, Iowa's no party registrants greatly outnumber either party. New December registration figures report 584,307 Democrats, 611,433 Republicans and 724,801 independent or no party active registered voters.

History shows that fewer than a third of active GOP or Democrat registered voters actually caucus.

Only a handful of independents may declare a party preference in order to caucus. The vast majority will remain on the sidelines, uninvited to the shindig touted to winnow the field.

These are some of the folks who will be asked to pick up the sabers rattled during Tuesday's debate.

Donald Trump thunders rhetorically about butt kicking. Sen. Ted Cruz pledges to make unspecified Middle East sands with carpet bombing.

At Tuesday's debate, most others seemed eager for war.

Gov. Chris Christie: "Yes, we would shoot down the planes of Russian pilots if they were stupid enough to think that this president is the same feckless weakling that the president we have in the Oval Office is right now."

Gov. Jeb Bush: "We need to embed our forces -- our troops inside the Iraqi military."

Carly Fiorina : "We need to do something here at home and something over there in their caliphate. We need to deny them territory."

Dr. Ben Carson: "I am asking the Congress, which represents the people, to declare a war on ISIS."

Even circumspect Gov. John Kasich on Tuesday repeated his call: "I said last February that we needed to have people on the ground, troops on the ground in a coalition similar to what we had in the first Gulf War."

Later, Kasich broadened his target: "Frankly, it's time we punch the Russians in the nose. They've gotten away with too much in this world."

Denying territory, declaring war, embedding forces and punching nations in the nose require American troops.

Rand Paul was more blunt in assessing Cruz's rhetoric. He labeled it World War III.

That war won't be fought by anyone on a caucus debate stage, nor likely their sons or daughters. It will be fought by enlisted men and women, reservists and National Guard members still recovering from their cyclical deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The candidates anointed frontrunners by the caucuses will carry these war pledges nationwide. That anointing won't be done by an electorate anywhere close in age, income or race to those called to fight. A CNN analysis of 2012 caucus-goers assessed the decision makers as reflective primarily of "Conservative Republican activists."

The caucuses are fueled by registered partisans who live and breathe politics, the vast majority of whom are decades past their military service and eligibility.

War may well be America's only recourse in response to terrorists' threats. But Iowa's largest bloc of active voters– and statistically the youngest – won't even be in the room to decide which saber-rattler advances.

Mark Ridolfi is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of political insight into Iowa, Illinois and Quad-Cities politics. He has covered Iowa caucus campaigns since 1996.

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