IOWA CITY, Iowa, 1:17 p.m. — “This is how we keep the volunteers in line,” Students for Rudy Giuliani National Co-Chair Jimmy Centers jokes as he fires a foam disk across the room. “Don’t take pictures of this.”
Centers heads up one of a small handful of Republican presidential campaign offices east of Des Moines in the state of Iowa. He’s got a pile of walk lists on his desk that is six inches high, two long rows of identical cell phones for volunteers to use on the job and a bucket of foam shooters reminiscent of something you might pull out of a McDonald’s happy meal.
Since the beginning of the summer, Centers has been coordinating the student effort for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in and around Iowa City. On the wall of his office are a signed portrait of the mayor and a map of Iowa with Iowa City and the surrounding eight counties outlined in marker. Unlike the Obama and Clinton volunteers we’ve talked to, Centers seems relaxed, even happy. The Rose Bowl is playing on the TV in the tiny lobby – muted, of course. Maybe it’s the Giuliani effect?
“He’s so personable – he’s not your stereotypical politician,” Centers explains, leaning forward in his chair. “He’s himself. Ten minutes after I met him we were talking about the Yankees and just making small talk. It’s so easy, when you’re in a presidential campaign, you forget that these guys are just people.”
Centers hails from the Obamaphilic state of Illinois, but he stands with the mayor, citing Giuliani’s record of fiscal conservatism in New York and his success reducing crime citywide as substantive reasons for his support. But question Giuliani’s “50-state” strategy, which places less emphasis on the Hawkeye State than other candidates’ campaigns, and Centers displays his frustration with the media and Beltway pundits.
“It’s silly – you can say [he’s de-emphasizing Iowa], but this isn’t a campaign to be president of Iowa,” he says. “This is a campaign to be president of the United States. We’re running a 50-state campaign. We’re the only candidate doing that. We feel strong. Our supporters know [Giuliani] is dedicated to Iowa.”
Besides, it can be fun to play dark horse.
“Personally, I kind of like flying under the radar,” he says, breaking a smile. “I think we’re going to surprise some people. It’s fun, actually.”
Like Juntunen, Centers believes 2008 will witness the much anticipated flexing of the youth electorate’s political muscle. His records list 465 student supporters on the University of Iowa campus. Over 750 students showed up when Giuliani spoke to a crowd on Oct. 17. While Centers cedes the apex of youth political activity to college students in the Vietnam era, he thinks students are waking up this cycle and realizing how much of an impact — especially in Iowa — they can have on the nation’s future. That’s a realization Centers came to a long time ago.