With the general election looming, Marshall County is shaping up to be a battleground for politicians who say it will be one of the most important counties in Iowa.
"Marshalltown and Marshall County is really a smaller picture of what is going on in the state as a whole," Sue Dvorsky, chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, said. "I know it's going to tell the difference in Iowa, and I think it's going to tell the difference nationally."
President Obama's visit to Marshalltown Tuesday is evidence of how politicians perceive the county.
T-R FILE PHOTO
Marshall County could prove key to politicians, including President Obama, who are already campaigning in an attempt to earn Iowans’ votes. Election workers at the Marshall County courthouse, shown here in this file photo, have already begun preparing for November election.
According to voting statistics, Marshall County has split its decision between Democrats and Republicans in the last four elections.
Dvorsky said the area's preponderance of labor unions at large manufacturers like JBS and Lennox, as well its growing Hispanic population, will prove important come November.
"They have basic down-to-earth questions about their government, and they want to talk about jobs," she said.
Because of these two voting blocs, Dvorsky said Marshall County has a natural Democratic constituency.
Marshall County is home to roughly 7,000 Latinos. They make up about 17 percent of the population, according to Census data.
However, Peter Rogers, chair of the Marshall County Republicans, said he doesn't believe the Hispanic vote will prove as important as Democrats claim. While being a large consumer base in the county, he said, Hispanics tend not to be involved in politics.
While Rogers did agree that Marshall County will be a lynchpin during the upcoming election, he said the major sticking point for voters will be the economy.
"As a Republican, I don't feel the need to divide people up and cubbyhole them up into special interest groups," he said. "Our commonality is that we are Iowans."
Since 1980, Marshall County has slightly favored electing Democratic presidents, voting statistics show.
Dawn Williams, Marshall County auditor and recorder, said even with redistricting, voter turnout has remained fairly steady over the years, and she doubts redistricting will affect the election.
Perhaps more telling, she said, is turnout by ward in Marshalltown.
Statistics show that despite ward populations being more or less equal, voters in Marshalltown's first ward turn out far less often than voters in other wards.
Williams said there has been a large push from Democrats and Republicans to increase absentee voting. It's a strategy that helps politicians manage their workload, she said.
During the last presidential election in 2008, data shows 40 percent of county voters cast absentee ballots.
Rogers said, in Marshall County, both major parties see quite a bit of crossover from election to election.
Matt Streeter, a water engineer from State Center, said he votes for politicians who can reduce government spending. That just happens to usually be Republicans, but he said he doesn't care so much about party affiliation as he does limiting government.
"I never understood deficit spending unless it's wartime," he said. "Our local government has to balance its budget. Our state government has to balance its budget. Why doesn't the federal government have to balance its budget?"
He said returning fiscal responsibility to local and state governments is what will get the country back on track.
But, Streeter said, it's not just financial choices that make a difference. Education plays a key role how he votes too.
"I don't believe people in New York City and Washington should be telling us how to run our schools in Iowa," he said.
Gregg Davison, pastor at Trinity Lutheran church, said he plans to vote for Obama because of president's view on several key issues, namely health care and bringing troops home from overseas.
"I really believe that what we are doing in Afghanistan is not going to produce an outcome of democracy that we would have hoped for over there," he said. "If I had my way, we would start bringing everyone home tomorrow."
And while Davison said he typically votes Democrat, he feel increasingly disenfranchised with politicians' inability to work together.
He said many good ideas are rejected by Democrats and Republicans alike simply because their genesis is on the other side of the political fence.
Politicians spend too much time rejecting ideas without offering solutions, he added.
"I am not all that excited about supporting any candidate who is just a hard-liner," Davison said. "A good idea is a good idea, and you should support it, but I don't think this is the way it works sometimes."
Davison and Streeter said term limits were another key issue for them, something they both said doesn't get the attention it deserves.
Voters will make their voices heard in November. And, if the county is as important as experts say, every politician will eagerly await the results.
Contact David Alexander at 641-753 6611 or email@example.com