By CHUCK OFFENBURGER
JEFFERSON, Iowa, Jan. 20, 2024 – There were 110,298 total votes recorded across the state Monday night on the Republican side of this year’s Iowa Caucuses. Let me tell you about my favorite single vote among all those.
It happened right in front of me, in the caucus for Jefferson Precinct One, which covers the east half of our west central Iowa town of 4,136. I have no idea who the voter was, because Republicans use a secret ballot. And I didn’t realize just how neat this one vote was until a couple days later.
You’ll probably think, at first, that it didn’t really matter, since he finished fifth in Jefferson Precinct One – behind former President Donald Trump with 38, Ambassador-Governor Nikki Haley with 14, Gov. Ron DeSantis with 8, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy with 6. And Binkley didn’t finish any better statewide, as he received less than 1 percent of the total vote.
Alexander Wirtz, speaking in favor of presidential candidate Ryan Binkley, at the Jefferson Precinct One caucus on Monday night. That’s Greene County Republican Party chairperson Sean Sebourn at the right, doing the time-keeping on the speeches for candidates. (Photo by Miranda Sebourn for the Greene County GOP)
So what’s the big deal I’m making about the one vote for Binkley in my precinct?
The campaign volunteer who did the speech in favor of Binkley’s candidacy was Alexander Wirtz, who is 16 years old and is from Fort Dodge, located 45 miles to the northeast, where he is a sophomore at St. Edmond Catholic High School. He couldn’t vote in our caucus – or anywhere else at his age.
Nevertheless, there he stood, the first among five speakers for candidates, and he didn’t know a single person in the crowd of about 70 adults in the lunchroom of the Greene County School District’s elementary school.
“I was nervous, very nervous,” young Wirtz told me by phone on Wednesday. “It was the most people I’ve ever spoken to at one time – way more than when I’ve spoken in front of at 4H meetings – and I didn’t know any of them. It was nerve-wracking.”
Even more interesting, he’s overcome all kinds of challenges in his infancy and boyhood. A genetic disorder he was born with has made his growth and development difficult – with considerable pain, lots of therapy and treatment.
“It’s been a struggle,” his father Travis Wirtz said, “and sometimes it seems like he doesn’t get a lot of wins in life.”
He’s a smart kid. “I try to keep my grades up, and I usually end up with A’s and B’s,” Alexander told me, “and maybe a C- once or twice. I keep about a 3-point GPA.”
He’s not athletic, but he has served as a student manager for St. Edmond Gaels teams. He’s an occasional lector at masses at school. And he’s a chess player and a “Quiz Bowl”-er.
It was a good-sized caucus crowd, and Alexander Wirtz (left in the ball cap) didn’t know anybody there. (Photo by Chuck Offenburger)
Alexander thinks back and says it “was about when I was in third grade” that he started realizing what politics is and becoming interested. “I was spending a lot of time with my grandparents on both sides, going to doctor’s appointments and therapy,” he said. “They’d be watching television and talking a lot about politics, and that’s when I started learning.”
His dad Travis Wirtz said it’s no surprise that Alexander is a Republican. “Our whole family has voted on that side of things for a long time,” Travis said. “I can almost guarantee you that if you’d walk into the homes of the grandparents on either side, you’d find Fox News running on their TV sets!”
Plus, Alexander Wirtz is “strongly pro-life,” as his father said. The boy has attended one of the national “Right to Life” marches in Washington, D.C.
Alexander said his curiosity and interest in politics has also grown “because I’m a really big history person. I love learning about it. And that’s made me realize how government and history are intertwined. That led me to becoming involved in campaigns myself.”
He’s been directed in that by Ben Anderson, 21, a St. Edmond High School graduate who is a great friend of Alexander’s older brother Devon Wirtz. Anderson has worked in campaigns since he was 15 years old. And now, living in Des Moines, he is a lead consultant at Right Strategies, a two-year-old Ankeny-based political consulting company owned by Morgan Bonwell, 27, a native of Charles City.
Anderson talked Alexander Wirtz into becoming a volunteer in the 2022 political campaign of Austin Hayek, a Republican who won a seat on the Webster County Board of Supervisors in Fort Dodge.
“Austin showed me how hard you have to work in a campaign if you want to win,” young Wirtz said. “He was out there on all his days off, door-knocking, fundraising, talking to people all the time. And he was doing that for the campaigns of Governor (Kim) Reynolds and Senator (Charles) Grassley, too. That taught me a lot. I really look up to Austin because of that.”
So that’s the background for Anderson dropping Wirtz off at the Jefferson elementary school on Monday night.
Sean Sebourn, the Greene County Republican Party chairperson, who also chaired the caucus. “Once I was elected to run the caucus, I took off my Trump cap so I could appear to be more neutral,” he said. (Offenburger photo)
He went inside and ran directly into Sean Sebourn, 38, who is the chairperson of the Greene County Republican Party and was serving as chairperson of the Jefferson Precinct One caucus.
“He introduced himself, told me what he wanted to do – speak for Ryan Binkley – and told me he was nervous,” Sebourn said later. “I love having young people getting involved. Both parties need fresh blood, you know? So I said to him, ‘Listen, I’ve been in this same position myself in earlier years, being nervous speaking to a crowd about a presidential candidate. Relax. The people here will be very welcoming. Just speak from your heart. If you are really getting nervous just look a little above their heads, and that might make it easier.’ ”
Wirtz breathed a little easier, before his speech, when he realized that the speaker who would be following him – Jaden Koller speaking for Ron DeSantis – is also a high school student. In fact, Koller, of Jefferson, is a sophomore at Greene County High School and is only 15.
The two of them sat together, up front at one end of the caucus room.
“We talked a little bit, just getting to know each other,” Koller said of Wirtz. “Who we are, where we’re from, how we got involved.”
Koller said his own interest in politics grew from being around Sebourn during earlier campaigns, going back to the first Donald Trump presidential campaign in 2016. He said he became a DeSantis supporter after meeting some of that campaign’s professional organizers who talked to local Republicans last August. “I learned about what he’s done as governor in Florida, especially back in COVID times, and how he handled things there about like Governor Reynolds did here,” he said. “I liked that.”
He said of his own speech for DeSantis Monday night, “I tried my best!” And take note: DeSantis received 8 votes.
Jaden Koller, speaking for presidential candidate Ron DeSantis. (Miranda Sebourn photo)
When Alexander Wirtz was called to the front of the room to lead off the speakers for presidential candidates, he was wearing a ball cap that had the word “BELIEVE” across the crown. (That’s the theme of the Binkley campaign.) He removed the cap, placed it on the table, started reading from a campaign fact sheet, quickly put that aside and “then spoke from the heart” for about three minutes.
He spoke in favor of Binkley’s plan to retire the national debt, secure the southern border of the U.S., fire up the economy, reform health care, “and his spiritual base is very important to me, too.” In fact, he closed with a statement that many will think goes too far but Wirtz believes: “I believe God has brought Ryan to us in this time.”
Those two young speakers were both as effective as the three old guys who followed them – me, at 76, speaking for Nikki Haley, and middle-agers Jason Everist and Jeremy Fister, both speaking for Donald Trump. (My best line? “I can’t believe I’m 76 years old, for one thing, and I really can’t believe that I could wind up having to make a choice between two presidential nominees who are both older than I am!”)
The best part of it all?
It was, I realized later, that moment when the one vote for Ryan Binkley was announced and went up on the tally board during the counting.
Young Alexander Wirtz had convinced somebody in that caucus to vote for his candidate!
He said he couldn’t wait to give his campaign boss Ben Anderson the news.
“I said, ‘Ben! Look at this! I actually got somebody to vote for him!’ I don’t know who that person was, but I’m so glad somebody listened and did that!”
You know, if you sort through this whole story, you can find several reminders about just how valuable the Iowa Caucuses have been and still are to this state and its people. And the same sorts of things happen in other cycles when the action is in the Democratic Party.
Let’s keep the caucuses.
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