Usually fraternity lawns are free of political signs, but Alpha Gamma Rho at Iowa State University planted more than a dozen in its front yard, supporting Mitt Romney for president and a slew of Republicans running for local offices.
"We're a large majority Republican, but we have a lot of independents... We all come from a conservative background,” said Andrew J. Lauver, president of the house. "If anyone is uncomfortable with a sign, we take it down.”
So far, there hasn’t been any discomfort, he said. Alpha Gamma Rho is Iowa State’s "farm fraternity,” with 86 of its 87 members majoring in something agriculture-related. Nearly all of them grew up in small towns and drive a pickup truck. They like to debate which candidates have the strongest positions on ethanol policies, how many hogs you can legally keep in a pen and how farmland is handed down.
Although Iowa State has long had a strong conservative base, these guys say they sometimes feel as if their fraternity house is a conservative island in a rather liberal sea.
Here’s how Jordan Cowan, 20, a sophomore from Wisconsin (whose dad once showed cattle with Paul Ryan), explains the school’s political breakdown: “I think if you’re agriculture, you’re Romney. And if you’re design or anything like that, you’re Obama.”
“Or if you’re from Des Moines,” added Mark Holloway, 19, a sophomore from rural Maryland.
The Obama-mania that swept college campuses in 2008 hit Iowa State hard. When the president appeared on campus this August, he told students: "Ames, your vote matters. Your vote made a difference. Change was possible because of you." But that mania has waned over four years.
The Obama and Romney campaigns both have offices in Ames, which were both filled with student volunteers on Monday night who called supporters (Romney Camp) or texted them (Team Obama). Dorm windows feature blue Obama-Biden signs and Romney-Ryan ones printed in the school's signature red and yellow.
Alpha Gamma Rho started putting up signs late this summer, and house leaders have peer pressured younger members to register to vote. They keep a running list of who has yet to cast a ballot.
By Tuesday, most of the members had voted early -- often at the prompting of eager Obama volunteers. A few ventured to the polls on campus or back at home. Tuesday night, the upperclassmen planned to watch the returns at a local bar. They’re almost more excited about the local races than the presidential one, the president said.
“It’s almost like a sporting event ,” Lauver said, “if not the Super Bowl.”