Several Republican candidates for president are vying for the votes of Christian conservatives who make up a significant percentage of Republican caucusgoers. There’s a subset of the evangelical vote that’s especially coveted, and that’s homeschoolers.
If you attract a homeschool parent to your side you may get the whole family to knock on doors and put up yard signs.
On a recent Saturday, with beautiful fall weather outside, Kaylee Morris was inside staffing the phone bank at the Ted Cruz for President campaign headquarters in Urbandale
“My name is Kaylee and I’m a volunteer for Ted Cruz for president,” she says, asking a Republican voter to support Ted Cruz.
Kaylee’s sisters are also working the phones. They’re all homeschooled and their activism counts as government class.
Kaylee says for various campaigns over the years, the whole family has gone all out.
“Our mom she would drive us around,” she recalls. “We would go down different streets and she’d meet us at another street. Every once in a while our dad and our other sister Maria would walk with us.”
The family’s schedule is flexible, so they can help out not just on Saturdays but during the week when most students are in school. Also, homeschoolers are politically savvy because they’ve had to fight to be allowed to homeschool at all. Former Iowa Republican party chair and longtime political strategist Matt Strawn says that’s a potent combination.
“These aren’t entry-level activists or volunteers,” Strawn says. “These are experienced organizers that any campaign would covet. As candidates are moving around they're trying to tap into a network that is active that is often under the radar.”
Homeschoolers helped Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee win the Iowa caucuses in 2008. In 2012, some backed Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachman while others got behind caucus winner, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. But it’s a whole new ballgame this year.
“We have to earn every vote one at a time all over again,” says Mike Huckabee addressing a recent gathering of homeschoolers.
Former board member for the Iowa homeschool network Barb Heki supported Huckabee eight years ago. But so far this year she’s playing the field.
“All the homeschoolers I know are starting from scratch,” Heki says. “We aren’t just automatically doing what we did eight years ago or four years ago. We’re looking at the issues out there.”
Heki says several candidates fill the bill on the basics. They oppose abortion and support traditional marriage, and they speak openly about their faith. Activists say Cruz, Huckabee, Santorum, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal are major competitors.
But some homeschoolers come from a different camp. They educate their children at home because they don’t want government involved in their lives.
Homeschooler Erin Joseph of West Des Moines supported libertarian Ron Paul for the Republican nomination for president in the past, and she’s interested in Kentucky Senator Rand Paul this year.
“There are religious reasons for me but probably more libertarian reasons for me,” Joseph says.
For example, Joseph opposes mandatory vaccinations and avoids inoculating her own kids by teaching them at home. And she wants to feed her children raw milk, a cause which Rand Paul has championed.
While reasons for homeschooling remain varied, endorsing a candidate is tricky. One homeschool group endorsed Mike Huckabee eight years ago and got pushback from Ron Paul supporters. The group won’t be endorsing anyone this year.
Meanwhile, one limit on activism by homeschool families is all those younger kids at home. Erin Joseph’s four children are eight, seven, five, and three.
“Only time constraints would keep me from doing the door to door thing,” Joseph says. “Having four little ones to come along with me I just haven’t put that in my schedule at this point.”
But prospective candidates should take note. You may want to keep the Joseph kids in mind once they’re old enough to go door to door.