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Chicago Transplants Give Obama a Boost in Iowa

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Chicago Transplants Give Obama a Boost in Iowa

Ms. Cox disciplines students at Johnson Elementary School in Cedar Rapids Iowa.

Senator Barack Obama’s home court advantage in Illinois is expected to swing the state his way in the upcoming presidential election. But crime and high housing prices in Chicago are indirectly giving Obama a home court advantage of sorts in Iowa as well.

The house that Denise Boyd rents in Cedar Rapids, Iowa is right next to a vacant lot, usually a bad thing right? BOYD: It’s full of beautiful green grass. And the children play over there, they have a really good time, they can play ball over there…

And Boyd’s home is only a few blocks from Johnson Elementary where her kids go, and she says it’s a really good school.

BOYD: But I was telling my sister, like oh my god. We went to so many different programs last year for the kids. It’s like we had a program every, maybe two, two to three every week that we were going to like oh, we got to go to another program, another program get to this one, get to that one.

Boyd isn’t complaining.

She says it’s just a stark contrast to life in Chicago where vacant lots were full of glass and other hidden dangers, and where the public schools didn’t offer as many extra-curricular activities.

Boyd is one of many Chicagoans who have moved to the Wellington Heights neighborhood in Cedar Rapids. On this night, as on so many nights, she’s doing a young woman’s hair in her kitchen

BOYD: 35 dollars for a wash and set. It’s like 55 dollars for a relaxer.

Her client is an 8th grade student who has class pictures the next day. She’s sitting under a pink plastic hair dryer, one of those bowl-like dryers that covers most of your head.

BOYD: She’s burnin up under there.

A few years ago Boyd was out in Cedar Rapids visiting her sister who had moved from Chicago. She saw how nice it was and moved her family out.

Then another sister came.

And another.

And another.

And two months ago their parents moved out so they could be with the kids and grandkids. Boyd left the troubles of big city living behind but she kept her affinity for a certain Illinois politician.

BOYD: I remember, my first encounter with him was when he was marching in the Bud Billiken parade in Chicago.

Boyd had never been to the parade but went specifically to see Obama.

BOYD: For some reason, and my kids even know, I don’t know if Dashawn remembers, but Aria remembers that we were really excited to see Barack Obama.

She brought her excitement for Obama to her new town. Her sister Marcey Roundtree did the same.

ROUNDTREE: Yep. And I’ve definitely been doing the Obama talk. Definitely letting people around me know that he is definitely our next president.

Boyd and Roundtree and their sisters and mother are part of a large group in Cedar Rapids who claim Obama as a native son of sorts.

It’s tough to get numbers on just how many people have migrated from Chicago but schools are always a good place to start because new families enroll their children.

Over at Johnson school of the arts, Miss Cox is sitting at a rounded table with 8 2nd grade students.

Cox made the move from Chicago to Cedar Rapids herself back in the early 80s after visiting her mother. She goes through her class roster to see which students have recently moved from Chicago.

COX: Jovon. Jaylyn. Let’s see, Joy.

By the end she’s got six students, almost a quarter of the class. Across the hall is the main office where I bump into Principal Toshana Marshall another recent transplant from Chicago.

Marshall says she’s thought a lot about how geography has strangely tied her to Obama. She says the whole point of the campaign season is for candidates to make some kind of personal connection with the voters.

MARSHALL: Growing up in Chicago and hearing him talk about the work he’s done in the areas and really empowering the community, those connections are there and it’s important to have those. Knowing that even the community that he talks about is

TODD: We were all shocked by the amount of new faces who showed up to Caucus for Senator Obama that night and all honesty a lot of those people were transplants. They were people who have since moved from Chicago and call Cedar Rapids their home.

That’s Dale Todd.

He was the precinct captain for Obama at Johnson Elementary during the Iowa caucuses. He’s also been on the Cedar Rapids City Council and as a Chicago transplant himself he’s been carefully watching the migration.

He says many of the people in Cedar Rapids came when high rise housing projects were torn down in Chicago. The influx of poor people has brought a variety of complex issues, but Todd says they were solid Obama supporters on the night of the Iowa Caucuses.

TODD: It’s just huge for them, at least it was for them that night to be here and actually be a part of changing and making history and I believe they’ll be out election night to redo it.

And they won’t be out in just Cedar Rapids. People here say they’ve noticed the emigration in other places too; Davenport, Iowa City, Dubuque. No one’s actually measured the phenomenon yet but they say they know it’s happening.

On the road in Iowa, I’m Robert Wildeboer, Chicago Public Radio.

Photos from Johnson School of the Arts

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