Homeschoolers have proven to be important allies for candidates and political causes, and could be presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann's key to winning the Iowa caucus.
Well-organized and motivated supporters are key to winning in Iowa. Evangelical Christians are recognized as a powerful force in Iowa Republican politics and some in that group are homeschoolers.
Vicki Crawford is not a campaign consultant, but like many Iowans who homeschool their children she knows a lot about politics and grass roots organizing. Homeschoolers have to engage in politics to protect their right to teach their children.
"It's part of our lifestyle," Crawford said. "We are very much involved in maintaining our own liberties."
And, Crawford said her children, who are also her students, can learn a great deal by working on campaigns.
"I mean you've got public relations, communications, speech writing, math, alphabetizing — every skill there is, is kind of wrapped up in the various things you do with a campaign," she said.
Crawford homeschooled both of her daughters. Her eldest graduated this year. She's still teaching her ninth grader.
Crawford's family was part of the homeschool force widely credited with helping former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee win the Iowa caucuses in 2008, she said.
"We spent hundreds of hours working for Mike Huckabee. Another victory — we ousted three Supreme Court justices last year," Crawford said.
Those three Iowa justices lost their jobs because of their decision that legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa.
Crawford is now backing Bachmann's presidential bid, and she's convinced a lot of homeschoolers will help Bachmann win the Iowa caucuses.
"Because she stands for liberty and constitutional liberty under law. Her worldview is the most conducive, the most reflective of our founding fathers," Crawford said.
And it's no small matter for Crawford that Bachmann was a homeschooling mom herself. She said she trusts Bachmann.
Crawford is a member of the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators, known as NICHE. The group's tax status prohibits it from endorsing political candidates, but it does provide its members with political information. NICHE President Justin LaVan said he thinks more Iowa homeschoolers support Bachmann than any of the other potential presidential candidates.
"I would probably put her at the top because of how she's organized and what's going on," LaVan said.
While candidates are looking for support from practically any group, having the backing of organized and politically passionate homeschoolers could be invaluable.
"These are the folks that you want to have on your side," said Tim Hagle, a University of Iowa political science professor.
Hagle said he's seen first-hand through his students and the young men and women he encounters at the university who have homeschooling backgrounds tend to be much more politically sophisticated than the traditional student population.
NICHE won't disclose how many members it has, only that the number amounts to several thousand. The Iowa Department of Education estimates that more than 25,000 Iowa kids are taught at home.
While homeschoolers don't have the high profile of some other politically active groups, they are a powerful force, Hagle said.
"Sometimes you have groups that operate under the radar, and they don't get a lot of publicity and the support may not show up in the polls," Hagle said. "A candidate like Bachmann who's got that sort of under-the-radar type of support may end up doing very well in the caucuses, despite what national polls might end up saying to the contrary."
Homeschooler Crawford has already been volunteering for Bachmann's campaign, and expects she will be doing more between now and the Iowa caucuses early next year. And it isn't just Iowa homeschoolers like herself who will be helping Bachmann, Crawford said.
"When it comes close to the time, you're going to see a huge influx of people — homeschoolers — they will come from across the country to help her win," Crawford said. "She's going to be very much a winner of that kind of support."
Crawford loosely estimates about six in 10 Iowa homeschoolers are backing Bachmann, followed by Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, respectively.