Ahead of Iowa Caucus, 9-Year-Old Questions Candidates About Autism Advocacy
As reporters and candidates canvas the Hawkeye State, one boy has been scouring Iowa to ask Republicans what they would do to help children with learning disabilities.
Nine-year-old Sam Wessels has stood up before the presidential hopefuls time and again this election season. In five YouTube videos with five different candidates, Wessels identifies himself as having autism and asks what each candidate would do as president to help children with special needs.
"My name is Sam Wessels. I'm 9. Here is my question," says Wessels, dressed in a navy blue sweater and sporting a Rick Santorum sticker in the most recent video. "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that one in five American children has a learning disability today. Mine is autism. What is happening to America's most precious resource, her children? And what do you plan to do about it? Thank you."
Wessels started his involvement in politics back in 2008, when at age 5, he addressed politicians, including Sen. John McCain, according to Wessel's mother, Lin. His presentation won his mom a trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with McCain about autism advocacy.
Sam and his mom hit the road again this July, starting with former presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty. Their mission, to meet those in the race for the Republican nomination, heated up in the past five days, Lin Wessels said. She said they traveled no more than 50 miles for the events. The only contenders they missed were Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman.
Each candidate had a unique response to Sam's question.
Ron Paul said providing more individual liberty, and less government intervention, would solve the problem. Mitt Romney blamed Capitol Hill's playing politics for shortchanging science, but he reassured the crowd that that didn't mean he would increase spending and handouts. Santorum advocated putting education in the hands of the states and out of the federal government. Newt Gingrich heaped praise on Wessels but somewhat skirted the question, saying that science would find the answer without saying how. Michele Bachmann said the country needs to reform spending to make more resources available for helping children like Sam.
His mother said they would be happy to meet with President Obama as well, but they have not had the opportunity.
In addition to traveling with her son to the events, Lin Wessels tweets links to his videos and posts them on Facebook. Her Twitter icon has the words "MOMMY ON A MISSION" over a ribbon made of puzzle pieces, a symbol associated with autism advocacy.
"They know that Sam's out there speaking for their kids that have no voice," Lin said. "He's giving a voice to the voiceless."
Tonight Lin Wessels will head out to the caucus in her rural Iowa town - and she'll bring Sam with her.