Caucus Crazy 2020: Tourists All over Iowa

Sunday, One Day to Go

Elizabeth Warren in Iowa on Sunday. | Credit: Lawrence Gamble

I am back at Simpson College in Indianola, this time for an Elizabeth Warren GOTC event on a Sunday morning. We (myself and my able-bodied intern Evelyn) arrive just after 9 a.m. for a 10:45 event. Already a long line snakes through the lobby of the campus events center. The lobby has filled, so volunteers are directing people to line up outside. There are in luck because today broke bright and clear with high temperatures expected in the high 40s — in other words, Iowa winter beach weather!

Big news last night came in the form of the Des Moines Register deciding not to publish their much anticipated last poll before the caucuses. Apparently there were some discrepancies in the polling. At least one respondent was not given Mayor Pete’s name in the poll. They reported this to the Mayor Pete people who complained to the newspaper pollster. Some investigation was done (the extent has not been revealed), and the decision made to sit on the poll. This is important because it eliminates the ability to see any recent trends in support. Bernie had been surging, and Warren lagging, so the poll last night could have given an indication as to whether these two trends were holding. Now we won’t know until caucus night. How this development might affect the campaigns in the last two days remains to be seen.

As I wrote earlier, one important component of success in the Iowa caucuses is not just how a candidate does but how they do compare with how they are predicted to do, and predictions are based largely on polling. We will see how the candidates spin the caucus results based on the lack of the final Des Moines Register poll.

Once again the press pass makes my life easier. We are allowed into the meeting room ahead of the public. I set up my laptop on a comfortable table (the only disadvantage is that we print folks are stuck behind the riser with the video cameras), there is Wi Fi and the seats are comfy!

Warren rally-music on entering-Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking.” Next up, “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash. Now the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” hits our ears. “Born to Be Wild,” Steppenwolf. Elizabeth definitely understands Boomer music. “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” next. Stevie Wonder. I’ll stop and admit that I am telling you the music because I am bored. You see, there’s much time waiting around at political events. Candidates never arrive when advertised. I hope that this event, the first public event of the day, starts on time. It doesn’t.

Following up on some earlier posts, my intern did some quick research on the group Tom Steyer mentioned, NextGenAmerica. Their website states, “We are a diverse coalition of young people, organized to take power by winning elections for progressive candidates.” They claim to have registered over 1.3 million voters since 2013. They are working in 11 battleground states to get out the youth vote. If you are interested in the work they are doing, please visit their website:

The other research project involved the Job Creators Network, the folks whose brightly painted bus was parked outside the Yang event in Grundy Center and the Sanders event yesterday in Indianola. They are the brainchild of the founder of Home Depot, a billionaire libertarian. Why they are hovering at the fringes of Democratic rallies is not clear.

Now the music goes Latin and more contemporary. 

I spy MSNBC reporter Katy Tur across the room and decide to introduce myself. I tell her that we have two things in common: We were both born in Los Angeles, and while she attended UCSB, I taught at UCSB (I guess that’s one-and-one-half things in common). She is very nice, and we had a pleasant chat about my insinuating myself into the press corps. She asked me about the Biden event in Waukee and asked me to compare the sizes of the events I had attended. I asked her what she thought of the Register pulling their poll at the last minute, she responded, “Polls suck. I wish they wouldn’t announce poll results.” It’s a feeling held by many politically aware and active people, but polls aren’t going away. I believe the Register’s decision will impact how the caucus results are viewed. We shall see. 

11:05 a.m.:  Elizabeth Warren has not made an appearance yet. I go downstairs and find Warren addressing the overflow crowd that jams the lobby and mezzanine. Audience is very enthusiastic and vocal.

11:30 a.m.: “American Girl” by Tom Petty. It seems that will be her entrance music, but after it ends a local precinct captain talks about why he is involved in the campaign.

11:42 a.m.:  Warren enters to “9 to 5.” She introduces her family including her famous dog Bailey. She recounts that she has been campaigning for the past year. She thanks Iowa for speaking to her, for supporting her, for pushing her with hard questions. She thanks the other Democrats who are running and who did run. She talks about her background in Oklahoma, her three brothers, her father who was a janitor, and her mother who worked. I’ve known what I wanted to be, I wanted to be a public school teacher from the second grade. She couldn’t afford a four-year college but got a scholarship because she was a high school debater. She dropped out of college at 19, got married. Later she enrolled in a community college, worked part-time to support herself, and got a job as a special education teacher. One year in, she became pregnant, was fired. She decided to go to law school, found a state school that was affordable. Graduated, passed the bar, and practiced law for 45 minutes. Became a law school professor. Taught contracts, securities but became concerned about how average Americans were doing in our economy.

All in all, Warren has a pretty good backstory. What she doesn’t mention is that for many of her adult years she was a Republican and voted for Republican candidates. I would like to hear about her “conversion experience” and what led her to switch not only parties, but political ideologies.

She pivots to corruption issue. Makes the point that whatever issue voters care about, if they are effected by D.C., money and corruption choke off our democracy. Rich people can have more things, but they shouldn’t own a bigger piece of our democracy. Save our democracy, save our country, it’s going to take big structural change.

The plan: End lobbying as we know it; end revolving door between D.C. and Wall Street; all candidates for office must put their tax returns online.

We want to build an America that works for everyone-that’s why I am in this race.

She takes a question from an Australian. Climate change. No additional mining or drilling on federal land. Zero carbon footprint for buildings, cars, make farmers on the front line in the fight against climate change-sustainable farming (carbon capture). Likes the Green New Deal but wants to add the oceans (Blue New Deal). Innovate our way out of the problem. More scientific research and innovation.

Next question: a Kansas college student. Your female role models? Frances Perkins. Was in New York at the time of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. The owners blocked safety. Perkins got appointed to a fire commission, and political pressure led to changes. First female cabinet secretary. Used an inside/outside game. Minimum wage, ended child labor, made unions legal, the weekend. “It’s amazing what one persistent woman on the inside and millions of people on the outside we can make change possible.”

Trump wanted to kill the Affordable Care Act and end health insurance for 35 million people. It survived 51 to 49 in the Senate because people got involved and made their feelings known.

“It’s a righteous fight and we need to be in it to win.”

A Minnesota high school student asks about technology: accessibility and security. Warren responds, “The president needs to use the anti-trust laws to break up the giant tech companies.” To protect privacy: we have to stop real fake news.

A woman named Grace asks, “I am young and how can I feel hope with what’s going on in America and the world.” Warren responds with as much hope as can be expected in these times.

Warren wraps up with: “We have one goal-we are going to beat Donald Trump.”

Bernie had a large and enthusiastic crowd in the same building yesterday, but my observation is that Elizabeth has a larger and even more enthusiastic crowd today. I wonder if any real reporters attended both events and are making the same comparison. In the end the only thing that matters is what happens on Monday night. 

We take a break from the campaign trail (or shadowing the candidates’ trails) for an afternoon entertainment. For the past few election cycles, the Des Moines Performing Arts theater group has put on a musical entitled The Adore Us Line, a take-off on the famous Broadway musical in which the Democratic candidates make their pitch for voter support. It was quite funny, well-performed, and has just enough heart as well as dissing of the president to warm a Democrat’s heart. If any of you ever end up in Iowa in four, eight or more years before the caucuses you should see if The Adore Us Line is playing. It is a good use of 90 minutes.

Our final event was a Super Bowl watch party put on by a group called Progress Iowa. They somehow got my email address, so I thought, why not? The candidates or surrogates were supposed to drop in to make pitches. We arrived by 6:30, too late to see any candidates, even though I introduced myself to Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California. He is from Silicon Valley and now serves as national co-chairman for Bernie Sanders. When I told him I was also from California, he was curious about my presence. I told him that I was a “caucus tourist” (a term I had only heard a few days before from Harvey Wolf). Ro seemed confused, so I repeated what I said, and his response: “I’ve never heard that term before.”

It made me wonder about how many of the people who I had seen attend these various events were not even Iowa voters. Warren had questions from two out of state and one out of country people. Are caucus tourists everywhere?

Later I spoke to a precinct captain from the southern tier of the state who told me that high school government teachers from as far away as St. Louis have assigned students the task of observing the Iowa caucuses. Good for them. When I taught AP U.S. Government at Santa Barbara High, every two years I forced my students to work on a political campaign. I set a minimum number of hours, gave them a time sheet to fill out and to be signed off on, and set them loose. I gave them the information I had on local campaign offices, but really, in this day and age, they didn’t really need my help with that. They moaned and groaned at first, they were fearful, unsure they would be accepted and know what to do. I would always reassure them that whenever a high school student or any other volunteer walks in to help out they would be immediately welcomed and brought into the fold. After the elections were over my students invariably told me that they enjoyed the experience and that it had been worthwhile. I hope I set more than a few of them on the road to civic engagement.

After the musical Evelyn and I walked through the Pappajohn Sculpture Garden in downtown Des Moines. They have some fantastic pieces, including a polka-dot pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama and a rusted tree trunk by Ai Weiwei. If you are ever in Des Moines….

Tomorrow is the big day. 


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