Steve Reed remembers a different kind of presidential campaign from when he was young. They did not last as long as they do now, the personal chef and Carlisle Republican said.
“Well, it’s just that Iowa has a continuous, it seems like it’s a continuous cycle,” Reed, 50, said. “It never ends in Iowa. When I was a kid or a teenager it seemed like we would always have at least two years, maybe three years before we had to think about caucuses again.”
Reed’s comments are a common refrain in Iowa, where the nation’s first presidential test happens during Monday’s political precinct caucuses. His comments are linked hand-in-hand with another one:
Many Iowans say they will be glad the candidates have moved on to New Hampshire, South Carolina and the rest of the states that still must judge this year’s offerings for the presidency.
“Probably the same reason as everyone else is: the advertising, the constant bombardment of ads and people knocking at my door,” Benjamin Chalkley, 51, of North Liberty said. Chalkley, a Democrat, said he will caucus for Hillary Clinton.
Iowans certainly have had to deal with a lot of ads if they watch television but also via other channels, such as YouTube and social media.
Even before this home stretch the Wesleyan Media Project and Center for Responsive Politics were reporting that Des Moines area television viewers had been bombarded by 11,042 ads worth $7 million from Jan. 1 through Dec. 9, 2015. That trailed only the much larger Boston area in terms of volume and spending on the presidential campaign, the groups reported.
In line after the Des Moines area were Cedar Rapids and Sioux City in Iowa, Charleston in South Carolina and Burlington in Vermont. Eastern Iowa television viewers had a chance to see 9,447 ads costing buyers $4.5 million in 2015 through Dec. 9, the report showed. Numbers were far less in western Iowa, where 4,901 ads costing $2.8 million were aired by Sioux City television stations, the report showed.
Super PACs sponsored four of every five ads Iowans saw in 2015, the Wesleyan Media Project and Center for Responsive Politics reported. That was up 71 percent from 2011 and 12,000 percent from 2007, the watchdog groups reported.
“The whole season of politics is super-annoying. It’s like, people coming and going, and ads and stuff,” Emma Rehnberg, 23, of Ames said. “But it will be cool to be part of it, still.”
The Iowa State University student was deciding in the week leading up to the caucuses whether or not to attend. If she does, she said, she’d caucus as a Democrat for Bernie Sanders.
Rehnberg was one of several Iowa voters who spoke to reporters involved in an IowaWatch/College Media Voices of the Caucus project. College student journalists from several campuses have interviewed voters for the project since late last year.
Reed, who indicated he probably will caucus for Ted Cruz, said he already knows what’s coming next year.
“I can guarantee you that whoever wins the election in 2016, whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat, then people in the media will start speculating on who’s going to run in 2020,” he said.
Golden opportunity for Iowans
For all of the talk about whether or not presidential campaigns are in Iowa too long a fact remains: People in early nominating states like Iowa and New Hampshire have rare opportunities each election campaign. Do you wish you could just get five minutes with someone with power to do something about this country? Iowans get to do that if they speak to the right candidate.
A check of the Jan. 27 schedule at The Des Moines Register’s Iowa Caucus Candidate Tracker showed 23 events in Iowa by 10 candidates. This is the home stretch and candidates are taking it seriously.
So are Iowans who want a say in who the next president will be.
“I just think that we need to send the illegal immigrants home, and Senator Santorum and Mr. Trump are the ones who have said that. Everybody else has squished on it,” Kathryn Hove, 63, of Solon said the morning of Monday, Jan. 25, at the Hamburg Inn restaurant in Iowa City, referring to Republican candidates Rick Santorum and Donald Trump.
The restaurant is known for hosting political candidates for campaign stops. Santorum started his day there with an omelet that kitchen workers let him prepare. As Santorum took the first of what ended up being only few bites of his breakfast Hove, sitting a few feet away, shared her views.
“I found that remarkable. I did not think that I was going to get that opportunity,” Hove said later. “I was going to go to Washington (Iowa, another Santorum stop 30 minutes south of Iowa City) but I just walked in here. And I had no idea I would have this opportunity. I think that’s just a real privilege that Iowans have and they should take that seriously.”
On the other side of Santorum at the restaurant counter sat Bill Warner, 68, of Coralville. Warner said he is an independent concerned about adequate health care and reducing gun violence. Retired after first working in Chicago and then at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Iowa City, he said he has seen several candidates from both political parties.
Warner said he is well aware of how much candidates want to reach people like him who were making up their minds during the last week of the Iowa caucus campaign. “I’m a truly open-minded independent who’s got an interest in a number of issues and how they get treated,” he said.
Warner said he has enjoyed the caucus campaign. However, he said, “I have to admit, it is refreshing right afterwards to finally see a Coca-Cola commercial, or whatever. Yeah, you do kind of get inundated.”
Warner has been interviewed more than once for news stories. The Des Moines Register reported that some 1,600 journalists from around the world will be in Des Moines to cover Monday’s caucuses.
The star factor
Donald Trump’s unorthodox campaign for the Republican nomination has generated plenty of the attention, to no one’s surprise by now, because of the anti-establishment sentiment it has touched but also because of how effective it has been gathering support.
Campaign appearances, including the one in Ames Jan. 20 where former vice presidential candidate and Alaska governor Sarah Palin endorsed the New York businessman and reality show star, increasingly feature protesters being escorted out of the event.
Palin has been one of several media star surrogates traversing the state in January on behalf of candidates. Spouses, including former President Bill Clinton, are making visits but so are people like Lena Dunham for Hillary Clinton, Susan Sarandon for Bernie Sanders, “Pawn Stars” host Rick Harrison for Marco Rubio, and Kirk Cameron for Ben Carson, to list a few.
Star performers have been in Iowa for more than just individual candidates. Iowa City-born pop music star Nate Ruess of the band fun., for example, has been in the state for a political cause – clean energy.
With so much to pay attention to in Iowa this winter, Sanders’ comment at the beginning of a University of Northern Iowa West Gym appearance on Sunday, Jan. 24, came off as a punch line, albeit with a serious edge:
“We are going to talk about the most important issues that face our country. We’re going to talk about them in depth, and I’m going to bore the hell out of you,” he told about 1,250 people in attendance.
Plenty still primed for Monday
Painting broad strokes in politics is risky; likewise with generalizing about how Iowans feel about something. Plenty of Iowans say they are ready to move on from the caucuses; others, like Reid Slaughter of Waterloo, said they will go to the caucuses energized.
Slaughter, 24, said he plans on supporting Trump after supporting 2012 Republican candidate Ron Paul in his first caucus.
“See, I like politics,” Slaughter said. “It goes on year-round anyway. Yeah, I am a little tired of the commercials because it’s not really effective marketing at all. What works for Trump is the rallies.”
Tanner Strudthoff said he is looking forward to participating in his first caucus. Concerned about national security in particular, Strudthoff, 18, is a University of Northern Iowa student from Victor studying public administration and political science.
He was a coveted commodity in this week before the caucuses – undecided but planning to participate in the Republican Party.
Strudthoff said he will not miss the daily clamor after Monday’s caucuses.
“It’ll be nice to get it over,” he said.
“On the other hand this is my first time caucusing, too, so I’m excited for that.”
Assisting with reporting for this story were Clare McCarthy in Mount Vernon and North Liberty; Nicholas Fisher in Cedar Falls; Brittany Robb in Indianola; Clinton Olsasky in Cedar Falls; and Makayla Tendall, Alex Hanson and Michaela Ramm in Ames.