Moments from a Campaign Event

Though its influence wanes as campaigning changes, Iowa is still the epicenter of the US presidential race. There are more candidate visits per capita here than anywhere else in the country. In years past I’ve seen John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, and others within shouting distance while just going about my business. We’ve attended some rallies and avoided many others. In September while visiting Amana, we saw Republican candidate Scott Walker with his campaign bus and a throng of about eight supporters. Yeah. And the next week he withdrew from the race.

Besides candidates, other celebs come on their behalf. Just this week we’ve been invited to campaign events featuring Howard Dean, Wendy Davis, and actor Tony Goldwyn from Scandal.

Yesterday we had the opportunity to attend an event for Hillary Clinton. She’s a persuasive, knowledgeable speaker, and kept the tone positive. Aside from asserting that the Republican candidates are working in an evidence-free zone, she spent her time talking about her policy positions and plans, rather than tearing down anyone else. She spoke for about 15 minutes, followed by about 30 minutes of questions and answers.


Besides the campaign rhetoric, there were a few moments from the event that stood out. First, as we entered the building, we filled out our contact info on a small form, which served as our tickets into the event. While we had our heads down, a young woman asked if we were ready to sign “commitment cards,” committing to caucusing for Hillary. I growled, “NO!” and then heard laughter. I looked up to see our friend Caroline, a campaign worker. She knows our position and was just pulling my chain.


We went inside and were directed to the left for seating. It’s a small venue, allowing for about 400 to attend. Our seats were to the left of the podium, near the doorway through which Clinton ultimately entered, and three feet back from the rope line. There was just enough room for people to walk in front of us, which they did as the room filled.

About a half hour before things started, a woman appeared before us and positioned herself and her equipment at the rope line. “I know what I’m doing. I’m good,” the woman said, brushing off a staffer’s attempts to get her to move. She was Washington Post photographer Melina Mara, getting ready to photograph Hillary Clinton as she entered the room. We’d already heard her celebrate “making it” across the secured area with no one stopping her. “No one yells,” she said when Jim asked her about it. “I don’t get in trouble.”

“I know what I’m doing?” I asked her. “That’s all you have to say and people leave you alone?”

“Yes, that’s all there is to it!” She had already reached for me, taking my hand as she spoke. So I reached back and we hugged.

A few minutes later I saw her stroke another photographer’s face and hug him as she greeted him. Yet later, as she talked to an old vet, she had her hand on his knee as she squatted on the floor in front of him. I asked the photographer who recently joined us, “Does she make friends like this wherever she goes?” I nodded toward her with the older man.

“What, you mean I’m not the only one?” He smiled, and then said, “You don’t get to be on staff at the Washington Post without being good at this.”

Yep. She’s good.


Speaking of photos, here is a photo taken by Gazette photographer Andy Abeyta. Jim and I are on the far right of the photo.



I spent a lot of time watching the Secret Service agents. Prior to Clinton’s arrival in the room, visible coverage went from two burly men for an hour, to adding a burly woman, to adding about 10 more men just before Hillary came in. Those were the ones I could see; I expect there were more. As soon as the meeting was over, they formed a picket fence in front of her since the crowd was up and moving and they needed to cover differently. (They did make room for people to step up and shake her hand or thank her for coming.) The guy on the picket fence immediately in front of me cracked a smile back when I caught his eye.


Another interesting moment: Clinton asked how many in the audience had previously attended a caucus. (For those of you who haven’t, you don’t just go step into a booth and vote when it’s convenient for you during the day. It’s a scheduled meeting, a process that takes a couple of hours.) The vast majority of us raised our hands. We all laughed, including Hillary.


After the event we met our friend Sarah, another campaign staffer, in the hallway. She wondered what we thought. Clinton is very impressive and, frankly, comes across better in person that she does on television. Her goals for the country are for progress rather than regression or destruction. She wants better economic equity and fairness. She supports women’s rights to healthcare, including for reproductive health. And she understands more about national security and diplomacy than any other candidate. Yes, we were impressed. And then we signed the commitment cards Sarah offered us, to caucus for Hillary Clinton on February 1.




13 thoughts on “Moments from a Campaign Event

  1. Jim Wheeler

    Very interesting, Melanie.

    I was glad to hear that the Iowa caucus process involves a significant commitment of time and effort. That seems appropriate for the country’s first official screening of candidates. I also appreciate your take on Hillary. In my opinion she comes across much better when she’s serious in her demeanor. There is depth to her.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I agree, it’s good there is a lengthy process. A lot of people rail about Iowa being first, since it many ways some see Iowa as not “representative” of the rest of the country. (It actually is in very important ways, and I could tell you a lot about that.) But it really doesn’t matter which state is first. The value is in pushing the candidates through a rigorous process whereby they have to face actual people and talk with them about what they value. It helps them become better candidates, if they’re smart, and better elected representatives if they are honorable. And the caucus process is rather amazing, too. In 2008 the grade school near us FILLED the gym, I’m sure way beyond fire code, with people eager to talk through the benefits and disadvantages of the several Democratic candidates. As I said, it’s a process, not a vote.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I believe he’s been around here, but every time I’ve checked the schedule for events, they aren’t personal appearances nearby. They’re canvassing events or the like. So I don’t know. Once the caucus is over, they’ll all ignore us. 🙂

  2. BJ Good

    I appreciate your sharing an in person evaluation. I have another friend who attended a different Hilary Clinton event earlier. She had the same opinion-impressive and inspired confidence with her knowledge and “genuineness”.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yes, I guess that’s why I say she came across better in person. TV is artificial, if only because of the snippets we’re fed. “Genuine” is a good word for it. If you get a chance, read Jim Fetig’s comment below, too.

  3. jimfetig

    I was serving on the Clinton administration National Security Council staff during years three and four of his eight. One morning I was headed for a meeting with reporters in the press secretary’s office. I entered the West Wing though lower level doors you never see on TV. I was a tad early so I took time to view the photos from Hillary and Chelsea’s recent trip to Mongolia which had been put up that morning. What most people don’t know that that 16×20 photos of the president and first family grace the West Wing walls and are frequently changed.

    I was viewing a photo of Hillary and Chelsey taken in front of a yurt standing behind a small table with a bowl of Mongolian fermented mare’s milk. I was at the base of a narrow stairway that leads to the lobby outside the press secretary’s office, the cabinet room, the Oval Office and the Roosevelt room. I was about to begin my climb when I heard the voices of Mrs. Clinton and Maggie Williams, her chief of staff, as they started down the stairs.

    Naturally I continued to stare at the photo since there wasn’t room in the stairway for me.

    As she passed, Hillary tapped me on the shoulder. I turned. She looked me in the eyes and said, “It tasted like shit.”

    Needless to say, my perception of her was forever changed.

    I agree that she is, beyond doubt and by any objective measure, the best prepared candidate of either party to be president.

    My worry is that she comes with a built in and well-rehearsed hate machine fueled by the same folks who have relentlessly attacked the current president. In other words, if she is elected, the tone in Washington isn’t going to improve.

    Now, the Rs will “hate” any D who wins the White House. If it’s not Hillary, then it will just take them a little longer – about a nano second – to rewrite their talking points.

    This won’t end unless and until the Ds do better in congressional elections.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      She’s from Chicago, so I’m not surprised that she could be blunt. 🙂 Still that’s a great story. And yes, it doesn’t matter who the D is in this case. I don’t understand the opposition from the R’s that seems without basis so much of the time. A real “us or them” kind of position, which rarely leads to good.

      Thanks for the story and your thoughts.

      1. jimfetig

        The answer isn’t that difficult. You can make it complex if you dig deep into the conspiracy theory universe.

        The simplistic version goes like this. White males, conservative Christians, neo-confederates, rural gun culture and a bit more are being rapidly displaced in their traditional socioeconomic standing.

        Factor disruption of the economy that gave them stated by powerful forces – digital disruption, globalization, and Wall Street’s relentless hunger for profit. Enter large level of illegal immigration and you’ve got an explosive mix.

        Mix this into the Reagan inspired dogma – discredited government and the culture wars.

        Over the years conservatives built a network of think tanks and AstroTurf groups that could provide counterpoint in the mainstream media.

        Knit it all together with a common narrative, e.g. talking points. Reinforce it all with Fox and conservative radio, plus the purchase of lesser media. The Las Vegas Review Journal just today.

        Every points fingers at the Koch brothers and their fellow travelers. Guess who their father was?

        His name was Fred Koch. He founded the John Burch Society.

        The proof lies in the narrative. Research the language used by Joseph McCarthy, Barry Goldwater and George Wallace. Compare placards from their rallies to the ones you read at Tea Party demonstrations. They are identical.

        1. Melanie McNeil Post author

          It’s interesting that people who’ve had decades to adjust positively to new realities instead prefer to play victims, and it’s ironic that these are the same who are most derisive of those who ask for fairness, opportunity, and justice, and some help now and then. It’s important for the “White males, conservative Christians, neo-confederates, rural gun culture and a bit more” to get theirs as long as they are always ahead of the other guy/gal/gay/person of color… You’ve been watching this longer than I have, Jim, but even while in high school I was horrified by the idea of Reagan as president. And my family didn’t talk politics, so in truth I can’t even remember where that level of awareness came from. It’s gotten worse oh so much worse since then.

        2. jimfetig

          I lived this in my professional life. The Internet and big money quickened the transition. We’re at a turning point now. We’ll see where we go.

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