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.