KRAIG MOSS, of Oswego, New York, strums in support of Donald Trump Sunday in Council Bluffs, Iowa..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa – Dozens of people were clapping and cheering for a man decked out in boots and a cowboy hat with a button saying “Trump [for] President” as he strummed his guitar and gleefully cheered: “Don’t forget to caucus for Trump.”
I knew I was in Iowa.
In this quiet, rural state, a presidential caucus every four years is serious business, yet there’s an air of celebration.
“It’s like the circus is coming to town,” a fellow reporter told me.
I arrived at the Gerald W. Kirn Middle School at 9 a.m., four hours before Republican front-runner Donald Trump was scheduled to hold a campaign rally in the gymnasium.
His supporters were already lining up outside the school, some selling merchandise featuring that now-famous slogan. In a non-election year, Iowa is often dismissed as the “middle of nowhere.” But in 2016, it is quite simply the place to be. Practically every political journalist of note has converged on the quiet mid-western state as voting in the caucuses finally kick off and the presidential primaries officially get underway.
As a newbie to the state, I found something refreshing about the vast open spaces, cornfields and classic-looking wooden houses with American flags hanging from the porches.
It’s a far cry from the concrete jungle of New York City that I’ve come to call home.
On the eve of caucus day, the air was freezing cold, but the energy was palpable.
After driving two hours outside Des Moines, I arrived at the town of Council Bluffs, home to around 60,000 people.
Trump supporters were already lining up outside the school, some selling merchandise featuring that slogan again.
Many of them said they appreciate him for “not sugar coating things” and “telling it like it is.”
Asked if the new ads by challenger Ted Cruz, featuring footage of Trump calling the people of Iowa stupid, upset them, they had the same answer: It’s not an issue at all; the words had been taken out of context.
Just like their candidate, Trump’s supporters showed a lot of confidence. And they had good reason: The latest polls conducted by the Des Moines Register showed that Trump had widened his lead over Cruz – 28 percent of likely Republican caucus- goers were siding with the billionaire, while 23% were in favor of the second-place Texas senator.
On the Democratic side of the race, the atmosphere was radically different.
There were no guitar-playing cowboys or no fancy merchandise.
There were just people standing in line, wearing “Hillary for Iowa” stickers. The crowd skewed older than did the Trump supporters, with very few in their twenties.
“Do you think America is ready for a woman president?” I asked some of those on line.
“It is long overdue,” one man told me.
Those who pledged their support for Hillary Clinton were not too worried about her ongoing email scandals or even Benghazi.
What they were concerned about was Bernie Sanders rising in the polls.
Clinton “has” to win Iowa, they said.
Surprisingly, many of those who turned out at the rallies across the state came undecided.
They showed up simply to hear the candidates out.
Iowans are proud of their role in presidential elections. For many, it doesn’t really matter who you vote for, it’s the participation in the democratic process that counts.