Reporter’s notebook: Covering the Iowa caucuses

'Post' reporter Danielle Ziri comments on the kickoff of the US election primaries.

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February 1, 2016 14:28
3 minute read.

Jpost Reporter Danielle Ziri

Jpost Reporter Danielle Ziri

 
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DES MOINES, IOWA - Never have I felt so eager to get to a place that most people would describe as “the middle of nowehere”, but being in Iowa for the kickoff of the US election primaries is a bucketlist must for any journalist interested in politics.

From what I’ve seen so far, the rumors are true, there is not much to see in Iowa, but there is just something refreshing about the empty vast open spaces, corn fields, and typical American wooden houses, with their flag hanging from the porch, especially when you come from New York City.

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On the eve of caucus day, the air was freezing cold but the energy was palpable. Almost every conversation I overheard outside included at least one of the candidates’ name.

After a two hour drive out of Des Moines, I arrived to a town of some 60,000 residents by the name of Council Bluffs. On Sunday, it was the place to be.

Like many other journalists, I got to Gerald W Kirn middle school at 9 am. The republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, was scheduled to hold a campaign rally in the gymnasium four hours later. To my surprise, there wasn’t just media. Trump supporters were already lining up, some where selling Trump merchandise : pins, t-shirts, hats. All with the same slogan: “Make America Great Again”

As dozens of people lined up to get into the school, a man in a cowboy hat and boots was playing guitar singing to the crowd “Don’t forget to caucus for Trump!” His name was Kraig Moss, he came to Iowa all the way from New York to campaign for his favorite candidate. To him, Trump is the “best man for the job”.

Most of Trump’s supporters said they appreciate him for “not sugar coating thing” and “telling it like it is”. When I asked them if the new Ted Cruz ads showing Donald Trump calling the people of Iowa stupid didn’t bother them, Trump supporters all had the same answer : it wasn’t an issue at all, the words had been taken out of context. Just like their candidate, they showed a lot of confidence.

And they had good reason to: the latest polls conducted by the local Des Moines Register clearly showed that Trump had widened his lead over Ted Cruz with 28 percent of likely republican caucus-goers siding with the billionaire, while 23 percent were in favor of the runner-up.

On the Democratic side, it was a completely different atmosphere. No guitar-playing cowboys, no merchandise sold, just people standing in line, wearing “Hilary for Iowa” stickers on their chests. The crowd was a lot older too. I would say 50-years-old in average. The few young people who came were at least 30. “Do you think America is ready for a woman president?”

I asked. “It is long overdue,” one man told me. Hilary’s voters too are not worried about the email scandal or even Bengazhi. What they are concerned about is Bernie Sanders rising in the polls. Hilary “has” to win Iowa they said.

Beyond the different political opinions and the caucuses, what I found most interesting was the involvement. Many came to the rallies still undecided, simply to hear the candidates out and keep an open mind. Primaries in Iowa every four years are really the state’s attraction. “It’s like the circus is coming to town,” a reporter told me. Iowans are really proud of their role in presidential elections.

For them, it doesn’t really matter who you vote for as long as you participate in the democratic process.

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