Caucus fatigue? Not for Iowans…yet

With 22 Democratic presidential hopefuls (and one Republican) who hit the winding streets of the Iowa State Fair this weekend, Iowa Democrats The Daily Iowan interviewed said they weren’t yet fatigued by the caucus fanfare.


Shivansh Ahuja

A crowd gathers to watch Sen. Bernie Sanders speak during the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, IA on Sunday, August 11, 2019.

Twenty-three presidential hopefuls, one Des Moines Register Political Soapbox stage, and over a hundred-thousand Iowa State Fair-goers maneuvered campaign staff and political junkies this weekend.

For almost a year, presidential candidates have flocked to Iowa ahead of its first-in-the-nation caucuses. For a lot of Iowans, the state fair was not the first time they were able to see nomination candidates. Democrats have been holding events in supporters’ houses, at local bars, and in larger gatherings with other candidates.

But it didn’t seem to deter crowd sizes at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox, where each presidential hopeful spoke from. On the fair’s busiest days, the crowd spilled outside the designated Soapbox area and sometimes far into the street, numbering well into the hundreds for candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Ginger Nekvinda and Betty Salmon have lived in Iowa for 35 years, and said the high volume of candidates consistently flowing into the state energizes them to stay involved in politics ahead of the caucuses. They said they have already seen a lot of the candidates and have attended multiple events for Warren and Sanders.

They said they think large events such as the Soapbox at the state fair, where candidates give short speeches back-to-back on an open-air stage, are more entertaining than informative. But, they said, it’s a fun experience.

“I feel like they each have their stump speech, but I will say that this year I feel like I’ve seen [the candidates] get more detailed than I have in the past,” Nekvinda said. “That’s promising. I enjoy listening to them and asking questions and trying to discriminate between the [candidate’s] differences.”

Iowa’s first-in-the nation caucuses this year received a challenge from the California primary, now, early voting for the Sunshine state’s 2020 presidential primary starts the same day as the Iowa caucuses, but hopefuls are filling their schedules with Iowa events, largely using the month of August to campaign here.

Anthony Atlas, his wife Kate, and their six-month old son Orin, all Iowa transplants from California visited the Iowa State Fair to see some of the candidates. They said they’re undecided, but liked to visit smaller-than-California primary events to see presidential hopefuls speak.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. meets Orin Atlas, who’s six months old, and his father Anthony at the Iowa State Fair Saturday. Anthony said he likes being able to interact with the candidates.

Bruce Edwards, a Democrat from West Des Moines, attended the fair both Saturday and Sunday to see most of the presidential hopefuls take the Soapbox stage. He shook the hand of author and presidential hopeful Marianne Williamson, and told her how much he and his wife liked her candor. However, he said some bigger-name candidates he wished he could meet were surrounded by crowds of fair-goers and reporters.

He said he’s undecided for who to caucus for as of now, but likes former Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii for their electability.

Saturday, Aug. 10 this year attendance surpassed 122,000, topping the third day of the fair in 2018, though that is not just due to presidential candidates attending, other factors such as the weather also play a role.

Mindy Williamson, the marketing director of the Iowa State Fair said the press office issued about 750 media badges as of Sunday afternoon, which members can keep for all 11 days.

She added that this was the most media she’d ever seen at the fair in the five years she’s worked there (including in 2015, the summer before the 2016 February caucuses), but that the surge in media requests could be due to more diverse platforms such as podcasts.

Randy Lamb, a Democrat from Newton, Iowa, said he’s been attending the Iowa State Fair for 65 years. He said when former President George W. Bush was running, there was a large gathering of Republican candidates in Newton, so he decided to go to the event. Lamb said he got a picture of Bush holding his then three-month-old son.

He said that whenever candidates visit his hometown, he makes an effort to see them.

“I think bigger crowds get people more motivated to do something,” Lamb said.

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