From Ames, Iowa –
The pace of campaigning picked up on Saturday, as did the number of miles on my rental car, as candidates and reporters barnstormed their way around Iowa, searching for clues to who might win in Monday night’s first caucus in the 2016 election.
The day began with a sudden realization that I had misjudged how long it would take to get to my first event, leading me to suddenly rush out the front door of the hotel to get into my rental car.
That was sort of an omen for the rest of the day, where I was always just running behind schedule – probably an indicator that I could use a long night of sleep.
While I left my hotel much later than I had originally planned, I was able to turn the clock back on the highway and catch up to the bus carrying Ted Cruz, making me realize that I wouldn’t be late after all.
Cruz was heading to South Hardin Middle School in Hubbard, Iowa, about an hour’s drive to the north-northeast of Des Moines.
It was a good crowd for Cruz in the school’s cafeteria, which ironically is going to be used Monday night by local Democrats for their caucus.
The above photo shows Cruz answering a question related to health care; Cruz didn’t know, but the guy in the striped shirt who asked the question evidently is going to caucus for Hillary Clinton. He wanted to know how Cruz would replace the Obama health law.
There were lots of foreign reporters at the Cruz event. They tend to show up at events which are within an hour’s drive of Des Moines.
Once you get outside of that one hour circle, the number of reporters at Iowa campaign events tends to dwindle dramatically.
Once the Cruz event was over, I did a few interviews with voters, and then sat down to write my stories at a middle school lunch table.
When I got out into the parking lot, I noticed that my friend and colleague Bob Costantini was sitting in his car writing his stories.
That’s usually where I would be, too – except that I decided to use the middle school lunchroom to do my work.
You can see Bob’s microphone up on the dash.
One reason I have enjoyed my “transit vehicle” for my rental car, is that I have not had to sit in the passenger seat in the front to record and edit my stories – instead I’m in the middle seats of the van, which are much more roomy.
From there, I drove to Clear Lake, Iowa, going through some beautiful winterized rural areas of the Hawkeye State.
I got to Clear Lake – where the music died – just about 10 minutes before Jeb Bush was set to begin at the local VFW hall.
While there was a nice audio setup for radio and TV reporters, the audio system for Jeb’s event had a nasty buzz on it.
I’m always amazed when something like that happens – especially on the campaign trail, where some company is getting paid to set up that system.
While Jeb was speaking, you could hear people talking and other noise coming out of the adjoining room at the VFW – that room is what we call a bar.
And it was obvious, they really weren’t really interested in peeling themselves away from the TV’s showing the Iowa State basketball game, in the “Bunker” in order to hear what Bush had to say.
After Jeb finished, I did my usual round of interviews with those who had been there, and then shuffled off to my van, to record, edit and email out my stories for Saturday afternoon.
I decided I needed something to eat, and that I needed to get gas for the ole transit van.
This gas station in Clear Lake gave me the lowest price that I have paid for gasoline in some time – $1.41 a gallon.
When I got back on the road, my phone told me I was again running late, as I drove back down I-35 to Ames for a Marco Rubio event.
Rubio was scheduled to start at 3:30 CT; I arrived in the parking lot at exactly that point in time, but noticed a huge group of reporters up on the balcony of one of the buildings at Iowa State University.
I was just in time. Rubio was going to take a few questions from the press corps.
My biggest problem was that I had left my fishpole back in the car – that is the long, extended boom for my microphone that you sometimes see people using to get audio.
So, the Fox News crew took pity of me and gave me an audio feed. Thanks Greg Gurney.
Inside, the Rubio event was a madhouse, another big turnout for him. My fellow reporters who had arrived hours ahead of time had staked out chairs and tables to do their work.
I just squeezed into a small opening and stood there to watch the speech, which worked out fine.
By total luck, the person using the camera stand in front of me had a very small camera, so it gave me an opening to get some good photographs of Rubio.
Sometimes, you just get lucky.
Rubio gave his usual stump speech inside, which I have heard many times along the way in recent months.
I will observe that he is much improved in delivering that speech, which is typical for candidates running for President – they usually get more relaxed as time goes by – the speech just rolls off the tongue when you do it day, after day, after day.
So, while we were all stuffed in there, waiting for Rubio to finish up, he started into a foreign policy portion of his speech, promising to use military might more often around the world than the Obama Administration.
That got the usual strong applause from a Republican audience.
Suddenly, there was a big noise coming from the press section. Coming from right next to me.
A woman with greying hair pulled back in a ponytail, suddenly yells out “PEACE! PEACE!” and thrusts her right arm in the air.
We all sort of stepped back, figuring this woman is a demonstrator who has made her way into the press area.
But after watching her for a while, we realize, she is a local radio reporter.
I never found out who she worked for, but let’s just say that she seemed to be from a public radio outlet, as her bag, sweater, and shoes gave off the feeling of someone who was on the more liberal side of the register.
Very odd, indeed.
Rubio finished his speech, which meant it was time to interview more people.
Along with the people who said they were still undecided, or now switching over to Rubio, there was a family from Missouri who had driven up to play political tourist.
Their goal, to see at least a dozen candidates over three days.
After those interviews, it was the usual formula – write my stories, record them, edit and email to my stations.
And then it was time to get back on the road.
It was getting dark as I walked out, just a few blocks from the football stadium at Iowa State. It wasn’t hard to imagine some good tailgating opportunities in the parking lots below.
As I had mentioned earlier, all day I had been running late, and that was still true. My original plan had been to end up at a Ben Carson event in West Des Moines, but I wasn’t going to make it.
It was getting late. And I needed something to eat.
As I rumbled down the interstate, the radio chattered with news about the latest Des Moines Register poll in Iowa, still showing Trump leading Cruz, with Rubio showing no momentum.
Maybe that’s going to happen, but from my stops here, my gut tells me Rubio does have some extra zip that you don’t see with the others – but maybe I’m just wrong.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton holds a short lead in that same poll over Bernie Sanders. It’s close.
I turned off the highway near my hotel, grabbed some Chinese takeout, went back to my room and watched the Carson event on a Facebook feed. Then I caught the Hillary Clinton rally on C-SPAN, with Chelsea and Bill introducing her to a roaring crowd in Cedar Rapids.
One note from that Clinton event – remember the guy who asked Ted Cruz earlier in the day about how the GOP would change the Obama health law? Well, Clinton already had a line in her speech about the answer that Cruz gave.
That was sort of surprising to hear, given that I had been there for the actual question some 12 hours earlier.
Another day of driving over 300 miles to get a feel for what is going on in Iowa.
And did I mention that a blizzard is on the way?