Boarding the flight from Chicago’s O’Hare airport to Des Moines, I was first struck by the dozens of John Deere hats that speckled the heads of Iowans returning to their state of inflated importance on the eve of its esteemed caucus. For the most part, it seems the citizens of Iowa recognize that their agricultural state’s role in the election is exaggerated. I overheard the man behind me lament, “Iowa is just small potatoes to the rest of it.” That being said, I have never seen more engaged citizenship than I have since the outset of our trip. Iowans seem to treat their vast and flat state like a tightly-knit village; there is an aura of friendliness about the place. Though they may support opposing candidates, Iowans acknowledge and respect one another for their role as the leading agents of democracy in the presidential election. This fact was most evident during the Democratic caucus of Precinct 56 this evening when representatives supporting the O’Malley, Clinton, and Sanders campaigns stood up to speak on behalf of their candidates. The 468 other people in the room fell silent and listened earnestly with a genuine openness to having their views challenged. In a hot and sweaty theater packed wall-to-wall with people, I literally had chills.
Earlier in the day, while phone-banking for Ted Cruz to ensure voters’ support for the Senator and confirm that they knew their caucus location, I was pleasantly surprised to hear answers like “Are you kidding? Of course I know where I’m caucusing!” Talking directly to Iowans on the phone only reassured me of their involvement in the political process. When I asked for phone advice from the man next to me, he replied, “If you believe in your heart that you’re a conservative and that these are your values, it’ll go just fine, you won’t even need the script.” Though I’m not a conservative and Ted Cruz’s values are not my own, it was then that I realized how fervently these people cared not only about their candidate, but also about the election as a whole.
At the end of an exhausting day traversing the humble streets of Des Moines, I am more enchanted than ever by our nation’s democratic process and cannot wait to see it in action again next week in New Hampshire.
Nick Boney 2/2/16