Story by Zoë Haggard/ Seigenthaler News Service
Zoe Haggard was one of six journalism students who recently spent four days in Iowa covering the caucus system. Funding for the project was provided by the Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies.
Des Moines, Iowa—A cover band on a makeshift stage sang pop music; young students danced and played corn hole; fried food was served among peals of laughter—the room in the convention center next to Wells Fargo Arena was abuzz with anticipation.
Then the boom of a drum broke the partying as a drumline marched into the crowd and onto the stage. From the audience came the repeated shouting of a name: “KA-MA-LA…KA-MA-LA…KA-MA-LA…”
Presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, dressed in standard blazer and black pumps, bounded into the room and began dancing with the young drum majors.
With the enthusiasm of a university block party, Kamala Harris’s were in force at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Liberty and Justice Celebration in the Wells Fargo Arena on Nov. 1. The several hundred supporters dressed in yellow campaign t-shirts, to show their support for the presidential hopeful.
But the question of whether their energy will carry Harris to top three from her current sixth place in Iowa, still remains.
“We’ve been in Iowa since last February and began a ground operation,” said Miryam Lipper, Harris’s campaign director in Iowa.
“We’re aiming for top three,” she said.
As the saying goes, there are three tickets in Iowa.
“We’re going to get top three, so I’m not worried…”
But recent polls show otherwise, as Warren, Biden, and Sanders continue to dominate the top and candidates like Buttigieg continue to rise.
However, Lipper remains optimistic in the 90 days leading up to caucus day on Feb. 3, 2020.
“The unique thing about Iowa is it breaks late and leaves the door open for any candidate,” she said.
That is, the decision is not final until the last minute. So up until that time, campaigns work tirelessly to build relationships with caucus-goers.
“Talking individually really makes the difference,” said Lipper.
For Harris supporters, they like that she was a prosecutor and district attorney, because most of them want someone who has experience with the court system and can change the system from the inside-out, according to Lipper.
Up on the stage, Harris—slightly out-of-breath from the excitement—addressed her key issues and emphasized that this is “about the people.”
She told anecdotes about when she campaigned for Barack Obama and went door-to-door, a strategy she is continuing today.
So with Harris’s credible background and the enthusiasm of her supporters, why is she lagging in Iowa?
For some of the participants, like Bob and Annie from Ankeny, Iowa, they still have yet to decide on a candidate.
Now retired, the couple attends events leading up to the caucuses for the fun of it.
“It’s amazing. So, it gives us a chance to actually meet, talk to the candidates,” he said as he munched on crab wontons at the Kamala Harris block party. He said his friends from other states can’t believe they get to do this.
Bob and his wife have attended both Republican and Democratic caucuses before. He said the reason he even attended a Trump caucus four years ago was because he had never met the man.
Even though he was attending the Harris rally, he was not there to solely support her campaign.
“We give financial support to a lot of candidates so they can stay candidates,” he said, but he still wore a Kamala t-shirt.
It’s too early to determine anything certain, and one can see, Iowans are still building relationships with the candidates and waiting to break late.
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