Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Caucus Campaign

In so many ways, it's hard to believe it's over. I've had the great fortune (thanks to my bosses) to cover the lead up to the Iowa Caucuses nearly full-time for more than a year. I've been able to talk with every major Democratic and Republican candidate over that time period. I'm very fortunate and very thankful.

I wanted to wait a bit before thinking back to the campaign. I wanted time to let things settle in. And, yes, I wanted to take a nap.

Turnout has to be one of the biggest themes of this campaign. Who would have guessed so many Iowans would come out? What a statement to make amidst all this talk that this could be the state's final time to hold the first contest. What a statement.

The passion and interest of Iowans are truly remarkable to me. I can't believe how many people are willing to get up early in the morning, wait in lines in the rain and cold or give up part of their weekend to hear a Presidential candidate. I don't think enough people outside this state truly understand Iowans' devotion to this process.

Months back, it seemed as if Hillary Clinton would walk right through this process on her way to the nomination. That's the feel I believe we reporters got from her campaign. We had by far the least access to her than any other Democratic candidate. She rarely made herself available for questions and answers with the media as a whole. She almost never made herself available for 1 on 1 interviews, except for the campaign's final week when it was increasingly evident her campaign was in trouble.

Barack Obama and John Edwards convinced Iowans they were the candidates for change. Clinton belatedly tried to make change a primary message in her campaign. It didn't work. Obviously. I am appreciative of the access Obama and Edwards gave. I believe that access helps us in the media to better understand a candidate as a person and provide a better way to get follow up conversations on a candidate's statements and ideas. Edwards, at times, gave me the impression he was doing an interview because he felt he should, not because he wanted to. But more often than not, he could be very enjoyable. And I might chalk up his irritability those few times to everything that was going on in his life.

Obama rarely gave me the impression he didn't want to talk. He seemed very comfortable explaining his positions. He could also easily b.s. about other topics, something I never felt comfortable doing with my few times with Clinton. Obama became the one candidate who best attracted young people and supporters of other parties to his cause. I don't think any other candidate electrified a room like he did.

Joe Biden, Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd were also generous with their time. Richardson had a few prickly moments with our photographers, either because of technical problems or his tardiness for interviews. But overall, he was typically pleasant enough with us.

Dodd seemed to stay positive with us, despite the fact he never got the coverage in the media that the top three Democrats received. He did seem to struggle to break out of that "Senate-ise" way of speaking with which some longtime members of Congress seem to struggle. But having said that, he could be quite pleasant. I remember one moment during an interview, a light stand fell on him. His jokes cracked us all up and made us feel better that we didn't hurt him!

Biden, along with Obama, I believe was the most-liked of our photographers because of the way he treated us. Biden has a way of dropping a word here and there that we can't put on television that puts us at ease. I remember covering him on Thanksgiving where he and his family served meals at the Machine Shed Restaurant. I will not forget the obvious bond he has with his family, especially his granddaughters. I don't think you can fake that.

On the Republican side, most of my interaction took place with Romney and Huckabee. Both men were also generous with their time. Romney never seemed to sweat or get rattled. For a man who has been heavily criticized with changing positions, he did seem to have an answer for each decision. Whether you believe those answers are genuine is up to you. Huckabee seemed to base much of his campaign on the media. I rarely covered him at traditional events. It seemed most of our interaction took place with interviews. He also was extremely comfortable in interview settings.

Tom Tancredo wasn't in the metro as much, but he was always accessible and pleasant. So was Duncan Hunter. I won't forget when we covered Hunter at a shooting range to show he's a gun rights guy. He forgot to bring a gun. Misfire.

Rudy Giuliani talked to us when he wanted to, which wasn't often. Same for Fred Thompson, although he seemed to do more media availabilities down the stretch.

John McCain always seems to be a media favorite. For a guy with a much-written about hot temper, he never showed it to me. It seemed money and/or strategy kept him away from Iowa much of the time in the final half of the campaign though. He always seemed willing to handle critical questions.

Ron Paul may have set the Internet ablaze. But he rarely held events in our area. That makes it pretty tough to find out what he is all about.

Overall, again I have to say, what an amazing experience. Thanks especially to all the people you never seen on tv...the underpaid, overworked campaign staff members and volunteers who really do give up their lives for candidates they believe in. You truly deserve whatever comes next in your life. Thank you.

I'm thinking about writing a book about it all. I'm thinking about it, at least. As we say in tv, stay tuned.


Sara said...

Is it hard to cover the candidates so much and then not be able to caucus yourself?

Dave Price said...

Yes, it so difficult. I'm not a native Iowan. And ever since I've lived here, I've covered the caucuses, but never caucused myself. I feel like I've missed out!