A Campaign Day in Iowa

Posted: Dec 28, 2007 10:15 AM
A Campaign Day in Iowa

The Iowa Caucuses will be held one week from last night, on January 3. After that few in national politics will darken Iowa's door again until sometime in the middle of 2011.

That's not a knock on Iowa or Iowans. That's the reality of the circus packing up and moving on.

As you know, I am a paid consultant to the Fred Thompson campaign. As we sprint to the finish, I suspect our campaign is very similar in its activities as the other major campaigns so, I thought it might be interesting for you to read about our day.

Iowa does not have a primary, it has a series of precinct caucuses.

Contrary to popular belief, the word "caucus" is not a Greek word which would make the plural "cauci" in the same way that more than one "alumnus" would be called "alumni."

According to the Merriam-Webster Third Unabridged, the origin of the word caucus is from the Algonquian Indian word "caucauasu" meaning "elder" or "counselor."

We're here to help.

There are close to 2,000 separate precincts in Iowa, some are tiny and will have a handful of attendees. Others are large and may have several hundreds in attendance.

Nevertheless, the total number of Democrats who will go to their neighborhood grammar school or firehouse may be in the range of 120,000. On the GOP side the number of caucus-goers may be closer to 80,000.

To put that in perspective, in the 2000 primary election in South Carolina nearly 400,000 Republicans and Democrats participated.

Here in Iowa, every campaign is attempting to contact as many voters as possible using as many different techniques as they can: Mail, phones, paid radio and television, personal appearances and the press.

The Thompson campaign started yesterday shortly before 8:00 AM with phone calls from the candidate to foreign policy experts to discuss the implications of the murder of BenazirBhutto.

He then went to the downtown Des Moines Marriott to appear on WHO radio, the major station in the Des Moines market.

At about 11:00 Thompson did what is called a "Media Availability" or, in the shorthand of campaigns, a "press avail." This is a gaggle of reporters - print, radio, and TV - who stand in a semi-circle around the candidate while they fire questions for about 10 minutes.

This works well for both the media and the candidates because they are informal and can be set up by the press aides in a matter of minutes but give the candidates a chance to get a story moving and they give the media something to file quickly.

On the 15 minute drive to the Thompson Iowa headquarters in a suburb of Des Moines we got a call from Carl Cameron asking if he would be available for a live stand-up prior to a "Meet Fred Thompson" event for about 150 supporters there.

He would and he did that interview discussing the crisis in Pakistan.

Inside the HQ Thompson did his 15 minute stump speech, took another 15 minutes of questions from the audience, shook hands and allowed supporters to take pictures for another 15 minutes then it was back onto the bus for an hour drive to Oceola where he did a "Radio Town Hall."

It occurred to us that doing a town hall at a restaurant in a town like Oceola (pronounced Oh-see-OH-la" allowed Thompson to speak to the 75-100 people who could pack into the limited space.

However, if we got a local radio station to interview Thompson in front of those same 75-100 people, then 10 to 20 times that number might hear the program. It has been a very successful technique.

Radio Town Halls take about an hour so at about 2:30 pm (after an interview with the local newspaper and a call-in to a radio service which covers all of Iowa) we were back on the bus for the 40 minute drive to Chariton, Iowa.

Along the way we were asked if we would be willing to do an interview with CNN's John King if the satellite truck could get there. We would, but it didn't so the John King interview got recycled to Friday.

In Chariton we did an interview with the local weekly paper and did a walking tour around the town square - press corps in tow - and stopped into random stores. In this case a candy store, a general store and a beauty parlor.

The manager of the local radio station showed up and Thompson did an interview while walking around the town square.

Back on the bus for a 30 minute ride to Knoxville, Iowa (NOT Knoxville, Tennessee) during which CNBC called and asked if we would do an interview for the Larry Kudlow program if the satellite truck could get there. We would, it couldn't and that interview was recycled as well.

On the way Thompson did a radio interview with Fox Radio's John Gibson - who also hosts a program on Fox News Channel from five to six Eastern time.

At 6:30 Thompson went to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame for a speech to another 100 people which lasted just under an hour giving us the chance to drive 30 minutes to Pella, Iowa get to our motel in time to do the lead segment of Hannity and Colmes at 8:00.

After dinner and brief look at the next day's schedule, we are all done for the day at just after 9:00 pm.

A standard 13 hour campaign day in Iowa.