I first caucused in Iowa in 1984, for Jesse Jackson. I was the only person in the Jackson group in my precinct (go figure), so I joined with the Gary Hart group. That didn't work out so well either. Walter Mondale had Iowa locked up, and it was frustrating, because most of us knew he'd get beat, and boy, did he ever get beat.
I met Dick Gephardt in 1986. He wasn't impressive. I also met Joe Biden in 1986. In 1987 a group of us met with all of the Democratic candidates. Mike Dukakis didn't know what the Iowa minimum wage was. Jesse Jackson, that year, signed up many struggling farmers- a very surprising event, but one I would remember 20 years later. Gephardt came back. Al Gore and I got into a shouting match over the PMRC - Tipper's music censorship group. Bruce Babbitt was perfect, but boring. Paul Simon had a bow tie. He looked like Al Franken....
I headed the local Biden effort. He dropped out, so we all moved to Simon, but he dropped out after Iowa.
The sad thing is, I have no photos at all from that time, nor from 1992, 1996, 2000 nor 2004.
By 2006, the world was different, and I knew it would be an important campaign. I bought a digital camera. I was ready.
UPDATE Commenter vintage dem added some great pics in the comments worth finding. They're for the last big Des Moines Event, which I didn't get to go to. Commenter beabea suggested the blurry ones were cool, so I added a few more in the reply to his/her comment!
I also added three photos in a comment
I hope you enjoy this diary of more than two years of the Iowa Presidential caucus campaign! The camera I took these photos with is a humble Fuji S5200.
1. John Edwards
John Edwards came to Fort Dodge more than any other candidate. The following photos are from August 2006, at a fundraiser Edwards headlined for our State Senator Daryl Beall. It was a big event at the local orchard.
2. Joe Biden
Joe Biden has long been an advocate against violence to women, and he came to Fort Dodge in October, 2006, to speak at a vigil for women murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. We already had a Democratic Headquarters, and Biden made a visit there. He was an unannounced candidate at the time.
In this picture, Biden is charming a Republican friend of mine, who became important later in this saga. Mary Lou Wahby loved Biden, but when I invited her to meet Barack Obama, she was sold. She worked and worked and worked the phones, and eventually went to Nevada to work there.
3. Barack Obama
The first Obama event I know of in Iowa, was on February 12th, 2007 at Hilton Colosseum in Ames. This was only two days after Obama had officially announced his candidacy. Hilton holds about about 7500 people when it is set up the way it was that day. The event had been planned for a small room, originally, but they had to move it because they had given away too many tickets.
7000 people showed up. It was freakin' FEBRUARY 2007! This was the biggest event in Iowa history for a primary candidate - until later in the campaign, when the record was shattered numerous times,
I realized what a massive story this would be when I saw who from the press were present. Here, Richard Wolffe and Maureen Dowd talk after the event. Sitting at the table scribbling is Joe Klein. I met him at an Edwards event that summer, and he quoted me in Time Magazine! It was a dubious honor. He snorted when I said Hillary couldn't win Iowa.
Barack got my caucus vote that day, although I had the slight problem of my standing offer to head Joe Biden's local campaign if he were to run. Biden did announce, but after the first campaign fundraising disclosures came out, it was an easy choice. Obama had about 33 million dollars. Joe had less than 1.4 Million. Compare to 1988, when Dukakis won the entire primary season with about 10 Million bucks, IIRC.
The big guy on the near end of the table with the black shirt is Chris Lewis, our regional director for the Obama campaign in our area. He's a Harvard grad, and the best organizer I'd ever met to that point!
4. The Great Pretenders
Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack ran for President, too. It didn't last long, even though he had a lot of support in DC. Our State Senator Daryl Beall may have hoped to be his running mate - at least the picture is a reminder of a famous Time Magazine cover in 1993!
Tom was a great Governor. He got a lot done with a Republican Legislature. In fact he did so well, Iowans gave him a Democratic Legislature. We're proud of him as Secretary of Agriculture, even if he's a bit mainstream for some Kossacks!
5. Chris Dodd
Senator Chris Dodd was a hit in Fort Dodge. It helped that the day he arrived, it was 72 degrees, sunny, and he had Paul Simon with him (Simon and Garfunkel, not the "Bow Tie Guy").
Paul Simon is not fond of crowds, but he gave a great talk about Dodd's work for kids and education. I caught him tuning up his guitar, and apparently thinking of something amusing. I got this great smile surreptitiously. I hope it doesn't ruin his image!
6. Iowa was crawling with surrogates.
Here's a good example. My State Senator, Daryl Beall, has an annual event called Fun on the Farm. in 2007, surrogates for most of the Presidential candidates showed up for this event. Left to Right:
State Rep. McKinley Bailey; President of the Iowa Senate Jack Kibbie; Shari Fitzgerald, who ran the Iowa Richardson campaign; Jackie Dodd for her husband, Chris Dodd; State Senator Daryl Beall; Valerie Biden Owens, Joe's sister who runs all his campaigns; Chris Fields for John Edwards; Former Senator Mark Dayton of Minnesota for Hillary Clinton; Former Iowa Congressman Berkley Bedell, the guru to all Democrats in NW Iowa; and Chris Lewis for Barack Obama.
7. Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton was enormously popular in Fort Dodge, but her campaign in Iowa was a mess. She replaced her staff in Fort Dodge twice. Her big event was a spectacular show, with Governor Tom Vilsack quite visible there.
First Lady Christy Vilsack was the honorary chair of the Clinton Campaign in Iowa. If she had been the ACTUAL chair of the campaign, it would have been run far better. Hillary shares some secret plans with Christy!
8. Also Rans
I forgot my camera at the Kucinich event, which was well attended. He said all the right things, but we all knew he had no money. In Iowa, a candidate really needs to show that they can compete, or they won't attract many volunteers. I didn't attend the Richardson event, because by the time he came to town, way too late, I was widely known as being one of the core group of local strategists for the Obama Campaign.
Much of the actual hard l work was done in large part by the paid staffers, who were the finest group of political operatives to ever come to Fort Dodge. They were graduates of Yale, Harvard, Columbia, and Cal Berkeley Law School. I wish I had photos of all of them, but I don't. It was all work at headquarters. Joe Boswell was a great guy. He left a Job in NYC to work for Obama.
9. Obama in Iowa
There were three Obama events held in Fort Dodge. At the first one, I didn't have time to get home from work to get my camera, but it was held where the Hillary Event had been. Hers was full, but Obama's event was packed. He answered questions for about an hour after his speech.
The second was a private event at the Iowa Conference of the United Church of Christ annual meeting in Fort Dodge. No cameras were allowed there. My father was a UCC Minister, so I got invited with a few people from the core campaign. he gave a fantastic speech about the role of religion in his life, and his view of the role of religion in society. It was the second best speech I ever saw him give. It turned out that he gave the same speech a few days later in NYC to the National Conference of the UCC. It might be available online somewhere. It's worth finding.
It was at that event that I first got to speak with the future President. He was as gracious and charming as you would expect. He told me he would end the war in Iraq, and that he wanted to change Washington. He said Iowa was really important. He thanked me for all the work, something he remembered to say at all events.
The second time I got to speak with him was at a rally at Iowa Central Community College. Right after I took this iPhone photo, I got to get a few words in. By this point he was the leader in the polls. He was also surrounded by security!
10. Michelle Obama
The most interesting hour of the whole campaign for me was spent with Michelle Obama at a private home. She was a major plus for the campaign in Iowa. I really think her ability to get the little old ladies of the Democratic party to bond with her was extremely important in diffusing race as an issue. These photos were taken with the iPhone, so they're a bit blurry.
11. The Harkin Steak Fry
All candidates except Kucinich came to the annual Tom Harkin Steak Fry outside Indianola Iowa. It is usually the biggest political event in Iowa every year. Obama had 3500 people at a pre-event. It was a perfect day. Everybody got one of the famous blue Obama T-shirts.
The crowd was entertained by a few speakers, and then by the Isiserettes, a group of at risk kids who were encouraged to join together to become a kind of Drill and Drum corps, 1/3rd Marching Band, 1/3 drum corps, and 1/3rd dance team. These kids are great to watch, and it's clear they have a lot of fun. They got to march down Pennsylvania Avenue at the Inaugural parade in January. They deny that it was cold that day! Here are a few shots of the Isiserettes at the Harkin event.
Although Senator Obama gave an impassioned speech to the supporters at the pre-event, he was oddly listless at the main event, where there were more than 18,000 people. I remember thinking at the time, that he'd lost a great opportunity. Chris Dodd gave a better speech that day. I think Obama was tired. It's the same event where he was accused of not holding his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. (This was a lie. Fox showed video of him during the National Anthem, where it's not customary to hold hand to heart, but used audio of the pledge.)
12. The Race Heats Up
At the time of the Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Des Moines in November of 2007, It was not at all clear who would win the Iowa Caucuses. Those of us in the Obama Campaign knew that the JJ speech was crucial. Obama's speech at the Harkin Event was good, but not great. All of the major candidates were there, and they all spoke right in a row.
After the short speech, we had over an hour to mingle before the dinner. I ran into Terry McAuliffe, who was racing around like a madman, with music legend Quincy Jones in tow. Q was tired and asked to sit. McAuliffe sat him by the Coke machine in the lobby, and disappeared! So I got my nerve up, and got my picture with the great Quincy Jones! I was tongue-tied, and couldn't spit out anything intelligent at all.
The candidates drew lots to see what order they would speak in. Clinton was next to last, and Obama got the last spot. Hillary Clinton made a huge mistake that night. She gave a boilerplate partisan Democratic old-style speech about crushing Republicans. Iowans were tired of that kind of talk. She inadvertantly set up Obama's speech like she had teed up the ball only to watch Obama hammer it 375 yards down the middle of the fairway. He destroyed her arguments one by one like he knew what was coming! Of all the speeches I heard in person, that was the best one. He had partisans from the other campaigns standing and applauding.
Most watchers of Iowa politics feel that was the key event of the whole campaign. That night, Barack unveiled his great "Change You Can Believe In" speech, and it was electric.
That was when the media really climbed on board, and Obama never trailed in the Iowa polls after that.
Here are photos of everyone who spoke.
Notice that everybody looked bad in the ultrawhite lights, except for one person, the black guy. Look at the difference! Accidents like this are really what creates the opportunities that look like fate later, when the results are known!
13. The Sprint to the end
When it was announced that Oprah Winfrey would come to Iowa to make her formal statement endorsing Barack Obama, Iowans went nuts to get tickets. The event was held in a large hall in Des Moines. There was almost no seating. 9/10ths of the crowd had to stand. Oprah gave a really fine speech that struck just the right tone.
The 18,000+ people that showed up really had to brave the elements. Des Moines was enduring an ice storm, and travel was difficult, but there were people from every corner of the state there that day. My wife and I couldn't get back home after the event, so we had to stay overnight. We didn't mind!
The crowd was so warm that a woman fainted right in front of the stage. Senator Obama didn't skip a beat. He called for any doctor in the crowd to come forward, asked people to give the lady room, and appealed for EMT services. When it was clear the lady was OK, but would have to leave the hall to sit down, Barack leaned over, got her name and said he would meet with her personally after the speech.
14. The Win!
The Iowa Caucuses were held on January -3- 4, 2008. We gave Obama a convincing win in Iowa, and then the rest of the campaign worked out well.
Finally, on May 21, 2008, the moment arrived when Obama actually locked up the number of delegates needed for the nomination. It was the evening of the Oregon and Kentucky primaries. Obama lost Kentucky, but won Oregon, which put him over the top.
There had been a rally in Portland the weekend before, with 75,000 people! So, Barack and the family came back to Des Moines to claim his victory where it all started.
Joe Boswell, who started as a staffer at the Fort Dodge office, had risen to a position of importance in the Obama Campaign. He had been to Arizona, and he ran part of Pennsylvania and then went to Ohio. He's a great guy. Here he is running the Des Moines rally, making sure everything was just so!
The Obamas have not been back to Iowa since that night, at least officially. But Governor Tom Vilsack, Jackie Norris (who chaired the Iowa Caucus campaign), and her husband John (a former Chief of Staff to Governor Vilsack and Congressman Leonard Boswell) all have appointmnents in Washington.
Thanks for reading this diary of the best political campaign I will ever be a part of. Thanks to all the people who worked harder than I did to make the change we wanted into the change we now have!