There’s nothing like walking out of the Iowa Events Center after folks have cast their ballots, the totals counted, and the winner announced. It’s a sign that you are one of a handful of people who have experienced the true meaning of working for a presidential candidate in Iowa. But the path to get through the caucus is long and arduous.
It’s a song and dance that begins years before with small events like Lincoln Reagan Dinners, convention speeches, and campaigning with local Iowa candidates that get the buzz started. Between announcing your campaign and November, you’re crisscrossing the state, shaking hands, kissing babies, and hosting town halls at Jethro’s BBQ in West Des Moines and meet-and-greets in towns with populations of 500 and 1,000 people. Iowa truly is the ultimate test for retail politics; and Iowa voters make it their duty to fully test and vet candidates to ensure they can stand the rigors of a brutal nationwide race.
In the next 60 days, the plans for caucus month are already being finalized. This is when the air starts to shift – and no, it’s not because of harvest season! If you’re the communications lead on the campaign, local Iowa TV stations will start knocking down your door asking for timelines and event layouts for January so they can begin to plan their coverage. So, you’ll need to know where your candidate will be on caucus night? Will they spend time in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Sioux Falls, Dubuque, or down Keokuk? This is where surrogate operations begin to build out, bus tours are planned out in earnest, and more events are being added to the calendar.
From a paid media standpoint, you’ll be finding the best messages that propel your candidate in the polls, while doling out a fatal blow to your opponent. With so many TV and digital ads, mailers, and door knockers, what’s the message you want voters to remember when they head out to vote? Those messages and that strategy will need to be finalized.
From a media standpoint, national journalists will descend on the state and live in hotel rooms around Des Moines – if they haven’t been doing so already for months and national stations like CNN are scoping out buildings to hold their newsrooms for the weeks leading up to caucus night. In 2020, Fox chose the River Center to broadcast live. International journalists will descend in groups of 10, writing books about our political races, filming documentaries and more – so don’t be surprised if you get phone calls from Japan, Australia, or Switzerland. When all is said and done, more than 1,000 reporters will spend 72 hours in the Iowa Caucus filing room at the Iowa Events Center.
But don’t be fooled. Just because there are millions of reporters doesn’t mean you’ll have endless coverage. Just like their votes, Iowans are judicious with their coverage and the events they cover will lessen. So every event, every opportunity will need to count that much more.
The next 50 days will be the most intense weeks of the Iowa caucus, but for everyone who has had the privilege of working on a campaign in the Hawkeye State, the most rewarding.