Friday, September 07, 2012

Iowa City's Big Day

Iowa is the center of the political universe today, and the polar opposite locations sum up the battle of the 2012 election. The Obamas and the Bidens are here in Johnson County, where Obama won a state best 70 percent four years ago. Mitt Romney will be in Iowa's most Republican County, Sioux County, which went 81 percent for John McCain.

The appearances underscore not just Iowa's key role, but the importance both parties are placing in rallying their base voters. And nothing excites the party faithful more than a personal visit.

Now multiply that by four.

It's rare to see all of what the Secret Service calls the "principals," the president, vice president, and spouses, at the same campaign event. The time of the candidates and spouses is a priceless resource and they are usually deployed separately, in zone coverage. Having all four at once is what Joe Biden would call a big... deal.

The last time I remember seeing it in Iowa was twenty years ago when, just days after the convention, the Clintons and the Gores did a bus tour across eastern Iowa. The big moment was a rally for thousands at Quaker Oats in Cedar Rapids. I was a rookie staffer and I'll never forget the day, for it was a major turning point in my life: it was the day I met my daughter.

A big event like this is less about persuading undecideds, who barely exist in this election. My pet theory is that the three or four percent that remain "undecided" dislike both major candidates and could wind up not voting at all.

Today is about motivating and energizing the committed. In-person events are important to the activists, especially to young activists. Most days on a campaign aren't like today. More typically they include endless phone calls, long walks from door to door, and cold pizza. A day like today, despite the long waits and inconveniences, is rare and fun. Today is the day that the staffers and volunteers will be talking about 20 years from now, just like I'm remembering August 1992.

But the important stuff will be happening on the way in and on the edges of the crowds. The army of staffers and volunteers will be collecting the registrations, the absentee requests, and the all-important lists, signing up volunteers for the next wave of work. And the Republicans will be doing the same thing in Orange City.

When I was at Staffer School all those years ago, they taught us that field work makes about a five percent difference. Well, Iowa in that margin. To win, each candidate is going to have to bank every base vote possible, and the final push couldn't be bigger than today.

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