Beyond the Bay Area Bubble: Campaigning in Iowa

Alex Willick Image
Alex Willick
on November 7, 2016

J Street’s blog aims to reflect a range of voices. The opinions expressed in blog posts do not necessarily reflect the policies or view of J Street.  

Greetings from the buzzing Democratic campaign headquarters in Waterloo, Iowa, where J Street’s Political Team dispatched me to embed with the campaign of JStreetPAC endorsee, Monica Vernon (IA-01).

I volunteered to be a part of J Street’s embedding program to accomplish three main objectives: (1) to make an impact on a race that could genuinely use an extra set of hands, (2) to gain experience working on the ground-game of a campaign whose platform I could get on board with, and (3) to interact with the “average American voter,” to whom I rarely have access from the Bay Area-bubble where I live and work.

I can say with confidence that within the first 48 hours of landing here in Black Hawk County, all three of my intended objectives have been met.  My presence here has allowed the soon-to-be Congresswoman’s message to reach potentially hundreds more Iowans through canvassing on foot, phone banking and connecting with voters at yesterday’s event, which welcomed President Bill Clinton, who was in town in support of his partner’s candidacy.

At the event, I was flanked on the right by a member of the Amalgamated Transit Union’s election mobilization team, who sported a colorful “KISS MY [drawing of the democratic donkey]” tattoo and recently endorsed Hilary Clinton for President.  On my left was Bloomberg/MSNBC’s Mark Halperin, who spent a few minutes on camera but subsequently went on to join the crowd of spectators. Both of them listened intently to President Clinton’s pitch.

Tomorrow, Team Vernon will have the opportunity to reach even more voters during a visit to Waterloo from Senator Bernie Sanders, who split the vote with Hillary here in Iowa during the Democratic party primaries. Now he’s here to support her candidacy.

I have to admit I’ve been humbled by this experience already.  I had no idea I would have the chance to attend rallies featuring Bill Clinton and Bernie Sanders within two days – a fact about which I am ecstatic – but here I am in a purple state nestled within the heartland, where folks are hard to impress.  These are people used to having presidential candidates in their living rooms making their pitch in an attempt to secure votes.  While registering at the Clinton event yesterday, I asked many attendees if they’d had the chance to see Bill in person.  A common response went something like, “You mean this month?”

In other words, the environment here in Northeast Iowa is over-saturated by the political onslaught.  I haven’t yet been able to put my finger on how the average voter makes their decision in the midst of the flurry of campaign events and advertisements.  But I do know there’s no substitute for a one-on-one conversation in which you can look someone in the eye and ask them what they care about – which is, after all, why I’m here.