Having been chasing American politicians for the better part of 35 years (and not always catching them, I might add) it was quite unsettling to spend the day flying OVER Iowa, instead of trudging through the snow, ice and wind, to find 48 people at a grade school, playing that grown up version of Twister known as the Caucus.
We had New Years in wine country with good friends, and helped my mom celebrate (ever so early) her 90th birthday, and couldn't get back to the middle of America quite fast enough, given all the family commitments. So there I was, in a nicely upgraded American't Air seat, looking out the windows at frosty landscapes, many of them flat, and softly hilly, and some of which had caucus events tonight. We got home just about when C Span went live from the Roosevelt High School, Des Moines, to share the actual process with the rest of America. It was fascinating. Each group was on camera while they made their attempts to see what their turn out was: for Biden and Richardson, they weren't 'viable' so they had to make a leap to another candidate, but watching the process was extremely interesting. Here, for once, Americans really were voting with their feet. Four years ago, already assigned to Kerry, we did one of those storm trooper hits at a high school around 6 p.m., the candidate entered the chamber, with a cloud of pressies around him, probably knocking over a few marginally steadfast grandmas, entering and leaving the room without having actually seen, spoken to, or interacted with a single voter. That night I ended up running back to the Gephardt HQ for his erstwhile 'victory' speech: the geniuses at the magazine who'd sent me had come to the conclusion: Gephardt was the ONLY guy who would get in the way of Howard Dean who would obviously run off with the lead. (As usual, geniuses are smart about everything except what counts... Dean finished 3rd – and gave us the Scream, and Gephardt was 4th, and headed straight back to St. Louis). In the end, I made it back again to the Kerry hotel, and bullshat my way into the TV pool room once it was clear he'd won, and make a swell picture with my Burnett Combo (a Speed Graphic with a 1943 Aero Ektar recon camera lens). I was totally into it that year. As much as the world of the Fourth Estate has morphed since '04, and the way the candidates began so early to court votes, it changed my feeling about the campaign. This year I have spent time with Thompson, McCain, Hillary, Obama & his wife (separately), and Mitt. I have spent quality time in New Hampshire and Iowa. But this week, mom's 90th ranked a little higher on the charts. Of course I can assure you that I will be in New Hampshire by Saturday, chasing said front-runners, and perhaps back runners. Because after New Hampshire, it changes from vans and buses to planes. That translates as hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars. The distances are greater, and the events tend to become more rote.
So, off we go Saturday for a few days of serious Primary life. It's a life often punctuated by liquor, nosy writers, and cold weather. Sounds like a ton of fun, right? The scary thing is, it IS fun. Don't ask me to quantify how or why but there it is. And the best thing of the last couple of years is that like the rest of the country, you can for sure get great beer, coffee, and grub, in all corners of the state. So, don't wait. Think about it... 2012 is a long ways off. Hop in your car, head north and breath it in. Once you have it in your blood, it just won't go away. There may be a vaccination against political junkiness, but nobody I know has the right syringe. We're just sayin... David