Every four years, being a resident of the Hawkeye State comes with a little more status, a little more responsibility, thanks to the Iowa Caucuses. On Feb. 1, 2016, Iowa residents will meet in libraries, schools and living rooms to make their choice for President.
Candidates have been doing their best to find men and women to speak for them on caucus night. So far in 2015, though, the candidates are doing much of their recruiting in a handful of locations that do not include Lee County.
The Des Moines Register has been tracking candidate activity across the state, similar to how NORAD follows Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. The newspaper's online map shows that from Jan. 1, 2015 - Aug. 17, 2015, Des Moines had the most presidential activity, followed by some of the state's largest cities.
- Des Moines - 128
- Cedar Rapids - 39
- Ames - 24
- Council Bluffs - 24
- Sioux City - 24
- Davenport - 23
You have to go pretty far down the list to find Keokuk and Fort Madison, with 1 each over the last 8 1/2 months. Republican Rick Santorum, former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, held a meet & greet in Keokuk while businesswoman Carly Fiorina headlined the Lee County GOP annual dinner. No Democrats have made the trek to the southern-most county in Iowa during 2015.
That does not alarm Rick Larkin, who has chaired the Lee County Democratic Party for years. He said Caucus season is just getting underway, and candidates will make their way to Lee County as we get closer to Feb. 1.
“I’ve talked to the staffers and they have all assured me that their candidate will be down here in Lee County before the caucuses actually take place," said Larkin. "In fact, they tell me they will probably be here several different times.”
Larkin said it's important for the candidates to not take Lee County for granted, given its history of electing Democrats to local, state and national office.
"I don't want candidates coming into an airport in Des Moines or Cedar Rapids, making a speech, and talking to the press and then getting on the plane and flying out," said Larkin. "In Iowa, it's a retail state and you have to be out with the voters. Voters are not going to commit to them until they see each candidate and talk to them."
Larkin said business will especially pick up during the month of January.
Larry Kruse, Co-Chair of the Lee County Republican Party, agrees with that assessment. He also said the size of the Republican field is dictating where the GOP candidates go in Iowa. Kruse said they need to focus on the largest cities to reach the most people at one time, be it in person or in the media.
"With so many in the race, they are probably going to the larger markets [in Iowa] because they need to get their polling up to get on the debate stage," said Kruse. "Lee County does not have that big of media market or national [pull], so they go to the larger cities in Iowa."
Kruse said it's also likely that candidates will use the power and reach of social media much more in a state like Iowa, given its sparse population bases.
"You can reach a lot more people at a lot lower cost," said Kruse. "When you are trying to get out face to face, Iowa has 99 counties and to visit all of them takes quite a bit of time and quite a bit of expense. Using social media, you can get your message out much easier."
Like Larkin, Kruse would advise the candidates to come to Lee County, shake the hands of residents, and let them "look them in the eyes to see if they are telling the truth or just politicking."
The Des Moines Register's candidate tracker does not show a candidate heading to Lee County for an official visit through the end of August. The closest stop will be made by U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), who will be in West Burlington and Mt. Pleasant Wednesday.
Most Visits to Iowa since Nov. 17, 2012
- Rick Santorum (R) - 116
- Rick Perry (R) - 78
- Martin O'Malley (D) - 76
- Bobby Jindal (R) - 67
- Mike Huckabee (R) - 65
- Bernie Sanders (D) - 57