Published: January 10, 2020
By: Allison Kadlubar, LSU Manship School News Service
DES MOINES, Iowa—Presidential candidates flock here months before the Democratic caucus to gain attention and to get Iowans to stand in their corner on caucus night Feb. 3.
TV ads flood commercial breaks; T-shirts and buttons are given out or sold at most events. But lesser-known candidates need more to stand out.
Andrew Yang, a tech and education entrepreneur who trails in the polls, offers hats, beanies and pins emblazoned with “MATH.” meaning, “Make America Think Again.” He also hands out copies of his book, “The War on Normal People,” to explain the economic disruption from technology and automation he talks endlessly about.
Tom Steyer’s hedge-fund billionaire status makes him a curiosity in unflashy Iowa and his ubiquitous plaid tie and colorfully-woven fabric-and-leather belt helps him stand out a little more. The green-and-red plaid is like a logo he wears to events and debates. He includes it on free koozies and even on the back of his campaign bus.
Pete Buttigieg, who just finished eight years as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, offers “Boot Edge Edge,” stickers to help voters pronounce his name.
Many Iowans are accustomed to questioning candidates as well as shaking hands. Selfies began appearing four years ago. But Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts takes them to a new level. In her carefully-planned selfie assembly line, lines form, Warren stays put and grins, a volunteer takes coats and purses and sets up the picture. Warren shook the hand of each person and told them, “I’m so happy that you came,” or “it was so nice to meet you.” When it’s over, aides zoom in with the crucial question: “Are you ready to caucus for Senator Warren?”
Knowing that politicians are chronically late, Sen. Warren, who makes a point of mentioning she is a mom and a former elementary school teacher, offers coloring pages and markers to occupy children. One little girl sitting on the floor of a rally in Davenport, Iowa, scrawled “Go Warren” with her Crayons, while her mom listened to the candidate.
Sen. Cory Booker, the New Jersey Democrat, gives each attendee a front-facing camera selfie and takes questions or listens to ideas. After a conversation with an elderly woman at a coffee shop event in Creston, Iowa, he leaned in, gave her a hug and said, “Thank you for coming.” She looked up at him with a gleaming smile.
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