Whether courting home-schoolers or kicking it live with hog castrators (the new hockey moms?), would-be POTUSes have had it beaten into their skulls that the road to victory begins in Iowa.
Those who don’t have the faintest clue why the Midwest enjoys kingmaker status can, this fall, get a crash course in early caucusing from Steffen Schmidt, a professor of political science at Iowa State University.
“Dr. Politics,” as he’s come to be known after decades of closely evaluating visiting presidential campaigns, wants to help demystify the caucus process via a four-part online program.
The Web-enabled tutorial is expected to peel back the curtain on the history of the Iowa caucuses, the mechanics of the inaugural contest, how the media plays into the process, and what it will all mean as we are collectively dragged, kicking and screaming, toward Election Day. Schmidt told HOH he organized a for-credit, deep-dive into all things caucus back in 2008 — an online course that quickly found an overly abundant constituency.
“We had 300 students enrolled almost immediately and topped the limit,” he said of the surprisingly well-received thought experiment.
He has since reconfigured the program into an a la carte exploration of the overarching political process.
“The [Massive Open Online Course] is self-directed so participants can hum in our [way] any time, day or night,” he said of the educational endeavor, which starts on Sept. 1. “They can ‘snack’ or ‘graze’ and the discussions are asynchronous so they can be posted and digested at the participant’s convenience.”
Per Schmidt, keeping an eye on the bigger picture is clutch.
“The caucuses are actually a yeast that causes lots of political events to happen. To me that is maybe even more valuable than the 2+ hours on caucus night and the results that night,” Schmidt said via email.
One of the key functions of the Iowa caucuses, as Schmidt sees it, is weeding out those who lack genuine staying power.
“That makes it easier to reach an end to the selection process and get to the general election faster,” he said of the character-defining auditioning process.
According to Schmidt, serious contenders typically follow a well-worn path.
Mingle Like You Mean It Pressing the flesh is pivotal in Iowa.
“A contender has to meet-and-greet individuals face-to-face,” Schmidt advised.
Any campaign hacks hoping to pick locals’ brains would be wise to camp out at places where the conversation flows like water. The spots he recommended for intelligence gathering include: Grove Café and Tip Top Lounge in Ames (“a must,” Schmidt said); 801 Chophouse (“THE bar and restaurant where the media and politicians meet!”) and Java Joe’s CoffeeHouse in Des Moines; Boondocks Truck Haven Café in Williams; Main Street Café (“where the old timers [hang] out and will share wisdom!”) and Duncan’s Café in Council Bluffs; and Tommy’s Café (“blue collar and very good-to-get info”) in Davenport.
All Eyes on Me “Winning candidates need to use TV ads and social media BUT above all they need to do well with very traditional campaign tools such as yard signs, bumper stickers, signs, t-shirts, and buttons,” Schmidt said.
Shut Up “Winning candidates need to be good listeners,” he estimated. “For egos who want to be President of the USA that is the hardest — listening.”
Those who find make-believe politics infinitely more palatable may soon have another distraction to snack on.