It’s snowing quite a bit here in eastern Iowa today, a not all that unremarkable fact this time of year, except. . .imagine that you are an operative for a presidential campaign in its final days with the race neck and neck, and your job for the day is to make sure that your candidate, the entourage, and the press scrum manage to hit 5 or 6 or 7 events spread out over half the state between dawn and dusk. . .
Are the roads plowed? Can the bus make it up (or down) that hill? Is there an accident on the highway, cutting into the precious time between events? If the candidate is running late, how do you manage to keep the crowd in the room and fired up, ready to go?
Maybe a celebrity to work the room?
And now imagine that you are an Iowan, still undecided, and thinking about going to hear candidate x give a speech, or candidate y work the coffee shop at lunchtime. Digging out is a pain. You can take a snow day off from work, so why not just settle in on the couch with a cup of coffee and a good book for the balance of the day?
And the slippery roads. . .well, is hearing a possible presidential candidate speak really worth risking your life? And what happens when the candidate, because of the weather, runs late, and the 3 o’clock event you haul yourself to becomes 4, and someone has to pick the kids up from their friends where you dropped them for the afternoon? Or the do-able after dinner meet and greet at 8 PM is canceled because by the time the candidate will get there, at 10 PM, everyone simply wants to go home
and get to bed. . .
Everyone talks about how weather impacts turnout on caucus night itself; but weather is also playing a key role in the run up, too. Last week Senator Obama had to cancel an Iowa City event (and a number of other Iowa stops, too) because the heavy fogs prevented his plane landing.
Senator Clinton’s Hill-a-Copter was grounded for a bit during the “Hillary I know” tour, cancelling a couple events.
And I can tell you that at least a few people wandered out of the Edwards event I wrote about last week because the candidate’s bus, fog bound, was running late.
In a big state, or a state with a different system than the caucuses these factors might not matter so much. But Iowa is not a big state, and not that many people actually participate in the caucuses. The Iowa Democratic Party reported 124,000 participants in 2004, although a number of other observers estimate the attendance to have been lower.
And with the Des Moines Register poll estimates that about 10-12 percent of Iowans will participate in the caucuses this year the difference between the winners and the losers can likely be measured in a handful of votes. Its this small size, combined with the social nature of the caucus system itself that makes impact so When Obama gave what by all accounts was a boffo speech at the Jefferson Jackson Day earlier this year something close to 8-10 percent of all likely Democratic caucus goers — and the most active ones in the party at that — were in the room.
Now imagine his campaign if the weather — “weather in O’Hare”, the nemesis of every midwest traveller….– had prevented him from getting to the event. And for better or for worse what sort of role the weather plays is clearly different for different campaigns. If you are in the second tier struggling to get attention and recognition, not being able to make events could be fatal.
If you are a new face, asking caucus goers to take a chance, not having the opportunity to look people in the eye, meet, make the pitch and seal the deal, face to face, might be a problem. On the other hand, if you have been out here working the state for years and have a solid core of committed supporters who are with you regardless, maybe not so much — although it may make it harder to move beyond your base.
Or lets say you drew a lucky hand, and by chance are working the western half of the state today, able to make all your events while your rivals”out east” struggle through the snow.
Its a complex and unpredictable web of interactions, to say the least.
So now imagine that you are that campaign worker, again, and try to calculate the difference for your candidate come January 3 if he or she manages to speak with 100 people today or 1,000. . .And all because of the snow. . .
Here in Iowa City the snow is supposed to keep going all day today. With luck I’ll get to see both Obama and Romney today. But really, who knows.
— Michael Schiffer
Michael Schiffer is The Washington Note’s blogger for the Iowa Caucuses and is a resident of Iowa. He is a program officer in Policy Analysis and Dialogue at the Stanley Foundation based in Muscatine, Iowa — and was previously senior national security adviser and legislative director in the Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)