From Des Moines, Iowa –
As Bernie Sanders drew huge cheers from a large crowd at Grand View University on Sunday night, it was more evidence of the topsy-turvy nature of the 2016 election, one where Sanders and Donald Trump have threatened to topple the political leadership of both the Democratic and Republican parties.
And it was a day when I got to experience both of those candidates during another lengthy trek across Iowa, this time, with a guest accomplice.
On board the News Cruiser with me was Greg Bluestein, a political reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who eagerly agreed to ride in my rental transit van to see Trump and Sanders.
Being a millennial, he also brought along some of his tools, like Snapchat.
Bluestein’s presence made the nearly 300 miles of driving much easier, since I didn’t have to keep jabbing a fork into my thigh in order to stay awake.
We traded stories about our kids, our jobs and how much we like covering political campaigns.
But there was that one moment on the road when Bluestein confessed that he had been listening to me on the radio since he was a kid in Atlanta – and that certain members of his extended family think I’m a big, fat liberal.
But we digress.
Our original plan was to take in both the Trump rally and a Hillary Clinton event less than two miles away at a high school in Council Bluffs, but Trump changed his schedule in order to bring in Jerry Falwell, Jr., making it impossible to do both rallies.
Instead of a true rally, Falwell conducted what amounted to a friendly interview with Trump, as they sat in chairs on stage.
Falwell again smothered Trump in praise, sending a clear message to evangelical voters that it was okay to vote for Trump, who once again showed that he couldn’t fully rein in his vocabulary while the Liberty University leader was around.
“I’m telling you, we are going to do a hell of a job,” Trump said. “We are going to make America great again.”
It was a good sized rally for Trump, but not huge. He took a playful jab at the people of Iowa on that matter.
“I wish you had some bigger arenas here, I have to tell you.”
At the Trump event, I finally met the Jackalope of 2016 politics – the voter deciding between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
“I honestly have not made up my mind about Trump,” Stacy Fahn told me as she stretched her legs before Trump spoke.
“I can say that I’ve made up my mind against Hillary,” as Fahn said she planned to decide Sunday night.
“I like to see my candidates in person,” she added.
A few feet away, Shannon Barton bluntly made clear she’s going to enthusiastically vote for Trump.
“I guess we’re tired of the crap,” said Barton. “I mean, there’s so much political nonsense.”
After dutifully filing our stories, I put Bluestein in charge of finding us a place to eat.
“How about Chinese?” he said, as he found a place called The Great Wall.
Unfortunately, Big Blue’s phone was giving us a lunch place in Illinois.
I pulled the News Cruiser off on the side of the road and waited for our next selection.
The Pizza King was the obvious second choice – until Bluestein realized that it wasn’t open yet.
Now the pressure was on the kid.
We drove down into the revitalized area of Council Bluffs and ended up at a hamburger joint.
Except the door was locked – it was closed, too.
Luckily, the place next door was open, because Bluestein devoured his meal like he hadn’t been fed in days.
Now, it was back on the road to Des Moines, for a two hour ride to our second assignment, the Bernie Sanders rally.
It was a big rally. Lots of people in a college gym. Not the kind of sign you just ignore as a reporter.
Bluestein was dutifully and diligently typing it all out, like the former AP employee that he is.
“It sounds like you want to a make a political revolution,” Sanders said to a thunderous roar in a packed college gymnasium, as he repeatedly vowed to take on “the greed and illegal behavior” of Wall Street.
“It turns out when we allowed Wall Street to do their thing – their thing was fraud,” Sanders to a crowd that seemed more like it was at the state fair than a political event.
“I’m angry. And the American people have a right to be angry,” Sanders said to another loud ovation.
During the rally, I ran into a few friends from D.C. One of them had been hanging out with some evangelicals in Iowa in recent days.
“None of them know anyone who is voting for Trump,” this guy told me, amplifying a narrative that gets chewed on daily in Iowa.
In other words – where are all these religious voters who are backing Trump?
Another guy I saw said he’s convinced the polls are missing out on a Rubio surge; I certainly saw momentum for Rubio in terms of the turnout at his events.
But maybe it just doesn’t matter – simply because Trump is trumping everyone else.
Back on stage, Sanders finally wrapped up his speech, Bluestein and I finished our respective stories, and we packed up our gear.
I failed to post this on Twitter – this photo courtesy of @bluestein.
As I took Big Blue back to his hotel, he sighted the Bennigan’s outside of his hotel.
“Drop me off there,” he said excitedly. “I’ve never been to a Bennigan’s.”
I chuckled about that as I wheeled the News Cruiser across the street to the fast food drive thru – as I needed some food myself, before going back to the hotel to finish my work for the night
“Kids today,” I thought of saying, but I instead only thought it.
As the window opened for me to pay, a rather full figured gal reached out to take my money.
If she had worked in a diner, she would have had a cigarette surgically attached to her lip, and might have thrown the plates on the table.
And she did not seem to be in the best of humor on this Sunday evening.
“The younger generation,” she said with a big sigh.
“I know what you mean,” I said.
The Iowa Caucus is finally here.