From Des Moines, Iowa –
My last hours in the Hawkeye State for the 2016 Iowa Caucus were a reminder of how volatile the race for President can be, not only for the candidates and their supporters, but for the reporters who must struggle to figure out what is going on as events whiz by at top speed.
The basic story line in Iowa was pretty simple – Donald Trump had a lot of splash, but Ted Cruz sure was doing lots of work all across Iowa; and then Marco Rubio was coming on strong down the stretch. No one else was making a run.
That was the easy part. Figuring out how they would finish was a little more difficult than playing the $1 triple box on those three.
For days, it had seemed obvious to me that there was a “buzz” about the Rubio campaign, as he drew larger and larger crowds across Iowa.
This event on Saturday at Iowa State University convinced me that Rubio was on the move – but then the influential final poll from the Des Moines Register threw cold water on that just minutes after Rubio wrapped up.
Still, I stuck with the advice I have always given to myself – trust your gut on the campaign trail. Trust what you see before your own eyes and how you interpret the value.
And always remind yourself that it is okay to be wrong as well.
On Sunday, when I saw Donald Trump with Jerry Falwell, Jr., at a rally in Council Bluffs, there seemed to be no additional value created by Falwell’s presence – no buzz in the crowd.
Just because Falwell was speaking didn’t seem to fire up the crowd run way or the other.
Later that day, a friend of mine told me that he couldn’t find evangelicals who were supporting Trump in Iowa – even though the polls indicated strong support. Instead, he said the religious conservatives he spoke to seemed to be mainly with Ted Cruz.
In the end, a majority of evangelical voters went with Cruz, not with Trump. Jerry Falwell, Jr. did not make a difference.
The other obvious thing was that Cruz was so well organized in Iowa. He was the only candidate to hit all of Iowa’s 99 counties. That made a difference.
My interviews with voters in Iowa also provided clues into why Donald Trump was unable to win, as voters of all GOP stripes indicated they had been intrigued by Trump, but later moved away.
“My daughter and her husband thought he might be a good candidate because he was getting people involved,” said Jane Brokehammer of Clear Lake, Iowa.
“But he’s a little scary to me,” she added.
“Trump was more than popular than anybody,” said Bill Hawkins, a burly Republican who ended up voting for Cruz instead of Trump.
Another clue was a volunteer for Sanders who told me had never seen any Trump people out knocking on doors in the days leading up to the Iowa Caucus – there were too many of those anecdotal stories out to ignore, which hinted at Trump coming in lower than his numbers.
Then there were the undecided voters, and the people who were sold on one candidate, but were checking out another Republican at a rally.
The undecideds seemed to be breaking mainly to Rubio – according to my completely unscientific interviewing – and, then there were the three different Rubio voters that I found at rallies for Cruz, and even Bernie Sanders.
The 391 miles on Friday. The over 300 on Saturday. 300-plus more on Sunday. And another 175 miles on Monday before the caucus.
Those miles lead to answers about a race for President.
Next stop, New Hampshire.
As for getting to New Hampshire, the snow storm that hit Des Moines early on Tuesday morning left a number of my colleagues scrambling for planes, either back to Washington or to New England.
While I was in the Des Moines airport waiting for my plane, I was doing some live reports on my cell phone, when I noticed that there was a TV reporter doing a report while waiting for his plane.
That’s not something you see every day in an airport.
As for our travel on Tuesday, one of my radio colleagues made it to Chicago, only to have his next plane canceled. He was sent to Manchester, New Hampshire via Newark, and arrived after midnight.
One reporter for the Los Angeles Times probably had a near heart attack when he left his laptop in the gate area at the Des Moines airport.
I noticed it, and pointed it out to Janet Hook of the Wall Street Journal, who used to work for the Times.
She knew the reporter who owned the laptop, and called him on the phone – he answered – because his plane was still sitting outside at the gate. He had no idea his laptop wasn’t in his bag on the plane with him.
A minute later, a flight attendant ran up the gateway, grabbed the laptop from Hook and took it back to the plane.
One crisis averted on the road to New Hampshire.
As for my way home, I was lucky – everything was on time. By 7:00 pm I was washing dishes and picking up kids.
But just for a few hours, as it’s time to go to New Hampshire.