Campaign circus descends on Iowa

This job is killing me,” he says, coughing, flinging his cigarette on the ground. Bill Bradley’s press secretary for his Iowa presidential campaign, Jim Farrell, and I are going to get lunch.
It is my last day volunteering for the Democratic presidential candidate, and the campaign is reaching its most intense stage. Farrell, whom I have assisted through most of my stay in Iowa, thinks this is one of the hardest races he’s been in: He wakes up each day for a 7 a.m. conference call, attends his 8 a.m. staff meeting, then rushes to his desk for endless hours of reeling, herding, spinning and worrying about reporters until shortly before midnight. On an average day, he does not retire to his hotel room until past 2 a.m. He is known among fellow campaign staffers for his aware mind and sharp tongue; I warily watch him smoke, drink and campaign himself to death. “What you’re doing, working on campaigns, it’s good for the country,” he tells me over lunch. “You’re starting out exactly like I did.”
Bill Bradley, a former senator from New Jersey, cuts a distinct contrast with his opponent, Vice President Al Gore: Bradley is a bland public speaker with a cerebral disposition and a reputation for independence, the kind of candidate academics and college students love, and many rank-and-file Democrats, up until now, knew very little about. If Democrats eventually choose Bradley over Gore for the presidential nomination, it will be because primary and caucus voters will prefer Bradley’s visionary, New Deal-like plans for social programs and his fresher, less negative, more polished approach to campaigning.
Bradley will not win based on any organized support within the Democratic Party. Most well-known Democratic politicians support Gore, and the vice president enjoys solid support from unions, activist groups and party leaders.
At the site of a recent Iowa debate, Bradley’s 40 or so supporters chanting with signs were dwarfed when a rowdy group of more than 200 Gore supporters marched on the television studio in front of them, blocking their view of the cameras. On the evening news, however, both Bradley and Gore backers were given equal time to shout their campaign slogans on television.
Neither Bradley’s supporters — largely college students from far-away states — nor Gore’s supporters — dedicated party activists, some dressed up as ears of corn — had much in common with the Iowa voters at whom they were shouting slogans.
Bradley’s campaign staff, comprised of sharply dressed, fast-talking East Coast city dwellers, also have very little in common with Iowans. In fact, they find Iowa a rather dull place. Most of them do not know what a farm looks like. Many of them have not been to the Midwest before.
Performing respectably in Iowa will keep Bradley’s campaign momentum going, according to the harried, enigmatic Farrell. This first event of the 2000 presidential election is indeed important in determining who will become our next president.
Just as Bradley’s campaign staff are eyed with curiosity when they go to eat lunch in the sandwich shop near their office, the presidential caucus campaign will leave Iowans with a sense of bewilderment.
Candidates from far-flung places descending on Iowa might be confusing voters with their dramatic political show. Today, Jan. 24, Iowans will choose the candidate they like best, wielding great influence on the future of politicians about whom they know relatively little, changing the course of a presidential political game still played largely behind the scenes.
Noah Dvorak is a sophomore in economics and East Asian Studies. Send comments to [email protected]