Perhaps it was the extremely cold weather, with wind chills reaching minus 43 Fahrenheit. Or a defeated field of candidates and anxious voters dreading the prospect of re-election for the first time since the 1956 rematch between Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson.
Whatever the reason, the usual media circus that accompanies the Iowa caucuses has felt smaller this year, both literally and spiritually.
Number of certified journalists fell to 1,200, from 2,600 four years ago. Some big name TV stars stayed at home. The lobby bar of the Des Moines Marriott Downtown, once a buzzing, gossip-filled nod for Washington and Manhattan-based reporters, anchors and operators, became a ghost town late Saturday night. The weak wave was best summarized as a T-shirt On sale in the hotel gift shop:
“Election 2024: Welcome, I guess we’re doing it again.”
Low levels of voter interest, low debate ratings and Donald J. Amid a surge in polling for Trump that has largely dissipated the usual suspense, signs of media malaise had emerged even before last week’s blizzard dropped 22.9 inches of snow on Des Moines.
At the CNN debate, Steve Peoples of the Associated Press observed that the spin room – usually home to pushy spokespeople – was “basically empty”, except for griff iiA jolly bulldog mascot”Whose face tells the story of this campaign, Dave Weigel, a trail warrior who reports for Semaphore, called the caucus “cold and miserable journey For Trump’s inevitable Iowa victory.” Another veteran reporter, Jonathan Martin, wrote, “this insulting excuse of a presidential primary.
I called Mr. Martin, the Politico columnist, on Sunday to get his take on the Iowa media landscape. It turned out that he had already returned to Washington.
“I just left,” he said, laughing.
Mr. Martin, who previously worked as a reporter at The New York Times, spent a week in Iowa but went home after the blizzard hit and campaigns canceled many of their events. “There are definitely some stories out there that matter, but there are still very few candidates left in the race compared to 2020,” he said. “And Trump’s advantage is much larger than that of previous leading contenders.” For the first time in a long career, he plans to watch caucus results somewhere other than Iowa.
Some TV networks also reduced their presence. “Morning Joe,” an MSNBC mainstay that typically moves to Iowa and New Hampshire in election years, is leaving both states. ABC’s David Muir, who reported from Iowa on caucus night in 2020, is anchoring in New York on Monday. Norah O’Donnell had planned to be in Des Moines, but after weather disrupted the contestants’ plans, CBS decided to keep her in Washington.
On Saturday, as the temperature dropped below zero, almost every candidate program was cancelled. So reporters headed to a West Des Moines office park for Ron DeSantis’ appearance, thinking the 10-minute drive from downtown would be brief enough not to put anyone’s life at risk. (The occasional sight of a jackknifed trailer stranded on an interstate suggests otherwise.)
Inside, Iowa evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats dismissed the tough polls for his candidate. “The media doesn’t choose our caucus winner,” he shouted. ,You Select our caucus winner!” Unfortunately, a large portion of the crowd were, in fact, members of the news media. If there were Iowans in the room, they were hard to find: A reporter looking for local color approached an attendee, who turned out to be an editor of The Times.
News networks still employed “embeds” who followed candidates around the country, and dozens of TV journalists were in Iowa to cover the caucuses. But while elections are typically a boon time for ratings and revenue — and star-making opportunities for adventurous reporters assigned to an emerging candidate — this year’s circumstances are testing that truth, too.
The recent Republican primary debates, which Mr Trump boycotted, were the lowest rated in history. Networks are in financial straits – NBC News just announced dozens of layoffs — and some journalists wonder whether Mr. Trump’s legal entanglements will prove more decisive than events going forward.
“I watch TV and half the time, the legal experts are talking about Trump, not the Iowa reporters talking about Iowa,” Semaphore’s Mr. Weigel said as he spoke Saturday night in Des Moines. Took care of the Rye Manhattan at the bar. “We’ve got journalists out here in unsanitary conditions. I’m thinking, ‘I just watched your producer risk hypothermia to see Ron DeSantis. Keep Him But!'”
Whether the presence of candidates can influence voters is another question. With the increasingly nationalized nature of presidential politics and the rise of social media, Mr Trump is favored for an easy victory on Monday despite spending much less time in Iowa than his rivals.
“Republican voters ask what they saw on Fox News last night,” said Pat Renard, an Iowa journalist who oversees political coverage for the Courier Newsroom, an online site. “There are very few Iowa-specific questions, or even very few questions related to their own lives or their own jobs. “The thing people are most angry about is what shows up in their Facebook feed.”
Mr. Renard, whose website Iowa Starting Line was a popular campaign read in 2020, said he expected turnout to be low on Monday regardless of the weather. This year’s caucus was not as interesting or dynamic, he said.
The same can be said for the social scenario of journalists. Four years ago, Washington stalwart Tammy Haddad imported her A-list charity jamboree from Georgetown to Des Moines, calling it the Snowflake Garden Brunch. This time, he chose to opt out. “Bilo-zero garden brunch just doesn’t have the same vibe,” he wrote in a text message.
Crowds flocked to the recently renovated Hotel Fort Des Moines, headquarters of the Trump campaign team and a host of MAGA quasi-celebrities like former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake. Trump aides would gather at night in the Edison bulb atmosphere of In Confidence, the hotel’s cocktail bar, though for a speakeasy, the place insisted on a lot of rules: A barkeep kept revelers at completely empty tables. Refused to borrow a stool from. So much for Iowa Nice.
As far as the Marriott lobby is concerned, While seeing Mitt Romney carrying his wheelie bag in 2012 counted as a major event, the usual crowds did not. Vanity Fair The bar was once described as “ideal for seeing if there is someone more important or attractive behind the person you are talking to.” This weekend, Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post was heard calling it “moribund”.
On Sunday night, with the caucuses just hours away, a handful of reporters sat down to beers. By midnight, it was mostly empty.