May 2nd, 2008
09:15 AM ET
14 years ago

Campaign Diary: A brief, disorienting, return to Iowa

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="McCain found his springtime Iowa swing a far more pleasant trip."] DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) - Ah, Iowa. Where the grass is a green, the temperature is a balmy 72 degrees, and a triumphant Sen. John McCain stands before a Republican audience as his party’s standard-bearer.

Yes, the landscape of the Hawkeye State has changed considerably since the political world evacuated en masse late in the evening on January 3, headed to New Hampshire and beyond on chartered jets, steeling themselves for just a few more weeks of campaigning, thinking each party’s nominees would soon be determined.

On Thursday, four weary months later, the national reporters and TV crews assigned to McCain’s campaign returned to Des Moines for the first time since January to cover a town hall put on by the presumptive Republican nominee.

The scene offered a few muted flashbacks to those frigid weeks before the caucuses: the fleet of women wearing fire truck red “Divided We Fail” t-shirts, the elderly gentlemen sitting and clutching small American flags, even the slow-paced, meet-the-candidate format of the town hall itself.

The politician on stage chatted about ethanol subsidies and lauded the tenacity of Iowa farmers. CNN even spotted Tim Albrecht, Mitt Romney’s ubiquitous former Iowa communications director, milling around, lending a friendly helping hand to the event planners. This all seemed familiar.

But in other ways during this journalist homecoming, it was bizarro Iowa.

Who turned off the windy snow? Where was David Yepsen? And John Edwards? What about the satellite trucks lining the Des Moines streets?

Although the warm weather hinted at the Iowa of last summer, when sweaty press hordes descended on the Ames Straw Poll and the Iowa State Fair to sample politics, meat-on-sticks and dairy items, there were no butter sculptures in sight on this day. Iowa had become a doppelganger of its former self.

The most substantial change was in McCain himself, the candidate who essentially spurned Iowa in 2000 and 2008 for the cramped diners and chummy bus rides of New Hampshire.

But on Thursday in Iowa, as McCain meandered across the dais at the Polk County Convention Center, he was the man. McCain, once left for dead here, was now the pre-eminent Republican in America. Not Romney. Not Mike Huckabee. Not any of the Republicans who camped out here for months on end, hoping to an Iowa victory would slingshot them to the nomination.

McCain had not fully won over conservative Iowans on his way to the Republican nomination. But here he was again, beaming and ready for the general election, re-introducing himself to the good Midwestern folks who will vote, not caucus, in November. If he didn’t need Iowans in January, he will certainly need them in the fall.

“The political reality is Iowa will again be a battleground state,” he said at the conclusion of his remarks, after about an hour and a half of health care chatter. “I intend to spend a lot of time here. It’s a great privilege to be back in the heartland of America.”

Perhaps recalling up some Iowa memories of his own, McCain polished off his remarks with a cheeky nod to the state’s culinary rituals.

“I also look very much forward to going back to the Iowa State Fair and having a pork chop on a stick, followed by a deep fried Twinkie!” McCain cheered.

With that, the reporters were hustled away to their bus and to the airport, assured with this visit that they would probably return sooner than they think. The Hy-Vees will be waiting.

- CNN Political Producer Peter Hamby

Filed under: Iowa • John McCain
soundoff (68 Responses)
  1. Milwaukee for Obama

    sharon of Minnesota, it is real. I am an Obama supporter and in one of these threads a week ago, I lashed out at one of Obama supporters like me for being malicious. At that time, I had not read on the website about this whole saga. Today morning, I took some time to dig through and see what it is with this Paul vs Clinton BS and I was in shock. Take your time and read that. it is true and it is real. I now fully understand why even though Hillary won Pennsylvania, the super delegates are still endorsing Obama. Because you think Rev. Wright is a scandal, wait untill the repubs use this one on Hillary.

    May 2, 2008 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  2. Neutral

    Lets talk about Jeremiah Wright, spiritual mentor/advisor, former campaigner and FATHER FIGURE of Obama. Where is Kennedy, Kerry and others who endorsed Obama to stand on his side. I watched Glenn Beck interview of a preacher last night, he said Obama KNOW exactly what Wright stands for! Even in the book he wrote AUDACITY OF HOPE, Obama in so many ways showed his HATRED towards white people of this country. In one of his excerpts he stated, if there's a shift in the wind he will take the side of the Muslims.

    May 2, 2008 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  3. Frank

    I just can't stand the though of 4 more years of the same. It's worse than letting Obama take it.

    Hillary will get things done. Get it right this election season people.

    May 2, 2008 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  4. matt

    Connecticut automatic delegate John Olsen announced his support for Hillary Clinton today.

    May 2, 2008 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  5. Jan

    I think you Clinton adversaries had better be careful with your mouthing off about this lawsuit that you are boasting about. There is such a thing as slander that you should probably educate yourselves about. Remember, you are not necessarily anonymus on the internet. You really should watch who you are making accusations about–just a thought.

    May 2, 2008 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  6. SNP

    Pork chop on stick and fried twinkies? Wasnt it just yesterday he was going on about personal responsibility in health care and diet?

    May 2, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  7. Concerned Citizen

    Wikpeidia is a user submitted website. You and I can write whatever we want on it.

    May 2, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  8. Jake, California

    CNN, I will not rest till you start to report on the Paul vs Clinton case…

    You have done Obama his fair share of vetting…now be balanced and expose Hillary…

    REPORT the Paul vs Clinton case…we will flood all your news articles till you do this….

    Ready, go!

    May 2, 2008 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  9. hawkeye fan

    God Bless Iowa for having the good judgement of choosing Senator Obama. They saw all the candidates up close for a whole year, and the fact that a 97% white state in the middle of America would choose an African-American candidate sent a positive message to the world about how far America has come.

    May 2, 2008 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  10. Brown

    CNN report on Paul vs. Clinton

    May 2, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  11. Ian

    If Clinton is the nominee and CNN doesn't report the Paul case, what are you going to do about? I'll answer that for you...nothing.

    Lazy Americans '08

    May 2, 2008 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  12. Vig

    If McCain gets in (and he will if Obama is nominated), I would rather see Cindy McCain in the White House instead of Michelle Obama who comes across as entitled. Of course, it goes without saying the first choice would be Bubba as first man.

    May 2, 2008 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  13. Ian

    This man makes me want to throw up.

    May 2, 2008 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  14. anon

    Too bad no candidates will stand up to the farm lobby and end subsidies!

    May 2, 2008 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  15. JP

    Look – all you who say Paul is old news....there are PLENTY of skeletons in both Clintons closets.

    Obama got put through the wringer with Wright – and even for base-less connection with Ayres, Clinton bringing up Farakan & Hamas against a fellow democrat.

    All I ask is that CNN and other news media do the SAME JOB with CLINTON & McCAIN.

    See what falls out when you shake the box?

    May 2, 2008 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  16. Voter

    Keating 5

    May 2, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  17. Scott, Wichita

    Good job, Senator. I expect a landslide victory for McCain come November, because he'll be the only one running!

    The Dems can't even get their act together when choosing who to nominate. They can't handle Michigan and Florida, how do they handle the whole country? (They can't: look at the Congressional disapproval rating... even higher than W's!!)

    May 2, 2008 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  18. Brian

    Perhaps the Iowans are WRONG..... burning food for fuel is a horrible idea! In the future, the poor will starve while the Rich are using ethanol in their vehicles.

    May 2, 2008 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
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