Sometimes it takes candidates a little while to make it to our northeastern corner of Iowa, but Beto O’Rourke announced he was coming to Waterloo just a couple of days after he declared that he was running for President. The draw was a special election for a State Senate seat where we are, that I wrote about in a previous blog post. This was the weekend before the election, and candidates were lining up to drum up support for Eric Giddens in his race for office. In addition to O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, John Delaney, and Cory Booker were going to be visiting within a day and a half. Whoa! That was too much even for me. Just Beto for now.
My son, Nic, was back for Spring Break, and he and my daughter, Devin, were up for the event. I pulled up the event ad on my phone and saw that it was scheduled for the county Party headquarters, a room that probably fit 50 people. 150 had already RSVPed to the Facebook invite. As I plugged my phone in to make sure it was fully charged, I wondered how this would all work.
I was too clever for my own good, since as we were pulling into downtown Waterloo, I realized that I had left my phone charging at home, and I didn’t have time to go back for it. Fortunately, as sweet as Devin is, she said I could use her phone during the event (she’s 17, so this was a big sacrifice) as long as I gave it back to her at the end so she could get a picture with Beto. Crisis averted. However, Devin, who is devoted in her efforts to learn Spanish, has set her phone so that all the instructions are in Spanish. I have been less devoted in my efforts, and I soon realized that I was going to have to muddle through while determining whether I wanted to listo or cancelar a picture.
It was a nice early Spring day, and the campaign had wisely decided to have the event outside in a parking lot adjacent to party headquarters. However, this meant that we were sharing the lot with a portable giant cow statue, which everyone seemingly agreed to ignore. Fair enough, as the cow (whose butt was facing the crowd) also ignored us.
At the event, the first person we saw was Arlo, a friend who our kids have grown up with and known forever. He was also back on Spring Break, and when we caught up to him he was signing up to canvass for Eric Giddens after the event. We were also on board, and signed out a clipboard as well to go knock on doors after the rally.
I confess that I wasn’t quite sure about this location as the backdrop for a big event. It was just a parking lot with an old brick wall and a pick-up truck from which O’Rourke would be speaking. I grew less sure when the candidate’s car drove up and the initial photos I took were in front of a porta potty and a rickety staircase.
But, none of that seemed to matter. O’Rourke slowly made his way to the bed of the pickup and took the stage (the flatbed?) to chants of “Beto! Beto!” I appreciated that he was wearing a University of Northern Iowa cap. After being introduced, Beto was charged up, and he was an energetic speaker. As has been noted by He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, Beto talks with his hands, and one picture I got did capture him looking like a conductor. My wife, Julie, was at home, but she realized that this event was being televised live on MSNBC, and she send a message popped up on Devin’s phone (or, at least that’s what I assumed when an alert came up, titled Mensages—ahora). This event was more about politics than policy, and though O’Rourke did talk about the divisive impact of the the push for a wall along the southern border, he was more interested in whipping up the crowd and persuading people to get involved in the process. It was preaching to the choir, but an event like this was choir practice.
Beto takes a clear side in the main strategy debate over whether Democrats need to expand the base or appeal to working-class voters. Beto’s side is “both,” and there is a case to be made that an inspiring candidacy can win all kinds of voters (as Obama did in 2008), but there is also a risk that trying to be all things to all people could lead to minimizing policy proposals. This was not a policy speech by any means, so I still wonder what to expect from him, but the main reason he was there is to rally voters for Eric Giddens, and he did a great job at that.
The empty parking lot with the giant cow statue happened to be a block away from the County Courthouse, where early voting was happening, and O’Rourke encouraged people to both vote and then to canvass on behalf of Eric, before turning the pick-up truck over to Eric. That’s when I realized Beto had a loud voice and was able to shout to a loud crowd. Eric is more soft-spoken, and fortunately Beto was able to hand him an electronic megaphone. Though I had earlier wondered about the appropriateness of this backdrop, when photos of the event were published, they looked great. It was a sunny day, and the brick wall gave the whole scene an almost edgy vibe, even without the giant cow statue.
When Beto and Eric finished speaking, Devin demanded her phone back and joined the crowd, hoping for a picture. Nic, having learned an important lesson at an earlier event, positioned himself between the candidate and his getaway car. I ended up jammed in, unable to get closer to the candidate or to leave, and now I was without a phone. So, I eavesdropped. What I heard was interesting, and depending on your opinion, was either endearing or obnoxious. Apparently, Iowans were willing to wait in a big crowd, getting pushed and crushed, in order to get their chance to speak to the candidate. However, once they got there, what did they want to do? They wanted to give unsolicited campaign advice.
One woman fought her way through the crowd to tell O’Rourke that he should run on a ticket with Eric Swalwell as his vice president. Another guy was willing to wait an extra 20 minutes to offer the candidate a campaign slogan (which was something innocuous like “Together We Rise”). Having performed this function as unpaid advisors, these people were happy. All of this reminds me of people bringing mitts to pro baseball games in hopes of catching foul ball. I think I am going to start tracking unsolicited advice at future events.
Devin and Nic were able to get pictures, and afterward we walked the block so that Nic and Arlo (who were both just back into town) could cast their early votes for Eric. The only laugh line from that excursion was that I forgot to take my harmonica out of my pocket and got buzzed by the metal detector. But then we were off to canvass, and among the people who were home, there was a surprising level of awareness of this snap special election. It was not clear what role all the visiting Presidential candidates played in this, but it couldn’t have hurt to be in the national spotlight for a while. Happily, three days later, the vote happened and Eric Giddens won a decisive, double-digit percentage victory in the Special Election. Sí, se puede!