As the caucuses draw nearer, queries intensify and the focus of the questions narrow: the world knows who’s on the ground, now they want to know who’s going to win. Obradovich, who was busy managing a team of ten Register reporters leading up to the 2008 caucuses, says that in the weeks before the vote her phone was ringing “off the hook” with calls from the UK, Australia, and Canada; she fit six interviews in on the day of the caucuses themselves while coordinating the Register’s own coverage. “I field as many requests as I can and I don’t discriminate between who’s a really big request and who isn’t,” she says. “But getting my own job done is a priority.”
Henderson can sympathize. In 2008, the Radio Iowa reporter received invitations from a number of national outlets to hit the air as a caucus night pundit. She had to turn them down because she was already scheduled to be on air: on Radio Iowa.
Like Glover, Henderson remembers 1976’s historic caucuses well—though, as a fifth-grader, she was not on hand to report. Henderson’s parents took her to a Republican precinct caucus held in the back of an insurance agency in her hometown of Lenox, Iowa, where the ballot basket being passed around “looked like a church collection plate.” Her first caucus as a reporter for Radio Iowa was the 1988 double whammy won by Dole on the Republican side and Gephardt on the Democratic side. She says that media attention has only grown since those historic caucuses. “Interest in the presidential race now mirrors our new 24/7 situation in the news media as a whole,” says Henderson, who, incidentally, was born on Election Day 1964.
Goldford, who fields so many caucus calls that he’s considered a career in full-time punditry, began writing down every interview he did in the lead-up to the 2004 vote, just to keep track. In 2003, Goldford tells me he did 250 media interviews; and 140 more in the first two weeks of 2004. In 2007, he took part in 553 media interviews, most, though not all, caucus-related. “My wife jokes that she was the hostess in the green room,” Goldford says. “I had people here at my house stacked up in the living room, Fox, NBC, CBS, Australian TV, various people. I’d sit in the other room giving time to people.”
Being “that guy” or “those guys” in Iowa can be exhausting, according to Yepsen. “I got overwhelmed,” he told me. “It will happen to Kathie and it will happen to Mike and O. Kay.” Yepsen also says that the caucuses, and the way they are reported on, have changed as interest has grown. “Reporters swamp in almost to the point where it gets in the way of the story. You don’t have the old days when you could just hop in the back of the car with George Herbert Walker Bush and it was just him, and a driver, and an aide and me.”
While this year’s caucuses should draw less attention than 2008, with only one party caucusing, new media outlets like Politico are already promising more primary coverage than ever. In this feverishly competitive environment, that could mean more extracurricular work for Iowa’s political press than ever—though there are reinforcements by way of popular bloggers at Iowa Independent and Iowa Republican.
Yepsen’s primary successors know what’s coming. They’ve dealt with it before. Each knows to plan a vacation ahead of time—Henderson relaxed with family in Texas following 2008, Obradovich has spent her post-election time-off in India, England, and Brussels. And each knows to steel themselves for the onslaught, and for some, to prepare for what follows: the caucus comedown.
Obradovich says she is relieved when the caucuses pass; others feel at a loss. “I feel like the Maytag repairman,” admits Goldford. For Henderson, the feeling is a mixture of exhaustion and contentment. “You sometimes hear sports figures talking about how they ‘left it all out on the field,’” she says. “It’s a sounds a little bit weird. But there is a feeling that I’ve done everything I possibly could to cover the caucuses and now it’s someone else’s football to carry it down the field.”
Or someone else’s turn to take the ice.
*Note: This story originally said Obradovich also stepped into Yepsen’s political editor role—she was actually already political editor and moved from that position into the columnist role.