“People were talking about Iowa the day after the 2008 elections—who’s going to run, who has a leg-up,” says Yepsen, who still fields Iowa caucus calls from his Illinois office. “There is always a kind of presidential subtext to reporting on politics in Iowa.” I asked Obradovich back in December when inquiries start coming into her—aware that I was one such query—and she told me that they had begun long before I called. “There was a wave this fall when Palin came to Iowa for a big Republican dinner,” said Obradovich, who spoke about the dinner with journalists from as far afield as The Guardian. “They’re mostly interested in hearing whether we think a candidate is going to run, and what their prospects are.” They also want to simply know who’s hanging around. As Goldford quips, “You don’t come to Iowa for the weather and you don’t come to Iowa for the landscape.”
It’s not just reporters calling. Radio Iowa’s Henderson recalls that on the day of Clinton’s second term inauguration, Steve Forbes’s staff contacted her about the next presidential race. And Goldford once received a direct call from Chris Dodd in the summer of 2006. “He was in his house on the west coast of Ireland,” says Goldford, “but he was thinking of coming out to Iowa and wanted to touch base with me.”
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.”