You’ve Got (Candidate) Mail(ers)

A look at the direct mail deluge in Iowa

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA — Perhaps you’ve heard non-Iowans grumble about the attention lavished on Iowa for its first-in-the-nation caucus. Residents of Iowa may have their own reasons to grouse about all this attention.

It’s been exceptional to catch a non-political ad on television for weeks in the state. Robo-calls from campaigns and political organizations ring throughout the day. And, at least at the households of registered Iowa Republicans since the fall, campaign mail arrives every few days in thick, slick bundles (because the political mailers are not first-class mail, postal carriers can hold them for a matter of days and deliver them as a stack.)

My parents, one of whom is a registered Republican, live in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and, accordingly, they have received a steady flow of such mailers—mailers from campaigns, mailers from political action committees, mailers from 501(c)(4) groups, mailers that make it clear (and less clear) who’s paid for production and postage. Mailers that are informational (Ron Paul’s “Plan To Restore America,” paid for by the pro-Paul Revolution super PAC, which also sent a virtual DVD of “For Liberty: The Ron Paul Revolution”):

Mailers that are confrontational (“Old Dog, Newt Tricks,” paid for by Romney For President):

Recent mailings from the Perry campaign and the pro-Perry super PAC, Make Us Great Again, tout Perry’s so-called “Conservative Outsider” and “Consistent Conservative” status (and the same, suit-and-tie-clad photo):

“Principled conservative” is how Strong America NOW super PAC would like my parents to think of Newt Gingrich:

This same PAC also offered (Gingrich-centric) guidance on how “IOWANS CAN SAVE AMERICA”:

If the caucuses were decided by volume of direct mail, it appears that Rick Perry or perhaps Ron Paul would win. Since December 22, the bundles that have arrived at my parents’ home have included six mailers from the Perry campaign or the Make Us Great Again super PAC which backs Perry, and five mailers from Paul or the pro-Paul Revolution super PAC. There have been two pieces of mail plugging Gingrich from the Strong America Now super PAC, one from the Romney campaign, and nothing from or on behalf of Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum. (Today, apparently, only a Perry mailer landed.)

In an era of Twitter and Facebook and round-the-clock campaign punditry, direct mail seems a quaint campaign tactic. And yet it is clearly still part of the mix, whether or not these mailers make the desired impression on attention-saturated recipients—or, any impression. My parents’ caucus-going next-door neighbor in Cedar Rapids, for one, places them directly into the recycling bin.

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Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.