DES MOINES, IOWA – The migration has started. As of late last night, poor planners and procrastinators had to struggle to book rental cars in Des Moines.
The arrival of the masses will be a stark contrast to the state of affairs in downtown Des Moines during the Christmas holiday, where human activity basically vanished from the streets. Restaurants had powered down. Newspaper machines went nearly untouched. Orphan journalists and advance men hung out the bar at the Marriott for lack of a better option, making the overworked bartender Kirk some conciliatory cheer. One reporter told me that there were something like seventy-five people at the Obama campaign office still ordering pizzas and placing phone calls Christmas Eve. That may have been the headline out of Des Moines for the day.
HUCKABEE'S DAUGHTER STAYS ON THE HOMEFRONT
Sarah Huckabee and a small core of staffers made a holiday pact – if one stayed, everyone stayed. She had to call her mother in Arkansas to inform her she was spending Christmas in Iowa after her father let the fact loose to reporters. "Sold me out to the media bus," she explained. The news was actually harder on her father than her mother, she noted, because "he was here and had to leave and I wasn't going with him."
I visited Sarah on Christmas Eve. She had kicked off her shoes and wore a shirt bearing the catchphrase, "Merry Christmas and a Huckabee Holiday." In between some last minute online shopping, Sarah spent most of her time "catching up on the 900 and thousand emails" and shoring up details for the final week of campaigning. I asked her what she was eating, with all the local venues closed. Sandwiches, she replied.
A staffer entered her office after I finished the interview to discuss a $5 gift exchange. Her entire family will be joining her in Iowa after the 26th.
A RIVER FOR DODD TO SKATE AWAY ON
The only candidate to move his family to Iowa, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., was only one to stay here for Christmas. His campaign notified journalists he was taking his family ice skating that day, and naturally, a group of reporters with nothing better to do saw the event in their Blackberries and arrived.
It had been reported that Dodd's daughter Grace had made a sign for Santa Claus to redirect him to their rental home in Iowa. I asked him about it.
"He found the house, ate all the cookies, and he drank the milk, and he took the carrots for the reindeer, didn't he Grace?" Dodd said, turning to his daughter.
Dodd predicted he would do "very well" in Iowa. He said he "hoped to place first" or, for at the least, a "ticket out of here to go to New Hampshire, I suppose." He stressed many voters were "still undecided" and emphasized the importance of electability and experience to Iowa voters, "especially after six years of on the job training." The fact Iowa was a caucus state instead of a primary made polls less relevant, he said.
"John Kerry, four years ago, was twenty points behind Howard Dean at this date," he said. "And three weeks later, he was the nominee and won the Iowa caucuses. [Caucus goers] don't place a lot of stock in Iowa polls, they don't mean as much. Remember, a guy like Mike Huckabee was unheard of six weeks ago, but a group of Iowans thought he was important and as a result, he's now leading in Iowa and leading nationally."
When their children quit the ice, Dodd and his wife Jackie circled around the rink together before heading to a Christmas party. Jackie had made chili for her husband's loyal supporters.