They'll tell you that allowing the hopefuls to engage in so-called "retail politics," in which they shake hands and interact with regular folks in diners and coffee shops, exposes their strengths and weaknesses and provides hints at how successful they might be in a general election.
There may well be something to that argument. But at this late juncture in the campaign, with the Iowa caucuses less than a week away, members of the national press can outnumber regular citizens at these ostensibly local events.
At a Rudy Giuliani event this morning at Giuliani's local headquarters in Clive, Iowa, members of the press surrounded the candidate during his brief remarks; most of the Giuliani supporters and undecided voters were pushed to the back of the room, or down a long hallway where they couldn't see the candidate. At a Romney appearance in a coffee shop in Altoona, potential caucus-goers seeking a view of the candidate had to jockey with members of the press and try to find a sightline away from the professional photographers' cameras.
In Indianola, meanwhile, Mike Huckabee spoke upstairs at the Signatures Grill restaurant, surrounded largely by members of the press, while Iowans waited downstairs for a chance to see the candidate on his way out. An hour and a half later, Giuliani entered the crowded Funaro's Deli and Bakery down the block to just a smattering of applause. It wasn't so much that the Iowans who had shown up were unenthusiastic about the former New York mayor. There just weren't very many of them in relative terms. More than half the restaurant was filled with reporters, and members of the media don't clap.