Iowa Caucus geography: Chance of seeing candidates in person depends on where you live

Metro areas and college towns aside, geography still plays a major role in the chances an average Iowan will have an easy opportunity to see a presidential candidate in person over the final four-day push leading to Monday's Iowa Caucuses.

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The Iowa Caucuses will be held Monday, Feb,. 1, beginning at 7 p.m. Where the candidates are opting to spend the final four full days of campaigning in the state tells an interesting tale.

Counting today (Thursday) there are but four full campaigning days left before Monday’s Iowa Caucuses.

While a few candidates may have events slated for Monday, most, as of late Wednesday, had not made any announcements regarding rallies on caucus day. Republican candidate Ted Cruz will stop by the Greene County Community Center in Jefferson at 1 p.m. Monday, but that event is the only one any of the candidates from either party has, for now, made public.

By Tuesday morning Iowa will be an afterthought, save in the speeches of those who show well Monday and perhaps in the “suspending my campaign” speeches of a few others.

Until then, the final four days of campaigning in Iowa will be, in a word, hectic. It will also be very closely tailored by each individual campaign based upon their hopes for turnout and, in no small measure, where they believe they can attract the most effusive and supportive crowds.

Ease of travel and proximity to larger media markets plays no small role in such decisions, and a quick glance at a map of Iowa, over which the remaining 144 declared events will be held, tells an interesting tale.

For the purposes of this article, the state has been divided into four sections, with I-80 splitting the state north/south and I-35 east/west. Metro Des Moines (including Waukee and Ankeny) is considered a fifth district.

The major candidates of both parties have 51 events slated for locations north of I-80 and east of I-35, with north of I-80 and west of I-35 (including Ames and Council Bluffs) to receive 46 visits. The Des Moines metro area will see 32 events, with the portion of Iowa south of I-80 and east of I-35 to witness 14 events.

Rick Santorum will visit the Lisle Corporation and hold a town hall at 3 p.m. Friday in Clarinda. His event marks the only visit of the 144 slated to be held south of I-80 and west of I-35.

Do those southwestern Iowans matter less? Well, no. And yes.

The campaigns, especially on the Republican side, are geared much more to the north and west of the state, where the traditionally more conservative GOP voters are the majority. While GOP candidates are hitting the college towns of Ames, Cedar Falls and Iowa City, those cities, as well as the Quad Cities and Des Moines (aside from some suburban areas) are where the Democratic candidates are most likely to find their voters and are thus attracting the trio of Democratic hopefuls.

Marshalltown stands out as somewhat unique, as the city of 28,000 located 50 miles northeast of Des Moines will attract eight events. The city, and, indeed, Marshall County, are fairly evenly divided between the two parties, and while all candidates will draw varying levels of national media attention wherever they go, Marshalltown’s geographical position assures local media coverage as well as from both the Des Moines and Cedar Falls markets.

With few cities larger than Perry, southwestern Iowa simply fades when the campaigns look at the bigger picture of time spent, resources used, proximity between stops, expected crowd sizes, etc.

Perry itself has been the host for a solitary event — a visit from Bernie Sanders Jan. 11. Four years ago, numerous GOP candidates held events here. In 2008, with no incumbent running, both parties held several rallies and gatherings in Perry.

With mailboxes bulging with direct mail pleas and with the media, of all kinds, filled with urgent appeals, it is has not been easy to avoid the political onslaught.

However, seeing a candidate in person has, despite the cacophony of the caucus campaigns trying desperately to attract the attention of the voters, not been easy for Perry voters and has often required drives of at least 30 miles or more.

For those closely following a candidate, for those intending to caucus Monday and for those simply interested in politics in general, the lack of local events has to have been frustrating.

However, in the opinions of those who cannot wait for Tuesday morning to arrive, the campaigns have gone on long enough and they are just as happy to have it all come to an end. Those citizens would doubtless be jealous of their fellow Iowans in the southwestern corner of the state — if only they cared enough to notice.

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