DES MOINES, IOWA — Before I left New Mexico, I was joking with friends that I expected to be tripping over Bill Richardson’s “Road Runners” — supporters from New Mexico who are campaigning for the governor here in the land of the eastern goldfinch.
So I shouldn’t have been surprised when only moments after stepping off the plane at Des Moines International Airport on Tuesday, I heard someone call my name.
It was Geno Zamora, former chief counsel for Richardson’s office and candidate for state attorney general.
He was heading back to Santa Fe after roadrunning for Richardson for several days in Iowa. Zamora said he’d spent hours on the phone talking up Richardson to potential caucus supporters and also had done some basic grunt work, taping up banners and greeting people at Richardson appearances.
“It’s my 10th anniversary,” he said. “I had to choose between my wife and the governor.”
Zamora said he and his wife, Sheila, were going to the Fiesta Bowl, which took place Wednesday in Glendale, Ariz.
A few minutes later, as I went outside to pick up my rental car and felt the cold wind in the near-zero weather, a football game in Arizona sounded like a great idea.
Weather or not: Of course, being the political junkie I am, after feeling the cold blast, my next thought was what effect the weather — which Des Moines locals say is the coldest in months — would have on the caucuses.
Conventional wisdom is bad weather would hurt candidates such as U.S. Sen. Barack Obama who are counting on new, young and first-time caucus-goers while helping U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, reputed to have a polished get-out-the-vote machine, and former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, who is strong with unions and has a base of longtime supporters going back to the 2004 election.
But some have speculated the cold and ice might hurt Clinton, who is depending on support from older voters.
What about Richardson? I’m assuming he’s less worried about the temperature remaining in single digits than he is about his poll numbers doing the same.
The good news is the weather forecast shows it might get all the way up to 30 degrees today.
I’m still wondering why Iowans and New Hampshirites are more qualified than, say, Hawaiians for taking the first crack at picking the president.
TV madness: Since arriving here, I’ve made it a point to watch some local television, mainly to check out the political ads.
It’s no surprise — they are thick and they are maddening. Just as New Mexico television will be come late October.
I’ve seen seemingly endless ads for Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, Fred Thompson ... but no Bill Richardson.
Not on television at least. Two or three times on Iowa radio Wednesday, I heard a spot for the governor paid for by Star Pac, an anti-war group that has endorsed Richardson because of his promise to get all troops out of Iraq in his first year in office.
Only a couple of months ago, Richardson was leading the Democratic pack in number of television commercials. However, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus, by early December, he had fallen well behind Obama and Clinton. Obama by Dec. 2 had purchased more than 10,000 television and radio spots in Iowa. Clinton had bought more than 7,700. Richardson was in third place with 6,984. All but about 1,100 of Richardson’s spots ran before early October.
On Wednesday, Richardson told a small group at an event in Dubuque that candidates shouldn’t be chosen on the basis of who has the most money or has run the most ads.
Do the math: Richardson had appearances Wednesday in seven Iowa cities scattered all over the state. A grueling schedule to be sure.
But the more Richardson talked about it, the more grueling it became.
At his morning stop in Dubuque, the candidate said he had events in eight cities.
By Wednesday afternoon, he told a group he was appearing in 10 cities.
I’m not sure whether the number grew to 15 by the time he got to Iowa City — his seventh and final event of the day.
But give him credit: Whatever you can say about Richardson, at least the governor takes questions from the public at most of his campaign appearances.
An article in the Des Moines Register on Tuesday called Clinton on the fact that she hardly ever takes questions at her rallies, reporting: “Out of her 21 campaign rallies in Iowa since Christmas, Clinton has done three audience Q&As.”
While only a fraction of Iowa voters actually take part in the caucuses, the ones who do take them seriously. People I interviewed at Richardson events say they’ve gone to hear most, and in some cases all, the candidates. They actually read the position papers and compare. They ask intelligent questions and expect serious answers.
You can debate how well Richardson and other candidates answer the questions. But at least they put it on the line.
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