Big and Bold or Private and Personal?
What’s the Best Way to Connect with Iowa Voters?
When campaigning for president, candidates are dead in the water if they do not consistently connect well with voters. There are two main ways to connect with voters: big and bold events or private and personal ones. To contrast these two styles, I attended a large event with Vivek Ramaswamy’s campaign and a smaller one with Tim Scott’s.
What I found was that more intimate events may allow for more connections to be made from voter to candidate.
Big and Bold
When Vivek Ramaswamy made his grand entrance into the Jamie Hurd Amphitheater, he was immediately encircled by a crowd of around thirty, all vying for a coveted moment with the infamous billionaire. The venue was nothing short of massive (and very much the opposite of intimate). A vast, open space with food trucks, face painting, pumpkin carving, a beer tent, and live music highlighted Vivek’s energy put into this production. In all the excitement, pushing, and jostling, people sought not just a word or to share a concern with Vivek but, most commonly, a picture. My classmates and I, no outlier to this phenomenon, asked Vivek to take a BeReal with us, which was a unique experience.
However, as he continued to engage with voters, a noticeable shift occurred, and his interactions got a lot less “unique.” His focus seemed to transition from creating genuine connections to creating curated content for the cameras, most commonly those with his campaign team, with the 1776 Media logo sprawled across them. It was as if he was performing in a show, with a swarm of cameras forming a constant presence among the voters. While Vivek did speak and capture moments with many voters, he did not take these brief conversations as a way to connect, and the personal touch of it all was overshadowed by the knowledge that these conversations were maybe for a larger audience than the one right in front of him.
As the event continued, his interactions with the people there were more about capturing the spectacle on the camera than actually forging connections. He picked voters to talk to based on what would play well with a broader audience, and the connections lost a lot of authenticity.
Private and Personal
In contrast, Tim Scott’s event screamed authenticity and genuine care for those present. The room at the Veterans Center was cozy, with maybe fifty chairs in a circle formation surrounding a single stool. Van Meter is a town of about 1,500 people, and the venue setup seemed to respect the small-town nature of where we were. When you campaign for President in Iowa, appreciating the small towns is a crucial part of campaigning, and Senator Tim Scott appeared to succeed at this. A little less than a hundred people were present at the event, making for a very intimate crowd.
About seven minutes before Senator Scott was supposed to arrive at the event, I decided to take a little walk around the Veteran’s Center in an attempt to explore before all the excitement started. Little did I know that this choice would lead to a one-on-one conversation with the Senator himself.
After pushing open a random door, I immediately stopped, shocked by coming face-to-face with the man himself. He seemed pretty shocked to see me there as well, and I was honestly a little surprised that the multiple security guards lining the room didn’t jump me on the spot. I remember stuttering out something about how I was sorry to have interrupted, and as I went to leave, Senator Scott called me back and shook my hand. The handshake was firm, my hand clammy, and Representative David Young (a Drake professor and Representative for Van Meter in the Iowa House) introduced me to the Senator. We spoke a little about Drake University and the Iowa Caucus Project.
There was no premeditated script or entourage of cameras dictating the encounter. Instead, it was a spontaneous interaction full of genuine smiles, and laughter. This authenticity continued when he finally entered the building where all the other attendees were. Before the event started, he stopped to shake hands with and greet every single one in attendance. It was honestly remarkable, and I was shocked by how much genuine care he had and patience he had to listen to every single one of their concerns.
After I unexpectedly met the Senator, I remember turning toward the policeman closest to me and remarking, “Well, that was crazy,” and crazy it was. What other state than Iowa could you meet a presidential candidate by opening a random door, and in what other state in Iowa would a presidential candidate stop to shake the hand of everyone in the room before beginning his speech?
In reflecting on these two different experiences, Senator Tim Scott’s approach resonated with me and other voters there uniquely. This resonation all comes down to the genuine connection that occurred and the commitment to forging connections beyond the political capital to gain. While both events were exciting, drew voters, and allowed the candidates to display their message, Tim Scott’s authenticity left a lasting impression on those present in the room.