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  • Writer's pictureReid Stevens

Grading Candidates by their Event Soundtracks

Throughout the 2023-2024 Iowa Caucus Cycle, I have had the privilege of attending events for nearly every presidential candidate who made a public stop in Iowa (with one notable exception being former president Donald Trump). But one recurring theme in these events is they usually start with attendees conversing amongst themselves with music playing before the candidate takes the stage. I typically take this time to get my barrings, conduct interviews, think of some questions I would like to ask the candidate, take a breath, and maybe eat food if it’s available (be sure to check out my review of caucus event food here.) But I want to focus on one aspect of that, which is the specific playlists, which are usually the same at every event, and trust me, some are better than others. Let this serve as a guide to caucus music; each candidate will receive a letter grade for their playlists. 

Nikki Haley 

Nikki Haley is the only member of this list who discussed her selected music. She described herself as a big fan of all music and claimed she hand-picked the songs that played before her events. The songs are mostly 80s rock hits featuring well-known tunes such as “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “Dancing Queen,” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” The music caught my attention and pumped me up for the event both times I saw Nikki. The crowd seemed to enjoy the music and gave a brief applause for the former governor when she described her love of music in her stump speech. My favorite song in her playlist is Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga,” and I give Nikki Haley a solid B+.

Ron DeSantis

However, Ron DeSantis’s event playlist similarly did not grab my attention. Nobody seemed to dislike it, but they did not go out of their way to jam along. For this reason, I don’t remember all of the songs played. He seems to like heavy metal, as he played AC/DC’s hits “Thunderstruck” and “Back in Black.” In the tight, crowded room where the event was held, I felt the volume was a few decibels too high, but maybe DeSantis’ team just wanted to get their base excited and full of adrenaline. I’m not a big metal fan, but I wasn’t disgusted by any of the music, and it did not seem out of place at the event, considering the audience and DeSantis’ personality. He gets a C.  

Vivek Ramaswamy

Imagine this: you’ve been listening to Vivek Ramaswamy speak for almost an hour, and you’ve begun to zone out a little, thinking about what you will eat for dinner and whatever other business your evening requires, when all of a sudden, you hear blasting through the speakers the familiar pitch-shifted “THUNDER, TH-, TH-, THUNDER.” Now awake from your daydream, you clap for Vivek as he bids farewell to the crowd and goes offstage. “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons came out when I was in middle school, and like most things from middle school, they seem way less cool in adulthood. Yet, I still hear the song all the time at events and in public, confirming for me that the song has not aged well in my mind. Yet it’s a staple of Ramaswamy events, meaning I have had a few more run-ins with this song this year than I would have liked. On the upside, Vivek’s Vektoberfest did feature a local live band, so he gets some points from me for that. Overall, it is not a strong aspect of his campaign. He gets a D grade. 


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