At the end of September, I went to my first presidential candidate event at Jethro’s BBQ in West Des Moines to see the only Nikki Haley. My subsequent blog post (Linked here) focused on the crowd’s reaction to her. It detailed how many people were there, who those people were, their energy levels, and the dynamics of the gathering. I found that Nikki’s event was packed, and high energy filled the air, even at eight in the morning.
So, a month (and a little) later, on November 17th, I decided to check in with Nikki’s campaign again, only to be shocked by what I was met with. I was met with a remarkable amount of growth in attendance and excitement within this short period.
It was November 17th, about the coldest day of Iowa winter thus far, when I pulled into the parking lot for Nikki’s event. The notion of casually “pulling into the parking lot” is probably a stretch, considering the line of cars waiting for a spot spanned across the entire Interstate. When I first got there, the event was scheduled to start in about 25 minutes, and there was no parking spot at Vittoria Lodge to be had. I watched two middle-aged men road rage over a parking place as their wives looked on in abject apology and felt stunned by how many people showed up to this event at 10 a.m. on a Friday.
About ten minutes after Haley was scheduled to speak, I finally rushed into the venue, having fought tooth and nail for my spot in the grass on the side of a highway. The venue was interesting as it usually functions as an Italian Heritage Cultural Society building. From what I’ve found, Nikki Haley does not have any Italian in her, so this choice of venue made me laugh as I walked in.
I was no longer laughing when I opened the door and was hit with a wave of humidity coming from the crowd. The venue was packed. Chairs were crammed into tight lines with people in every single one. Compared to the last event, which was also packed, it seemed even immensely more crowded. Both venues are roughly the same size, and in West Des Moines, it seems intelligent to compare the two, and when being compared, it seems that Nikki’s crowd had grown exponentially.
It was standing room only, and multiple media outlets fought vigorously for a good angle over the heads of all the attendees. It seemed almost inconceivable to me, one, how many people were packed into such a small space, and two, the jump in attendance from the last event I witnessed.
People chattered with their neighbors here and there, and the room was filled with life and energy. The air was excitable, with people laughing, proudly holding their Nikki for President signs, and even buying merchandise. Beyond the increase in attendance from the last event to now, there is almost a 100% increase in excitement. This is quite a strong statement because I thought the excitement was high all those months ago with my initial assessment.
When Nikki finally came to speak, the crowd was utterly engaged. People shouted out cheers and supportive comments on her policies. They booed other candidates and were so riled up that Haley often had to wait, much like a teacher waiting for pupils to quit, before she could start the next portion of her speech.
All this to say that with every passing event, Nikki inches closer and closer to getting one of those coveted and crucial tickets out of Iowa. When thinking about covering the Iowa Caucuses from afar, the most challenging thing, yet the most crucial thing to measure to be able to understand how well a candidate is doing, is the energy in the room. After attending this event (and the one all those months ago), as someone who was in the room, the energy for Nikki is palpable and appears to be climbing higher all the time.