On the middle of a beautiful October day in Iowa, I drove through the out-of-season corn fields to the outskirts of Boone, Iowa. I was headed to the 1868 Farmhouse Wedding & Event Venue to see Nikki Haley on her town hall tour around America.
As I arrived, I took in the namesake old, rustic farmhouse, as well as the aesthetic venue space next to it, which certainly was built sometime well after 1868. The event took place outside on a patio of sorts with flowers; two grain bins, which may have been just for show, I couldn’t tell; string lighting; on this particular day, seating for about four dozen people; and a neat array of cameras at the back.
Upon approaching the patio, I was greeted by a lovely man who confirmed my registration for the event, not by asking me to show the confirmation email, but by asking me “Are you registered?” I was appreciative of his relaxed state, and he happily gave me a Nikki Haley yard sign, flyer, and buttons.
I continued into the attached event space, mostly because I was seeking some water. Thankfully, there was a full bar, which very few of the attendees partook in. Water in hand, I asked one of the staff working the bar about the venue. Notably, I asked her if the farmhouse frequently hosts town halls for presidential hopefuls in procession to the Iowa Caucuses. She responded, “Not really. We mostly just do weddings, we just happened to be available for this event.”
As far as wedding venues go, I believe that the 1868 Farmhouse is very fit for an event of this type. The seemingly endless waves of corn fit neatly with bunting and a silver steel-frame building was the perfect backdrop for any candidate seeking votes from this part of the country, especially those living in rural areas. I was surprised that this venue, albeit very new (the venue, not the namesake house, opened Fall, 2020), hadn’t hosted more candidates yet. Located near Boone, Iowa, only about 45 minutes northwest of Des Moines, the location granted Haley the experience of rural Iowa. I’m sure she was hoping for some brownie points from the crowd, and from those I interacted with, it was composed of voters mainly from the nearby community of Boone and other small Iowan towns. This was a first for me, a town hall event outside of the Des Moines area; however, I didn’t need to travel far. I couldn’t have asked for a better venue for it, and the people there were every bit as welcoming.
Before the beginning of the event, I also had a lovely conversation with an older couple I was sitting next to about their experiences with the Iowa Caucuses. They told me that they attended several events prior to the 2016 caucuses. They decided to caucus for Jeb Bush, as they were “unimpressed” with Ted Cruz after attending one of his events. I found this interesting, as the former Governor of Florida had notably underperformed in Iowa during his 2016 presidential bid... When I asked why they thought that, the man said to me, “Senator Cruz had a lot of supporters, very passionate supporters.” At this, I excused myself and returned my sweatshirt to my car. When I returned, my seat, which I had marked with a water cup, had been given away to another person! I can’t believe they let them take my seat, I even told them I’d be right back. I moved to an open seat, and by then it was time for Governor Haley to take the stage.
After some local Republican leaders, the officials welcomed Nikki to the stage, who walked up to a warm welcome from the crowd. Right off the bat, Haley admitted that the crisp fall air of Iowa was a little cold for her taste, but that seemed to be a non-issue for her throughout the hour she spoke. In her speech, she spoke about the atrocities unfolding in Israel, the war in Ukraine, China, the situation at the border, and problems in D.C., among other things. Haley’s theme of facing the "hard truths” was apparent throughout her speech, to which the crowd listened to intently. They were not particularly energetic, but nobody seemed bored or disdainful of her points. The best I can describe the general reaction to Haley’s stump speech was trusting. Trusting in Haley’s experience from the cotton fields of South Carolina to the United Nations, which has led her to toss her hat in the ring for America’s commander-in-chief.
No chronicle this town hall would be complete without mentioning the two young boys sitting in the middle of the patio. At the event’s conclusion, when Governor Haley took questions from the audience, the two boys frantically tried to get the attention of Haley’s staffers who crawled through the audience with microphones. One of the boys was handed the microphone for the final question of the afternoon. Haley seemed excited by this and told him to “make it a good one!” The boy, quite coherently and professionally I may add, told Haley that his mother has served in the Army for ten years and that it was his birthday that day before asking, “What will you do about the crazy people running our schools?” To this, the audience of roughly 80 people and Haley herself laughed and applauded the kid and his question.
Following the town hall’s conclusion, nearly every attendee made their way to the stage area to meet Haley, getting their questions answered, taking pictures, and socializing with other attendees. Members of Haley’s staff graciously offered to take a picture of me with the former governor/U.N. ambassador/current presidential candidate. Everyone I interacted with, from Haley herself, to the attendees, to the police officers working the event, was incredibly friendly and seemed glad I was there.
Haley seems to have asserted herself as a very serious candidate in the early going of the 2024 election. However, with most Republicans putting her chances well behind Trump and DeSantis respectively, the road to the White House for Haley remains a long one. However, with highly regarded performances in the first two primary debates, if Haley continues to prioritize Iowa more than DeSantis and Trump, she may be a surprisingly successful candidate come caucus night.