Play By Play: Donald Trump in Ottumwa
11:44 a.m. Trump flags lined the roads up to the Bridge View Event Center in Ottumwa, Iowa, on October 1. Some said "Trump 2024" and others displayed the former president's mugshot above the phrase “Never Surrender” beside a scattering of “Don’t Tread on Me” American Independence-era flags. Merch tents lined up along the road with self-proclaimed entrepreneurs bucking homemade t-shirts, flags, and hats (even winter ones in the 90-degree heat).
11:56 a.m. A man with no shoes and an American flag t-shirt directed us to a packed parking lot with barely a spot left, even though the event didn’t start for another hour. People were everywhere, and as we approached the entrance to the venue, the line, hundreds of people long, stretched so far you couldn’t even see the beginning of it.
12:25 p.m. One woman from another city in Iowa told me she drove over four hours to see the former President as it was the “closest he had ever been,” and it would have been “a dying shame not to see him.” From the high school students helping with crowd control to the young mother with a blinged Trump 2024 shirt and matching bedazzled jeans, the people around us in line showed up to see the former president.
1:14 p.m. In the venue, the air felt electric. Trump staffers were handing out koozies with “Back to Back Iowa Caucus Champion” written in John Deere green and yellow. On them, the outline of Iowa was surrounded by two stalks of corn. By the time we got into the main room, all the seats were already filled, with only standing room left in the back, and it was still two hours till Trump was supposed to go on stage.
1:40 p.m. The people there seemed very similar in some ways, but in other ways, the crowd was very diverse. It was similar in that the crowd was very white (as are most crowds in Iowa) and diverse in that people of many ages filled the room. Many children (only some disruptive and annoying) were present, as well as many high school students. I spoke to one mother, and when I asked her why she was there, she pointed to her 16-year-old son and told me how seeing Trump was a dream come true for him.
There were people there with many different levels of political involvement. I spoke to one middle-aged man who had never voted in an election before Trump came to the scene in 2016. I also spoke to two older women who were highly involved in the Fairfield Republican Party and wanted to recruit me to hand out flags in their annual parade!
2:09 p.m. The event felt like a party. Loud music (with some very unexpected song choices for Trump, such as ABBA's Dancing Queen) echoed off the room’s walls. People were up and dancing—a line of dancers formed in the front of the venue who attempted some semblance of synchronization. Two people led a wave around the room, and chants ranging from “USA USA USA” to “Let’s Go Brandon” filled the air.
3:12 p.m. The energy dissipated as former President Trump’s arrival was pushed back later and later to his own party. Complaints could be heard of hurting feet and backs from those standing, and the crowd’s body language changed. Trump was supposed to be on stage thirty minutes ago. More and more people were yawning, sitting, and crossing their arms than before.
3:20 p.m. Music began to play, and Trump entered the stage. People leapt to their feet in joy, frantically cheering for the former president. Because of his tardiness and the resulting loss of energy and excitement in the crowd, I thought that maybe the candidate's welcome would be as warm as I first envisioned, but I was wrong. He stood on the stage for a full two minutes while the entire entrance song played, just soaking in the applause from the room.
3:22 p.m. Trump began to speak, energizing the audience before him. He focused on very Iowan issues such as farming, energy, and ethanol, which increased support even more. Even his literature seemed very catered to Iowa, with promises to keep Iowa first in the nation and to hold a nationwide state fair in Iowa. Beyond Iowa, he spoke about some national issues, specifically taking aim at two of his opponents, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley.
3:35 p.m. The more he spoke, the more animated the room became, with people calling out support for specific issues or booing some of his opponents. A lot can be said about Trump, but one can't say that he does not play to his audience.
3:55 p.m. Trump’s speech ended, but the audience did not seem too eager to leave. Like his message, they lingered, energized by his campaign.