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  • Writer's pictureChris Veninga

The Other Side of That Tweet

Within the Iowa Caucus Project, I am probably the most politically clueless. I know general political events, policies, and figures, whereas most of my classmates seem to know every local, regional, and national candidate and their mothers.

However, I have one skill that makes me useful to the Iowa Caucus Project: I can talk to people; I walk up to strangers like a six-year-old in a supermarket. I pushed through a crowd to talk to Vivek Ramaswamy, was the youngest person to ask Tim Scott something at his town hall, and was really peeved when Ron DeSantis didn’t call on me during his Q&A. When I was studying in Washington D.C. last semester, no figure or important person (outwardly) intimidated me.

So that made me the perfect idiot to go out on the streets of Des Moines, Iowa, and talk to locals and non-residents alike about the Iowa caucuses. Now I was nervous not only because I was talking to strangers about politics, but also because if I said one wrong thing, my brand new camera might end up getting smashed.

After I interviewed a few folks who all had various degrees of enthusiasm being asked questions about their political beliefs, I stopped in front of a Starbucks on Locust Street in the heart of downtown Des Moines. I saw a woman park and get out of a car with a guy who was probably five years older than me. This woman briskly walked into the coffee shop, and I briefly noticed what looked like a “Vivek” badge on her lapel.

“Sweet.” I thought to myself. “Maybe she’d be down to talk once she comes out.”

I stood outside the Starbucks looking like an amateur one-man paparazzi for a few minutes (a homeless person walked in front of me and said I have cool eyes in this timespan) when the woman walked out.

“Excuse me,” I said. I then proceeded to tell the spiel I had been telling everyone else: “I’m a Drake University student interviewing Iowans about the Iowa Caucuses and was wondering if you’d want to talk to me for a couple of minutes?”

She hesitated for a moment and said something along the lines of “I work for Vivek Ramaswamy; I’m his National Grassroots Coordinator. I’m not necessarily unbiased.”

“Cool!” I said. I had no idea what that title meant, but it sounded important. She then agreed to do an interview with me.

After fumbling with the microphone pack, wrestling with the focus on the camera, and probably looking like a nitwit in the process, I finally started interviewing her. I asked her her name first.

“I’m Kathy Barnette, National Grassroots Coordinator for Vivek Ramaswamy.”

After I asked her a few general questions about her experience with Vivek’s campaign, suddenly three women came out of the Starbucks and crashed the interview. I thought I was about to catch a standoff on camera the crazy videos where you catch different people on two sides of the aisle have a screaming match with each other. What followed was one of the most interesting things I had ever seen during my young videography career.

The three African-American women proceeded to talk to Kathy about various policies: abortion, inflation, homelessness, immigration, and identity politics. Kathy herself was African-American and proceeded to use her own background to relate to the interview-crashers. They talked passionately while I was on-and-off recording (my camera was being finicky so I only caught snippets of their conversation). The women appeared to feel heard by Kathy and they talked as if they were old friends. After about 45 minutes, Kathy and her assistant offered to buy the three of them dinner. As they walked down the street, I awkwardly said “thank you” and walked the opposite direction, still processing what I just witnessed and how I accidentally started a deep political conversation amongst strangers.

Fast forward a few hours, and I’m lying in bed and looking at the footage, worrying that I might have messed up the focus on the camera. Though I half-decapitated myself off at the top of the frame, it turned out relatively well. Then I remembered her assistant gave me Kathy’s social media username, so I decided to take a look at her X/Twitter account. What I found shocked me; @Kathy4Truth had over 210,000 followers.

I quickly texted the Iowa Caucus group chat, and I was met with all-caps responses. Apparently, she was a big deal!

Kathy Barnette was a 2022 Senate candidate and ran against Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania and was among the top brass in Vivek Ramaswamy’s campaign. I was absolutely floored; I interviewed a big name in the 2024 political world and had no idea who she was. Part of me was thinking, “Should I have bowed or something?”

After I texted the group chat, I posted a picture of Kathy and I chatting in the following Tweet:

The next morning, Kathy quoted my post.

Her post nearly got 25k views and hundreds of likes my fifteen minutes of fame. Important verified accounts liked her post, and there I was with my head partially cut off like a Peanuts adult.

Fast forward eight hours later, and Kathy posted an even longer post regarding her experience in Des Moines, calling me many descriptive things such as “a young man” and “the little white interviewer.” Hey… I may be white and an interviewer but I am, in fact, 6’2”! She detailed her conversation with the three women and how she took them to dinner later in an extensive X/Twitter post that far exceeded the 280 characters most posts consist of. This post was a whole essay about her time in Iowa’s capital city… and I helped instigate this meaningful conversation. And she posted it to her platform of hundreds of thousands of people, all because I wanted to ask her questions about the caucuses.

One of the key things that I’ve been learning is that there are truly unique things that happen in the flyover state known as Iowa (“only in Iowa” as we call it). Never in a million years would I have thought that I would have sparked a meaningful moment between a politician and Des Moines residents; I was just trying to do my part of the Iowa Caucus Project. Iowa’s a special place, and I’m glad that even on a micro level, I could help make a difference.


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