My Iowa: Covering the Caucuses as a Native or a Newcomer


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KELLEN BROWNING If you were trying to think of a city that feels like the polar opposite of San Francisco, Des Moines would be a pretty good bet.

When I learned in November that I had two weeks to pack up my life in the Bay Area and move to Iowa for the winter to report on the Iowa caucuses, I called up Sydney Ember, a colleague who drew this assignment four years ago, for advice. She reassured me that driving in the snow would be easy, and said she had almost died only three times on the icy roads during her time in Iowa covering the 2020 Democratic primary race.

Armed with that comforting knowledge — and some new coats — I took off for Des Moines. In just six short weeks, I’ve driven more than 3,400 miles in my rental car, attended rallies for all of the leading candidates and spoken with dozens of voters. But while I was moonlighting as an Iowan, one of my colleagues on staff is the real thing.

Anjali Huynh, a politics reporter who grew up in Iowa City, has watched all of us reporters try to become Iowa experts, and — I can only imagine — rolled her eyes at our inability to blend in with the locals. As I prepared to wrap up my stint here, I wanted to chat with a real Iowan about her state, and share some of what I have learned.

Here’s our conversation.

ANJALI HUYNH What was your reaction when you first heard that you were going to be sent to Des Moines, somewhere you haven’t been before?

KELLEN I have not spent time in the Midwest, so I was looking forward to it, but I also just had no idea what to expect. In my head I had visions of cornfields and flat terrain, a stark contrast to the slopes of San Francisco. When I first got out here, my first impression of downtown Des Moines was: “Wow, it’s so quiet. I guess people are just at home because it’s kind of cold out.” But Iowa is simply a much more sparsely populated state, and I soon came to realize that’s just how it was.

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My Iowa: Covering the Caucuses as a Native or a Newcomer

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