The 2015 Iowa Starting Line Awards

It’s the last day of 2015! Which means it finally gets less weird to talk about the 2016 election when the vast majority of important campaign developments and work came in 2015.

Before the year is out, Starting Line is doing a year-end wrap-up of the best and worst from 2015 Iowa Caucus coverage in an award format. So we asked all our best readers and insider friends who they thought deserved recognition for various caucus and Iowa politics categories this year. Please enjoy our official 2015 Iowa Starting Line awards, a mix of user submissions and our own personal take:


Caucus Campaigns

Best Caucus Campaign

Hillary Clinton (Democrats) – Determined to not be tripped up again by the first caucus state, the Clinton team went all-in for Iowa early on this year. More importantly, they came in with a much better appreciation for the caucus process and a commitment to getting it right. They have, on all levels.

Ted Cruz (Republicans) – Cruz’s rise to the top in Iowa didn’t come from some flash-in-the-pan Fox News moment. It came from months of hard work, organizing and extremely smart strategic and messaging decisions.

Worst Caucus Campaign

Marco Rubio – This was the near-unanimous choice from reader submissions.

Best Field Operation

Hillary Clinton

Best Press Operation

Jeb Bush

Outstanding Iowa Caucus Staffer

Michelle Kleppe, Organizing Director, Hillary for Iowa

Best Ad

Bernie Sanders’ First TV Ad – I thought Sanders’ first ad very effectively weaved his own personal, biographical story (practically non-existent in his stump speech, but important for voters) into his progressive issues.

Worst Ad

Marco Rubio’s First TV Ad – In which he says practically nothing and looks more like he’s being held captive in some dark basement.

Best Retail Candidate

Chris Christie

Funniest Candidate

Lindsey Graham – No contest. Please endorse someone so you can come back on the campaign trail.

Best Produced Campaign Events

Ben Carson – His family fun events in the late summer still holds the honor of the craziest (but good) single-candidate caucus event I’ve seen this cycle.


Caucus Cycle

Most Defining Caucus Moment

Trump’s John McCain Comments In Ames – Jason Noble picked this moment in his interview last week on The Insiders, and he was right. When Trump mocked McCain’s time as a POW and emerged from the firestorm of criticism unscathed, we all should have realized this wasn’t just a “Summer of Trump” phenomenon.

Runner Up: Clinton’s Week In October – It was actually more a stretch of 10 days, but we’ll call it a week. It started with the first Democratic debate, continued with Joe Biden declining to run, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee dropping out, Clinton enduring the 11-hour Benghazi committee hearing, and finally ending with the campaign’s dominance at the Iowa Jefferson Jackson Dinner. Her polls rebounded after that week and she’s never looked back.

Biggest Mistake

Martin O’Malley Waiting Until May To Announce – There was a lot of anxiety among progressives early on in 2015 when so many Republican candidates were declaring, while no Democrats had yet. O’Malley could have captured a lot of media attention had he jumped in in January, and might have gotten a serious look from Democrats when Clinton’s email server first came to light in March.

Biggest Surprise

Jeb Bush’s Struggles – Despite the family connections, lots of endorsements, his early lead in the polls and tens of millions in spending by his Super PAC, Bush has been dying a slow campaign death all year.

Runner Up: Bernie Sanders – It may seem odd to think now, but Sanders started out the year as a quirky far-left candidate not seen as very serious by most. His early visits to Iowa before he announced were okay, but nothing special. Sanders exploded in popularity after progressives gave up on Elizabeth Warren running, and has continued his incredible momentum despite a serious lack of press coverage.

Biggest Disappointment

Scott Walker – He was the chosen one who fought the unions in a Democratic-leaning state. His campaign lasted 70 days before he ran out of money.

Funniest Moment

Jeb Bush Asserts His Sense Of Humor To Reporters, Gets Laughed At – This is more my personal funniest moment from the campaign trail:

Runner Up: Trump Copter Buzzes Hillary – Clinton was walking over to the pork chop stand at the Iowa State Fair with the entire national press corp in tow when look! In the sky! It’s a bird! No, it’s a plane! No, it’s Donald Trump buzzing overhead in his helicopter. If that wasn’t funny enough, he circled around just to do it a second time.

Most Awkward Moment

Donald Trump Kicks Jorge Ramos Out Of His Press Conference – In the early stages of Trump’s immigration controversy, highly-respected Univision anchor Jorge Ramos attended a Trump press conference in Dubuque. After interrupting several of Trump’s answers to his question about deportations, Trump had his security escort him from the room. Haven’t seen something like that since.

Runner Up: Ted Cruz’s Condom Comments – During a Q&A in Bettendorf, Cruz got on the topic of contraceptives, saying of course he wouldn’t outlaw it. Then he got a little silly and started talking about condom dispensers in college and noting that he loves his two children, but he’s glad he doesn’t have 17 of them. Dude, don’t tell us how many times you’ve had sex. That’s just weird.

Best Multi-Candidate Event

Lincoln Day Dinner, Republican Party of Iowa – Finally, a multi-Republican event where they stayed on schedule and didn’t invite every random elected official and their brother up to speak. The hospitality rooms afterward let every candidate throw their own little after-party. It was a lot of fun.

Most Influential Endorsement

Sue Dvorsky, Hillary Clinton – Endorsements are nice, but sometimes all they get you is a press story. Dvorsky ended up joining the campaign full-time, and anyone who’s been involved in Iowa politics knows that few work harder than the always-energetic Dvorsky.



Outstanding Iowa Reporter

Kay Henderson, Radio Iowa

Honorable Mention: Catherine Lucey, AP

Outstanding Up-And-Coming Iowa Reporter

Kevin Barry, CBS2/FOX28

Outstanding National Reporter

Tim Alberta, National Review

Honorable Mention: Kylie Atwood, CBS News

Best Political Tweeter

Gabe Debenetti, @gdebenedetti

Best Interviewer

Dave Price, WHO-TV

Best Iowa Caucus History Podcast

Jason Noble, Three Tickets – Okay, so it’s not like there were hundreds to choose from, but Noble should get lots of credit for his outstanding series on the Iowa Caucus. Give it a listen if you haven’t yet.

Most Over-Played Storyline

Hillary Clinton’s Emails – Bernie Sanders was right, no one wants to hear about the damn things. At least not after it’s driven the headlines for six months straight. Was it a legitimate concern? Yes, for a time. Did it justify never-ending coverage? No.


Various Awards

Best 2015 County Party

Woodbury County Democrats

Scott County Republicans

Most Influential Party Leader

Jan Bauer, Chair of Story County Democrats

Most Promising New Candidate

Jennifer Konfrst, Democratic candidate for House District 43 (Windsor Heights, WDM, Clive)

Ashley Hinson, Republican candidate for House District 67 (Marion)

Outstanding Iowa Issue Campaign

NextGen Climate – One of the few that seems to be building a real movement in the state that will affect both the caucus and Iowa politics in the future.

Runner Up: END ALZ – When Hillary Clinton unveils a $2 billion/year plan to end Alzheimer’s by 2025, I think you’ve had a successful caucus.


Staffer: Casey Petrashek, Clinton campaign

Reporter: Sabrina Ahmed, ABC 5

Activist: Stacey Walker

Candidate: Martin O’Malley


by Pat Rynard
Posted 12/31/15

3 Comments on "The 2015 Iowa Starting Line Awards"

  • I think Bernie’s caucus has been far better than Clinton’s- he is the only candidate willing to stand up to the billionaires who have been stealing from the rest of us, including fossil fuel companies. He is the only one who thinks healthcare and education are basic rights, he is the only one who is willing to wake up and decriminalize marijuana. Plus, he has far more supporters Even though both she and the media are trying to hide him.

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