A Look Back: Our Most Important And Telling Caucus Stories

Starting Line has gotten a huge influx of national readers in the last few weeks, coming to us for some behind-the-scenes insight on what’s going to happen in the Iowa Caucus. I first just want to say thank you to all of our great readers and social media-sharers. It’s been an incredible journey and a real joy to bring you these all of these stories from Iowa.

Since there’s so many new people discovering Starting Line, I thought it would be a good idea to do a round-up of some of our most important caucus stories that you may have missed from earlier months. Many of the things I saw on the ground back in the summer and early fall explain a lot of why we’re at where we’re at now.

So take a look through some of my favorite stories I did over the past year of my Iowa Caucus coverage to get a sense of how we got to the current state of the race:


Bernie Sanders

The early hints of the revolution that Sanders was brewing was readily apparent to those of us on the ground back in summer of 2015. Starting Line was one of the few who really made this point so early on. A look at some of his early trips:

Bernie Sanders Gets Lemonade, Huge Crowds on Iowa Trip

By mid-June it was clear there was a real enthusiasm gap between Clinton and Sanders, a key factor that persists to today:

Is Hillary Facing An Enthusiasm Gap?

Here’s what Sanders’ early supporters were saying about why they backed him, from July:

What’s Boosting Bernie? Iowans Weigh In

The point when you could really tell the Sanders movement was here to stay came during his Labor Day trip through Iowa. This remains one of my favorite articles I’ve written and one you should really read or re-read:

Bernie Sanders’ Revolution Spreads Outside The Big Cities

Sanders also did a lot of creative events around Iowa. It’s all big rallies now, but he smartly courted specific constituency groups all of last year:

Bernie Sanders Walks The (Picket) Line

One of the more interesting aspects of the Sanders campaign was how other Democratic candidates in Iowa primaries attached themselves to his organization:

Iowa Underdog Candidates Link Campaigns With Sanders’ Revolution

What was another interesting factor that helped boost Sanders? The old Ron Paul coalition that failed to develop for Rand Paul. Instead, many of them switched over to back Sanders:

How Bernie Sanders Helped Kill Rand Paul’s Campaign

Things really shifted in the beginning of January, and Sanders’ surge threatened to overtake Clinton:

Don’t Look Now, But Bernie Sanders Could Win Iowa

Finally, this was a nice piece I did about Sanders’ behind-the-scenes organizing work for improve their standing among seniors:

Sanders’ Behind-The-Scenes Work To Win Over Seniors


Hillary Clinton

I did a lot of really interesting looks at Clinton’s Iowa operation. Having worked on her campaign in 2008, I think I was able to delve into this issue like few others. It really is fascinating how much better and innovative their Iowa campaign is this time around.

One topic I never saw many people write about was how they worked their digital operation into their field work:

The Clinton Campaign’s Digital Organizing Strategy and the Future of Campaigns

Here’s a very (actually, too long) in-depth look into her Western Iowa team (that’s where I worked for her in 2008):

In Western Iowa The Line Holds For Hillary

And a look at how one county organization came together over nine months:

Regret Over 2008 Fuels Hillary Volunteers To Win Clinton County

An early piece from March on a poll call I got from the Clinton operation. Compare what they were testing messaging on back then to what their talking points are now:

New Poll in Iowa Hints at Likely Centerpiece of Clinton Campaign

Another very early piece that showed that Clinton’s supporters were actually willing to wait for her to jump in:

Many Iowans are Ready for Hillary. Are they Ready to Wait?

In the fall things were looking bad for Clinton as the email story drug down her poll numbers:

Is It Happening Again To Hillary Clinton?

But Clinton began to rebound sometime after that, and was really having fun in Iowa:

Hillary Having Fun On The Campaign Trail

Finally, a look at how labor has helped out Clinton:

Labor Movement Rallies For Hillary Clinton In Primary


Martin O’Malley

One of my favorite on-the-ground stories I did was a look at one of O’Malley’s field organizers:

A Day In The Life Of A Martin O’Malley Field Organizer

Things looked promising for O’Malley early on. A report from one of his first swings when he brought a Scott County Democrats audience of 300 to their feet many times with an impressive speech:

O’Malley Impresses Early State Activists in Iowa Swing (Video)

A piece on his campaign kick-off:

Martin O’Malley Finds Warm Iowa Reception For New Leadership Message

Early on we looked at what O’Malley would need to happen for him to have a shot at winning. Look through these points to see which he missed out on:

Could O’Malley Really Do It? 5 Things He Needs to Win Iowa

Now that we’re almost to caucus day and it looks like O’Malley may not be viable in many precincts, here’s a more recent story on where his second-choicers may go:

O’Malley’s 2nd Choicers Could Swing The Caucus – Where Are They Going?



I also have a lot of good Republican pieces that I’ll add to this post later. Got to go get on the road for some events in Western Iowa right now.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 1/31/16

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