Past midnight, a mile down a dirt road outside of Atlantic, Iowa, Denise O'Brien’s farm-style house was filled to capacity with people. Staffers and supporters of the John Edwards campaign and correspondents from Time, CBS News, and the New York Times, gathered in the kitchen and the living room, sipping hot cider and making small talk. Fire codes were undoubtedly broken, as everyone stood shoulder-to-shoulder, waiting for the candidate to arrive.
John Edwards was in the midst of “36 hours to save the middle class” according to his campaign staffers. For 36 consecutive hours, Edwards traveled at break-neck speed across the state of Iowa, speaking with undecided voters and core supporters alike. (To see a map of the route: click here.) Each hour, Edwards planned to highlight an idea on how he would save the middle class, if elected president. The press, meanwhile, followed behind him, dutifully covering his every move.
I arrived at in Atlantic at midnight, and by then, most of the people already had a place to watch the speech. I was awkwardly corralled into the kitchen, and I tried to set up for a good view of the former Senator. I smiled politely as the correspondent from Time took down people’s names and asked them why they were there. The clock passed 12:15 a.m. and people started shuffling. The clock passed 12:30 a.m. and people started to get impatient.
Fifteen minutes before 1 a.m., the candidate finally arrived. He immediately made a beeline for the living room, far away from my view. My fellow kitchen dwellers and I sighed, knowing there was no way we could hear or see Mr. Edwards speak. A few of us snuck outside, taking pictures through the windows and talking politics.
Originally, I had planned to pull an all-nighter with the candidate and follow him from Atlantic at 12 a.m., to Creston at 2:15 a.m., to Centerville at 5:15 a.m., and finally Ottumwa at 7:00 a.m.. Driving a rental car on my own, I tried to convince members of the press and the campaign to come with me. I wanted someone to make conversation with to help keep me awake. Some people feigned interest, but no one would consent.
At about 1:30 a.m., I got back into my car and put my key in the ignition. Alone and staring down the barrel of seven more hours of driving, my eyes began to feel heavy. I started thinking about the car drifting off to the side of the road and spinning into a ditch. I felt the 2 degree weather sting my face. “It’s not worth it,” a member of the press had told to me. “Stay safe,” she warned. I shook my head, turned the key, and drove back to Des Moines to sleep.
For all the posts from the Iowa Caucuses, read the Utne Politics blog.