Only in Des Moines During a National Election

Marketing's political season and we can't resists reprinting (with permission) the email we received from Greg Heid, Library Director, Des Moines (IA) Public Library, as he recounts his primary experience.

In the past several months, we have seen and met every presidential candidate, several times. They have used our meeting rooms for strategy sessions, they have used the exteriors of our branch libraries for photo ops. Campaign staffs have used us (quite heavily) to verify facts, dig up photos, identify potential groups to meet, and several of the actual presidential hopefuls or their spouses have applied for library cards and have checked out or downloaded some of our titles while they are in the state. And despite the rhetoric that has been captured by the media during the debates, stumping opportunities, restaurant visits, home visits (that you have all seen) every one of the candidates and all of the members of their campaign staff have been very enjoyable, agreeable, pleasant, etc. to the library staff and myself. (Yes, even the one who seems to be unflatteringly critical of the other candidates, reporters, etc.)

Residents of Des Moines and Iowa are now so used to this process, that there is a trust between the public and the candidates. We respect each candidate or entertainment personality that comes through the library. My staff does not rush them, fawn over them, or ask for selfies, gossip to other library users etc. during the many events that take place in and around the library during the campaign. My staff meets and works with each candidate or their staff as one would work with any library user. I am really proud of the professionalism that the staff exhibits to everyone.

We are a six branch library system. Two of the branches are being used for the actual caucuses so we will be open until 11:00 PM or until the group ends their deliberations and vote. Sometimes this process can continue until 1:00 AM. (Boy will I get points on my annual state library report for tonight's hours of operation!)

I have lived in Des Moines for five years, and this is the first full primary cycle that I have experienced, where both parties have campaigned for the caucuses. I am overwhelmed by the pervasiveness of the campaigning that has occurred over these many months. Somewhat surprising, but not unexpected, our personal lives have been exceptionally impacted by the caucuses. Whereas I do not make it a point of attending political meetings or events, you cannot help but become caught up in the process.

Every evening, when I return to my home, I am greeted with an average of 14 messages on my telephone from the different campaign staffs, pollsters, political parties, PACS, interest groups, etc. all asking for my vote, my opinion, my views, my life, and my philosophies. I then endure another 10 to 15 phone calls that evening of the same. This has been occurring in the last two months. (Thankfully no group has discovered my mobile phone number, as of yet.)

I can always count on 3 to 4 visits from pollsters or campaign workers when I am at home after work. 6 to 7 visits on Saturdays. And then again on Sundays. When I want a bit of quiet I have taken to place a sign on my front door that says, "I am out shopping.  I cannot answer polls or talk to campaign staff at this time." It works as long as I do not walk in front of my windows.

Our newspapers, our radio stations, our television stations--all been taken over by the ups and downs of the election. You often hear the phrase, "if it leads it bleeds..." that has been coined. I quite often now hear, "only if it bleeds, it will make the paper." Local news has taken a back seat to the election for the last several months.

And forget about local ads on television and radio (except our public radio stations.) Ad rates are so terribly high that few local companies are advertising over the last month. The media is selling ad spaces for top dollar, so now it seems that all we see or hear are campaign ads.

I have been video recorded several times by local, national, and international television stations asking about the election and my reactions to comments from the candidates. We will see these cameras and journalists in front of grocery stores, outside restaurants, in the malls, outside churches...

Last Wednesday, Seth Meyers called one of my friends, who is another Library Director, to ask about the campaign and her views. Being a Hillary supporter, Vicki and Seth talked for about 90 minutes on the phone and he used some of the conversation in a recent segment of Late Night. I hear that this situation happens quite often, in Des Moines, during campaigns.

I have met all of the candidates and shaken their hands except for two who have issues about germs and personal contacts (no--I am not telling you who, because I am a professional librarian!) I have received a hug from one who shouted to the assembled crowd, "Hey everybody, I hugged a librarian!" (You can make an educated guess on this one.)

I have met several entertainment personalities that have come to Des Moines to support their candidate. Talking to entertainment personalities has given me pleasant surprises to see how their personal demeanor is very different from their stage/film/television personas. It is very heady and very surreal to personally see and talk to all of these people that one normally views on television, on the big screen, or in other forms of media. (It is also surprising to see how much smaller many of them are in real life.)

But it is more than startling to excitedly tell a friend that I saw Billie Jean King, or that I just talked to Jeb Bush only to have them respond "Oh...I saw her/him last week and again talked to them over a week" For those who have lived here for decades, this is the norm. It will still take me awhile to get used to all of this. (OK, so I am somewhat star struck at times! This Minnesota boy is only used to moose and elk sightings ya know...)

I will leave you with one last story. Saturday, I was cleaning up in my kitchen. A knock on the back door lead me to exclaim in exasperation, "Not the back door too!!" However, I dutifully opened the door only to see Bill de Blasio standing in front of me. Apparently my neighbor was having a Hillary campaign/caucus event all day Saturday. There was Mayor of New York City telling me that Theresa sent him over to borrow some of my folding chairs because they had more people than expected at the event...and oh, by the way, do I have an ice maker?

Only in Des Moines during a national election!