Why 2020 Democrats Are Showing Up In People's Living Rooms In Iowa With Iowa caucuses still nine months away, candidates in the huge field of Democrats are looking to stand out. One way: show up in voters' homes.
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When Your Living Room Becomes A 2020 Campaign Stage, 'It's Pretty Surreal'

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When Your Living Room Becomes A 2020 Campaign Stage, 'It's Pretty Surreal'

When Your Living Room Becomes A 2020 Campaign Stage, 'It's Pretty Surreal'

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Presidential candidates trying to make an impression on Iowa voters will often do so from inside a stranger's home. This house party for presidential hopefuls has a long and storied tradition in the state, as Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters explains.

LIZ ADELMAN: Hello. Hello, hello, hello. Welcome.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: Standing at the base of a stairwell in her Des Moines living room, Liz Adelman...

ADELMAN: Hello, everybody.

MASTERS: ...Introduces California Senator Kamala Harris.

ADELMAN: ...To have you in my living room is quite an honor.

(LAUGHTER)

MASTERS: There's snacks, soda and water - no wine. It's not even noon yet. Adelman's dog Millie (ph) wags at guests as they arrive. This mother of three and public relations professional is not endorsing Harris, although she's among her favorites running. But Adelman, like many Iowans planning to caucus, was happy to invite her into her home.

ADELMAN: We've done this before, so I kind of knew the drill of what to expect in terms of food and, you know, put everything in cabinets to hide. (Laughter) I guess it doesn't normally look this clean.

MASTERS: Adelman is originally from outside Washington, D.C., and never experienced anything like this until moving here 10 years ago.

ADELMAN: That's pretty surreal that you can have a candidate running for president in your living room.

MASTERS: It gives campaigns like Harris' an intimate and inexpensive venue to connect with voters.

KAMALA HARRIS: I am running for president of the United States, and I am a candidate. And I would love to have everyone's support, so I'm going to get that out of the way. Please, I'd love to have your support.

(LAUGHTER)

MASTERS: This house party had a guest list while others are more of a town hall, where anyone can show up and ask questions. Earlier this month, candidate Beto O'Rourke visited six separate houses on one Saturday in Des Moines. The former Texas congressman's campaign staff readied this house on the city's south side as people slowly trickled in.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Come on in. If y'all want to come around, you can take a seat here. We can go upstairs and hang on the balcony.

MASTERS: Homeowner Nathan Blake tells the crowd he and his family had just moved in, and hosting a presidential candidate hurried their unpacking.

NATHAN BLAKE: I'm glad that we made it work - really, really happy that all of you are here, whether you're a supporter of Beto or just, as I've been saying this week, Beto-curious (ph)...

(LAUGHTER)

BLAKE: ...It's really good to have you here. You know, we only have 10 months to decide.

MASTERS: O'Rourke takes questions. Among them is one from Dante Powell (ph).

DANTE POWELL: Hello, Beto. How are you doing?

BETO O'ROURKE: I'm good. How are you?

POWELL: I'm pretty chill.

MASTERS: Powell asks O'Rourke about what he would do as president to repair relationships between black people and law enforcement. After the house party, as people line up to take selfies with O'Rourke on the front lawn, I asked Powell how he felt about the response.

POWELL: I feel like I got a shockingly great answer. I was not prepared for how honest he was. So I appreciated very much him going into detail the way he did and owning the inherent racism in the systems that I was asking about.

MASTERS: Powell tells me he likes O'Rourke but he's far from picking a favorite. Many Democrats here feel the same way. They're still deciding. House parties aren't just for Iowa's big population centers.

KURT MEYER: We have to resort to every trick that we can.

MASTERS: That's Kurt Meyer. He knows a thing or two about hosting presidential house parties in his small town of Mona, near the Minnesota border. He's been doing it for years. This cycle, Meyer has even provided a bed to a couple of Democratic candidates who stumped in his living room.

MEYER: We have accommodations to put you up for the night. And that affords people an opportunity to not only get to know the candidate but for us to get to know the candidate in a more informal setting. And with nice weather in the months ahead, expect many Democrats in Iowa to open their homes for candidates so they can work to winnow one of the biggest fields Democrats have seen in recent history.

For NPR News, I'm Clay Masters in Des Moines.

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