Limited Progress Stalking My Way to a 2020 Candidate

No favorite yet, but I learned three things

Annisa Wanat
Jul 22, 2019 · 4 min read
photo by author

Four hundred twenty miles driven and eleven tanks of gas exhausted stalking presidential candidates over the last two months. I know it isn’t technically stalking because the public is invited, but my feed is beginning to look like there should be a restraining order. Pictures of me with presidential hopefuls and tiny images of someone gesticulating wildly on a stage who seem farther away than they were because of my not-so-great camera phone. I have thought about bringing my big camera, with the 50x zoom, but for some reason, this would reinforce that stalking feeling.

Seven different events and seventeen candidates (list below), plus two presidential debates, and I am no further along in deciding who I want to throw my support behind for the primaries. I vote in Illinois, and typically, the primary race is over by the time it’s our turn, but maybe with 20 contenders, Illinois will become relevant. And even if we don’t, it’s important to me that I have a preference because, to be honest, I am excellent at having opinions.

Although I don’t have a final “pick,” I have learned three things about the Iowa process and made some initial decisions about the field.

Some Iowans vetting candidates are “regular” people, but more are local organizers.

Most of the questions asked from the audience are volunteers from organizations like the teacher’s union, ACLU, and Planned Parenthood. In 2008, I organized around extreme policy issues. I can spot the marks of a well-trained volunteer, and . But in 2019, I find their presence frustrating because the volunteers ask the same questions to everyone, so candidates have prepared answers. Their teams can spot the volunteers based on their branding (t-shirts, buttons, hats, etc.) and give them the microphone first. The candidate answers the question, gets guaranteed applause, and looks great for the cameras.

If the Democrats can get a healthcare plan that is palatable to swing voters, they will dominate 2020.

I find the dynamic created by the volunteers frustrating because it means the “regular” people don’t get to ask questions. I want to hear from them. The few times they do get the mic, they tell the most heartbreaking stories about healthcare issues. Losing healthcare, losing houses because of skyrocketing healthcare costs, and losing loved ones because they lacked access to healthcare. As a freelancer, I pay outrageous ACA premiums, and after hearing these stories, I feel lucky that I can afford to do so.

You don’t have to show up early in Iowa, and there is always parking.

This revelation may not seem important, but if I were stalking candidates in say, Chicago, I would have to show up two-plus hours before the door opened and plan for another 45 minutes for public transportation to get there. It would take too much time to stalk all the candidates. At the first Iowa event, I showed up an hour before the doors opened and had to stand for 100 minutes before the program began. For the second presidential hopeful, I cut it to half an hour before and sat for 60 minutes in a hot room with no cross ventilation. Each time, I showed up closer and closer to the start time. Now, I aim to show up ten minutes when the doors open. Even circling the block twice to find parking still gets me in before the program starts. This new approach only failed me once, but with a little digging, I realized the organizers had chosen a space that was too small, so if had they planned better, I would have been ok.

I have a long way to drive until the Iowa Caucuses in February 2020, but these first seven trips reassured me that it’s worth my time. I look forward to learning more about the candidates’ platforms, ” and sharing my insights.

Summary of events:

  • 20-May-2019, O’Rourke, Davenport
  • 26-May-2019, Booker, Clinton
  • 27-May-2019, Warren, Burlington
  • 11-Jun-2019, Biden, Davenport
  • 14-Jul-2019, Iowa Progress Corn Feed (11 candidates), Cedar Rapids
  • 16-Jul-2019, Harris, Davenport
  • 16-Jul-2019, Castro, Davenport

Candidates removed:

I promised myself I would not remove any candidates until I had seen them live. There might be one or two I want to dismiss based on the debates, but I want to stick to my original plan as long as I can. I will not be supporting any of these people for president:

  • O’Rourke — His command of the issues is not sophisticated enough yet. I would not rule him out automatically though if he is back in Iowa in eight years, but it’s not his time.
  • Ryan — He was talking to people after the July 14th event, and I went up to say hello. Ryan came across as not being interested in talking. Since his speech had not left a big impression on me either, I don’t think he needs a third chance when the pool is so large.

Annisa Wanat is nonprofit consultant, writer & storyteller, global do-gooder. More information at

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