Gov. Kim Reynolds’ first campaign rally in Iowa City was scheduled to last an hour. It didn’t. Only nine minutes ticked by between the time she stepped into Hamburg Inn No. 2 on Linn Street and when she walked out the door at 12:04 p.m.
A lot of people said online they would show up to protest. They didn’t. About half a dozen dedicated people milled about in protest outside Hamburg. Inside there was one polite woman with a polite protest sign about the size of ping-pong paddle.
The whole thing took less time than it takes to eat a tuna melt. I know, because I ordered a tuna melt. Below are some notes on the campaign event. And my sandwich.
The rally-less rally
The event was billed as the “KIM Iowa City Rally.” The all-caps KIM is an abbreviation of her campaign slogan, Keep Iowa Moving, so that makes sense. But calling the event a “rally” makes less sense. The word carries certain connotations in a political setting: speakers rousing a crowd, upbeat music, maybe a chant. None of that happened on Thursday.
Reynolds came in and started shaking hands, repeating “Hi, how are you?” at every table, except one (see below). Then she left.
The only table that didn’t get a gubernatorial hi-how-are-you was the table I was sitting at with Little Village’s Jason Smith.
Reynolds moved steadily from table to table, but when she reached our table, she smoothly turned her back on us, and shook hand with a few of the people sitting at the counter. With a swift crab shuffle, the governor scooted past us. Then she turned and shook hands with the people at the next table.
It’s unclear why Reynolds snubbed us. Jason is a friendly looking fellow, and there is broad agreement that I am blandly nonthreatening in appearance. Perhaps she noticed Jason was holding a professional-looking camera, and I had a reporter’s steno pad on the table, and she marked us down as press instead of constituents.
Or perhaps she’s anti-tuna melt.
We may never know the answer.
The ones who got a hi-how-are-you
The crowd was very white. It’s possible it was entirely white. If there was anyone there who wasn’t white, that person escaped my notice.
Like a Fox News focus group, the crowd was largely composed of senior citizens and college-age Republicans. Most of those fell in-between those two groups appeared to be professional Republicans who would have been organizing the rally, if there actually had been a rally.
The room was pretty full, but no more so than it would be during any busy lunchtime. Even though it was a noontime rally, most people were enjoying breakfast items. (Jason ordered bacon and hash browns.) Mine was the only tuna melt visible.
Two of the half-dozen protesters outside got on the roof of the building across from Hamburg before the governor arrived, and unfurled a banner: “Immigrants welcome! Kim go home.”
The owner of the building shouted at them to get off the roof. They did. They then came across the street and argued with Republicans about the minimum wage and other topics.
The owner of the building took down the banner.
Reality TV and the disappointing reality of TV
The whole event was clearly staged for TV news. The table-to-table hand-shaking was good b-roll footage, which can fill TV screens as a reporter explains in voice-over that Reynolds was shaking hands in Iowa City.
After her nine minutes inside Hamburg Inn, Reynolds returned to her campaign RV, which was parked very close to the wall of the diner. TV news people wedged themselves into the narrow space between the RV and the wall, and Reynolds came out of the RV to speak to their cameras. She didn’t say anything viewers haven’t already heard in her TV ads.
The narrowness of the space kept protesters out of the pictures. But it didn’t stop them from shouting questions at Reynolds. Reynolds ignored those not posed by employees of TV stations.
There was an awkward moment at the very end of the event, when Reynolds couldn’t get the RV’s door open, and a non-TV person kept asking a string of questions related to restrictions on abortion rights and social services. After a few fumbles, a campaign worker opened the door for Reynolds, and the governor was able to escape into the safety of the RV without answering the protester’s questions.
This incident can be found in the video above, but likely won’t be represented on tonight’s news shows.
The entire Iowa City event, from the RV’s arrival to the Reynolds’ retreat back inside lasted 23 minutes.
This was a classic example of what historian Daniel Boorstin called a “pseudo-event,” a substance-free event a politician stages just to generate media coverage with nice imagery.
The tuna melt, on the other hand, was substantial. Crisp, toasted bread, generous filling, melty cheese, it was a good sandwich.