KELLEN BROWNING For those who had been making an attempt to consider a metropolis that feels just like the polar reverse of San Francisco, Des Moines could be a reasonably good guess.

Once I realized in November that I had two weeks to pack up my life within the Bay Space and transfer to Iowa for the winter to report on the Iowa caucuses, I known as up Sydney Ember, a colleague who drew this assignment four years ago, for recommendation. She reassured me that driving within the snow could be straightforward, and stated she had nearly died solely 3 times on the icy roads throughout her time in Iowa masking the 2020 Democratic major race.

Armed with that comforting information — and a few new coats — I took off for Des Moines. In simply six brief weeks, I’ve pushed greater than 3,400 miles in my rental automobile, attended rallies for the entire main candidates and spoken with dozens of voters. However whereas I used to be moonlighting as an Iowan, considered one of my colleagues on employees is the actual factor.

Anjali Huynh, a politics reporter who grew up in Iowa Metropolis, has watched all of us reporters attempt to turn into Iowa consultants, and — I can solely think about — rolled her eyes at our incapacity to mix in with the locals. As I ready to wrap up my stint right here, I wished to talk with an actual Iowan about her state, and share a few of what I’ve realized.

Right here’s our dialog.

ANJALI HUYNH What was your response if you first heard that you simply had been going to be despatched to Des Moines, someplace you haven’t been earlier than?

KELLEN I’ve not hung out within the Midwest, so I used to be wanting ahead to it, however I additionally simply had no thought what to anticipate. In my head I had visions of cornfields and flat terrain, a stark distinction to the slopes of San Francisco. Once I first bought out right here, my first impression of downtown Des Moines was: “Wow, it’s so quiet. I assume persons are simply at dwelling as a result of it’s sort of chilly out.” However Iowa is solely a way more sparsely populated state, and I quickly got here to appreciate that’s simply the way it was.

ANJALI How chilly was it?

KELLEN It was like 40 levels, which I now view as heat. However, I’m curious: What has it been like for you, who grew up in Iowa Metropolis, seeing individuals like me parachute in?

ANJALI It’s been very odd. A part of why I bought into journalism was due to the caucuses. In 2016, the primary occasion I ever attended was for Senator Bernie Sanders in my hometown, as a result of I heard that Josh Hutcherson, the man who performs Peeta in “The Starvation Video games,” was going to marketing campaign alongside him.

I used to be 14. I bear in mind being in awe of how many individuals had been there, all to see this man from Vermont. That was the primary time I spotted the ability that Iowa had in drawing all these candidates right here.

So in 2020, forward of the Democratic major, I persuaded an area newsmagazine to let me comply with the candidates. I went to the Iowa State Honest for them, and whereas masking the candidates, I bear in mind seeing all of the nationwide journalists and the way in which they had been speaking about and ramming previous fairgoers, and simply feeling pissed off. I knew that if I made it to some form of a nationwide stage, I wished to do it higher, to speak about Iowans not simply utilizing tropes, however ensuring I really understood why they believed what they believed.

KELLEN That’s one thing I’ve tried to do by having the chance to be on the bottom right here for six weeks.

ANJALI Is there something that stunned you about Iowa?

KELLEN I actually didn’t understand the entire “Iowa Good” factor was actual. Marketing campaign operatives or strategists who’ve been doing this for a very long time have requested me, “Oh, did you convey mittens? Do you want them?”

However Anjali, I wished to ask what you’re anticipating from the caucuses immediately. What do you make of the method on the whole?

ANJALI I’m nonetheless speaking to a whole lot of voters who’re undecided. I’ve been masking Vivek Ramaswamy during the last week, and I’ve encountered so many individuals at his occasions who say they’re between him and any variety of different candidates. Many Iowans wait till the final second to determine whom they’re going to assist, so these remaining pitches do matter.

There are a whole lot of points with the caucuses; the truth that they’re at a really set time, on a sure day, in particular person, does make them inaccessible to some individuals.

However there’s a sure magnificence about seeing the method unfold, seeing neighbors who actually worth this course of come collectively and persuade each other to assist a selected candidate. Iowa has a extra numerous array of views than it will get credit score for — there aren’t simply farmers right here — and you’ll particularly see that through the caucuses.

KELLEN My largest takeaway is that I’ve actually loved speaking to voters face-to-face who take this very significantly and take their civic accountability very significantly. They usually’re prepared to speak to the media.

I used to be talking with these two {couples} in Sioux Middle the opposite day after a Trump rally, and so they stated: “You recognize, we don’t actually like The New York Occasions very a lot. We don’t belief it.” We had a 20-minute dialog. I used to be explaining the place the media was coming from: We report the reality. Our tales are correct. They usually stated, primarily, “The media has misplaced the belief of individuals” and so they’re relying extra on what they see round them, and on different information sources, like Tucker Carlson.

There’s this divide now within the nation about what’s factual, and that makes it very exhausting to get by means of to individuals. However I admire that we had been capable of discuss face-to-face about this quite than by means of a display.

ANJALI Do you could have any humorous moments from the path?

KELLEN The funniest second for me was a query from a 10-year-old lady from Nebraska who requested Vivek Ramaswamy, if he grew to become president, whether or not he would ask China’s chief, Xi Jinping, for an enormous panda for her zoo. And he stated he would strive.

ANJALI What about basic Iowa highlights?

KELLEN Going for runs round Grey’s Lake in Des Moines. There are some unimaginable sunsets in Iowa. There are a number of nice bridges in Des Moines that gentle up at evening. A few of the meals has been actually good.

A bridge over Grey’s Lake in Des Moines, the place Kellen Browning went on runs throughout his stint in Iowa.Credit score…Kellen Browning/The New York Occasions

Even when marketing campaign occasions took me to rural components of the state, I discovered them charming. The Fruited Plain Café in downtown Sioux Middle, for example, is a comfortable place to take refuge from the chilly. And at one level, I by chance drove into Nebraska. Anjali, what’s your favourite place in Iowa that’s not Iowa Metropolis?

ANJALI Dubuque within the fall is gorgeous. Final time I went, that they had a winter market occurring.

KELLEN I’ll have to return again at a time when it’s not destructive 18 levels exterior.

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