The Art of the Community Forum

Posted: September 24, 2015 | By: Iowa Caucus Project Staff Tagged: Blog

clinton moulton eventCampaign speeches come in all shapes and sizes and the 2016 race has been no exception. From packing stadiums with close to 30,000 people, to stopping by a local Iowa Pizza Ranch to say a few words to voters, candidates must learn to adjust not only their approach but also their message when strategizing for different crowds.

This past Tuesday, Hillary Clinton held an intimate, small-town democratic style community forum at Moulton Elementary School in Des Moines. As kids played outside, community members from around the greater Des Moines area packed inside the tiny, hot gym that was donned with simple décor—folding chairs, a single frame wooden podium, and a backdrop of the Iowa flag.

There is an art to working an intimate setting such as the community forum. It is a political Godzilla that only some can tame. First, there is no room to run. The candidate is positioned on the same level as the audience, so the authoritative or presidential aura that the candidates wish to portray must come from their words and demeanor alone. Moreover, the close quarters mean each member of the audience sees every nervous tick, unintentional eye roll, and confused brow furl.

When hosting a community forum in Iowa, candidates must be prepared to answer questions that will force them to give concrete substantive answers. Ever since Iowa gained the first in the nation spotlight, Iowans have been credited with asking hard-hitting questions and expecting candidates to know their stuff. Hillary faced this very situation at Tuesday’s forum when Drake University student Clio Cullison asked a question that finally forced the candidate to take a position on the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline.

I sat down with Clio to talk about her experience asking a question in such an intimate setting.

“It was kind of terrifying,” admits Clio. “I was really close to her too, so it was intimidating.”

As a college sophomore, Clio has found a passion for environmental issues. “I’m really passionate about climate change and climate justice,” says Clio, “and as someone who is very interested in where candidates are standing on different issues, I think it’s important for us to know where Hillary stands on an issue she hasn’t been talking about yet.”

When it comes to caucus politicking, there is no greater test than the community forum. Engaged citizens, like Clio, have proven time and time again that when candidates come face to face with voters that care, they will deliver the solutions they seek, but it is up to the voters to make the push. “I think as people who are able to be involved in politics like Iowans can should go and ask and educate themselves,” Clio says. “Ask questions if you don’t know what is going on.”



Steirer is a senior LPS, politics, and rhetoric triple major and is originally from Hartland, Wisconsin. She loves all things Wisconsin sports, the outdoors, and any and all dogs.