Feet to the Fire: Bird-Dogging on the Campaign Trail

Posted: December 15, 2015 | By: Iowa Caucus Project Staff Tagged: Blog
Question and answer portion of Kasich town hall in Ankeny. Photo by Katie Ramsey

Question and answer portion of Kasich town hall in Ankeny. Photo by Katie Ramsey

The caucus campaign trail can be exhausting. It’s like being interviewed over and over again for a job you haven’t even applied for yet by people you’ve never met before. And in Iowa, there are a number of groups making sure that process stays tough on presidential candidates.

At any given campaign event you can expect a number of special interest groups to make their presence known, typically by wearing certain shirts or stickers and asking a candidate pointed questions in relation to their interest area. They usually record the answers to keep on file as ammunition if the candidate changes his or her stance or doesn’t follow through on promises made on the campaign trail.

This process is called bird
-dogging. While some bird-doggers can be aggressive and intrusive to the event, essentially turning into protesters, for the most part it’s just a method for voters to get answers on matters important to them.

The bird-doggers were out in full force at a recent Kasich town hall in Ankeny. Since a few groups were wearing matching shirts, Kasich took note of them before he took the stage and mentioned their causes in his opening remarks.

One group was the Alzheimer’s Association, who tearfully asked about Kasich’s support of increasing funding for research. Another was Planned Parenthood, asking the candidate’s opinion on the racial disparity among young pregnant mothers, representatives from Governing Under the Influence asked about Kasich’s stance on the immigrant detention mandate, all while a group in AARP jackets sat quietly at the front of the audience.

Kasich also received questions about ethanol and renewable energy, a representative from the One Campaign asked about poverty rates, not to mention the number of unaffiliated audience members who inquiring about issues from foreign policy to the state of Republican politics.

Media and audience members crowd Kasich after town hall. Photo by Zach Blevins.

Media and audience members crowd Kasich after town hall. Photo by Zach Blevins.

All in all, I left the event pretty proud to be an Iowan. It sounds cheesy but that was a roomful of engaged voters doing their part to get to know a candidate. I wouldn’t have been so smitten if I was Kasich though, because although the questions were thoughtful and articulate, they were tough questions to answer. Kasich did a decent job but it became painfully obvious that he just doesn’t know Iowa that well. A woman asked a question about his support of wind and solar energy and he asking how warm the building we were sitting in would be if those were the resources we relied on. He asked knowingly, assuming the audience would begrudgingly bow to his point but instead everyone shrugged and looked at each other, as if to say, “We’d actually be pretty warm.” An audience member clued Kasich in, mentioning that Iowa gets 28% of it’s energy from wind and solar.

When bird-dogging is executed well, it serves as an effective and civil way to hold a candidate’s feet to the fire, as well as another example of how seriously Iowan’s take their role as winnowing the candidate field.