Amy’s in the House
WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — What do Iowans get in advance of the Iowa caucus? They get uncanny, unmatched access to presidential candidates–all 18 Democrats and 3 Republicans in the 2020 cycle. In addition to candidate visits to high schools, coffee shops, factories, union halls, and so much more, candidates visit with people in personal homes–living rooms, to be exact.
These so-called “house parties” are hosted by individuals with strong party ties, impressive volunteer records, unique backgrounds, and/or personal connections to the candidate. While the host or hostess might have endorsed the candidate and support the candidate openly, in the early stages he or she is just as likely to host the candidate as a means to get to know the candidate, such as when former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack hosted Joe Biden in his home in July 2019.
At a house party, supporters of the candidate or the party cram into strangers’ living rooms amid family photos, toys, dog hair, and sometimes food for a more casual, personal, and party-oriented dialogue with the candidate. While media sometimes line up along the back wall of the room to film, photograph, or ask questions, stories of the house parties barely make the local news. For example, last week, Senator Amy Klobuchar spoke at a house party in West Des Moines, and only The Des Moines Register released a story covering the event and Klobuchar’s statements on the current impeachment inquiry.
House parties provide opportunities for candidates to engage eager caucus-goers early in the race when candidates may struggle to continuously fill venues larger than a living room. Additionally, living rooms give candidates the ability to directly influence Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus-goers, from a maximum of ten feet away.
“It felt very neighborly and welcoming,” said Samantha Bayne, a student at Drake University who attended the house party for Klobuchar on Oct. 3. “Amy was speaking directly to us.”
For first time attendees of house parties, the event can seem surreal. Groups ranging in size from five to nearly fifty sit on strangers’ couches, chairs, and floors. The attendees vary in age, interests, backgrounds, and occupation. The surreal moment comes when the candidate walks through the front door, is informally welcomed with soft claps and laughter, quickly greets people around the entrance, and then launches into a speech so casual that it seems like he or she is updating friends. The surrealism continues throughout the speech as the candidate ribs attendees like old buddies.
“Cubs? Oh, we don’t like the Cubs. Go Twins!” said Klobuchar to house party attendee Runal Patel, who wore a Chicago Cubs baseball hat during the 2019 MLB playoff season when the Cubs had been eliminated from postseason play two weeks earlier.
After the event, candidates may stay around for photos before being whisked away for an interview. The house slowly empties, but the campaign team, media, and dedicated party activists stick around to catch up and continue conversations with newcomers. The hour-long event may stun first-time attendees as a result of its nonchalance and unceremonious nature while also impressing them due to the opportunity to see a candidate up-close.