Many thanks to Jordan Oster, a public affairs consultant and clean energy advocate from Des Moines, for this review of a remarkable Iowa caucus campaign. -promoted by desmoinesdem
January 3 marked the tenth anniversary of Barack Obama’s victory in the 2008 Iowa Democratic Precinct Caucuses.
Like a number of supporters and former staffers, I took to social media earlier this week to share photos and memories from his campaign. You can check out the full Twitter thread here.
As this anniversary approached, I began to gather photos and recollections of the Obama campaign. The Iowa caucuses have long captivated me, and I have tried to do my part to preserve and keep its unique history alive. A camera is usually a required accessory when I attend presidential events, and I have filled many memory cards with photos of presidential candidates since I first got involved with campaigns in 2003.
Iowans are incredibly fortunate to have the ability to meet, interact with, and grill the people seeking the highest office in the land. As a politically-interested person with a photography hobby, the caucuses have provided numerous occasions to capture images of candidates in close proximity.
While I’m certainly biased, Obama events were my favorite to photograph. I had an early interest in Senator Obama’s potential candidacy and I was not lacking in opportunities document his campaign over the course of a year.
The first chance to see him in person was at the 2006 Harkin Steak Fry on September 17, 2006 at the Warren County Fairgrounds. Prior to his address, Obama worked the crowd surrounded by Iowa, Illinois, and national press.
Obama on stage with Iowa’s Democratic elected officials at the 2006 Harkin Steak Fry. Most everyone got the memo to wear a light blue shirt.
In late 2006, I assisted the national Draft Obama organization in Iowa. It was a short-lived operation focused on visibility and generating media coverage. WHO’s Dave Price did a short blurb on his blog about the effort at the time. Here is one of the Draft Obama placards from the draft movement.
Obama announced an exploratory committee on in mid-January 2007. An office suite located above Court Avenue Brewery in downtown Des Moines was a temporary headquarters for the early efforts.
The same day that Barack Obama officially announced his candidacy in Springfield, Illinois on February 10, 2007, he traveled to Iowa for events in Cedar Rapids and Waterloo.
At the time I was a sophomore at Drake University. Showing serious savvy, the campaign worked with College Democrats and Young Democrats of Iowa to hold our regular statewide meeting in Waterloo, in the same school that Obama would speak at that evening. In addition to up-front seating for that event, the students boarded a school bus to pick up Barack and Michelle Obama at the conclusion of their Cedar Rapids event and rode with them to Waterloo.
On that 55-mile drive, Senator Obama worked his way through the bus, sitting and speaking with students, signing autographs (with the inscription “Dream big dreams”) and taking photos. Michelle Obama inquisitively asked students sitting near her why they were interested in her husband and his campaign.
Giving such special attention to these influential campus leaders certainly paid dividends. Students would be vital to the Obama coalition in both the primary and general elections.
The school bus arrived in Waterloo, delivering the candidate to his next event at Central Middle School.
The announcement tour continued in Iowa the next day. A few fellow Drake Democrats and I were among the volunteers for the event at Hilton Coliseum at Iowa State University. The arena rally would become a hallmark of Obama’s march through the nominating calendar, though many of his Iowa events would still provide the signature quaintness of the caucuses. At this event, Attorney General Tom Miller and State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald endorsed and join the campaign as state co-chairs. In their joint endorsement statement they said: “Endorsing a candidate this early is no ordinary occurrence in the Iowa caucuses – but Barack Obama is no ordinary candidate.”
On February 21, 2007, Senator Obama held a town hall meeting in a dark and cavernous room at the Polk County Convention Complex in Des Moines. His first event in Iowa’s capital city attracted a large crowd.
On June 18, 2007, Obama did a meet-the-candidate event at BC Berg Middle School in Newton, Iowa. I really like the “Caring” backdrop.
Following the Newton event, Obama worked the crowd, allowing for close-up portraits.
On July 28, 2007, the senator spoke at a “Saturday in the Park” event at the Heritage Carousel at Union Park in Des Moines.
The road traffic was glacial heading into Indianola for the Harkin Steak Fry on September 17, 2007. One year previously, Obama was making his first foray at the 2006 Steak Fry. In the first photo, you can see #Obama in a dark blue shirt (stage right) along with the other 2008 Democratic presidential candidates and Senator Harkin.
Joe Biden Bonus: This sign at the 2007 Steak Fry was so awesome.
Immediately following the Steak Fry, Senator Obama participated in STAR*PAC’s candidate series at First Christian Church in Des Moines. He was introduced by Mayor Frank Cownie and answered questions on war and peace issues.
At this October 12, 2007 event, Obama marked the fifth anniversary of the Iraq congressional authorization vote at Drake University’s Old Main. He holds up a caucus commitment card at the beginning of the event.
His podium sign read “The Judgment to Lead.” The Iraq War would be a driving issue for Obama in the primaries, as his rivals and fellow senators had supported authorization. His speech as an Illinois state senator in opposition to the war was often promoted in ads and literature, such as this piece from his announcement tour.
As the Drake Democrats President at the time, I got to meet him before this event. It was pretty cool.
Days later on October 14, 2007, Obama hosted a forum on climate change at Des Moines Public Library.
The Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinners at Vets Auditorium in 2003 and 2007 were epic events. The energy of these events and the big speeches stand out in my memories. I volunteered for the IDP for both of these event and was in awe of how campaigns went all out with creative signage, such as the “I See Dean People” banner and the John Edwards blimp that circled the rafters. In this photo, keynote speaker then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi welcomes Senator Obama to stage as they are bathed in light.
Here Senator Obama’s supporters are illuminated by a spotlight as he speaks at the 2007 Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.
Obama’s energetic J-J speech would give his campaign new momentum in the closing months of the campaign.
I arrived early to North High School in Des Moines on November 25, 2007 to get a front row seat for Barack Obama’s town hall meeting in the small gym. It paid off.
Caucus night arrived January 3, 2008. My caucus was held on campus of Drake University. Though it was still winter break, there was a strong turnout of students who’d been active and engaged in the caucus campaign. Drake was a hotbed for candidate visits and student volunteers. If the caucus had been held while classes were in session, I could only imagine the turnout in campus area precincts. Due to leapfrogging by Florida and Michigan, the caucuses were rescheduled from January 14 to January 3. In a summer interview with the American Prospect, I expressed my concerns:
“Christmas vacation ends a week after the January 14 caucuses,” Des Moines’ Drake University Democrats president Jordan Oster, 20, noted after catching New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson at the Iowa State Fair earlier this month. “That’s definitely a big concern….[in 2004] people got back onto campus the weekend before the caucuses.”
Side note: Richardson was appearing at the Iowa Democrats State Fair booth when I got his signature on a baseball card picturing his visit to The Field of Dreams. Like a baseball relief pitcher, the back of the card noted his “Saves”: “Richardson reduced US servicemen and hostages from Iraq, North Korea & Sudan.”
I was Obama precinct captain for my caucus. The caucus was hectic, with a big turnout and a vigorous realignment period. This photo of me was taken by Drake University as I counted Obama supporters. Obama received the most precinct delegates, followed by Richardson, who had strong campus support.
Here is a sampling of #Obama caucus campaign materials, including my precinct captain button and badge.
During my caucus, I started receiving texts from family and friends reporting huge crowds and #Obama winning their precincts across the Des Moines metro. By the time I left my caucus for the victory party at Hy-Vee Hall, I knew Obama was the likely winner. The final results would be: Obama 37.6 percent, Edwards 29.7 percent, Clinton 29.5 percent, Richardson 2.1 percent, Biden 0.9 percent. This car was outside the Obama caucus night party.
Inside the victory party at Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines the crowd buzzed, knowing Barack Obama had won the Iowa Caucus. Illinois’ senior senator Dick Durbin was in attendance.
Barack Obama and his daughter can be seen behind the curtain moments before his Iowa Caucus victory speech. (January 3, 2008)
Senator Obama and family prepare to take the stage at his caucus victory party in Des Moines. They are greeted by campaign co-chairs Attorney General Tom Miller and State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald and cheered on by campaign staff.
In a recently released interview with Crooked Media, former President Obama said of his Iowa Caucus victory, “That’s my favorite night of my entire political career. To me, that was a more powerful night than the night I was elected President.”
It started in Iowa. It ended with a two-term President. I was fortunate to witness and participate in Barack Obama’s historic caucus campaign. He offered a fresh voice and a steady hand when our country needed it. The same type of hopeful movement that brought him to the White House is needed again today.
If you enjoyed these photos, I recommend Rachel Paine Caufield’s book of historic caucus photos titled The Iowa Caucus. It features the photos of many contributors, including some of my shots of Obama and other caucus candidates.
Jordan Oster is a public affairs consultant and clean energy advocate from Des Moines. He is fascinated by the history of the Iowa Caucuses.