Last week, NPR reporter Liz Halloran and I stopped by each of the candidates' campaign headquarters in the Des Moines, Iowa, area. Our first impression: They are hard to find. As a first-time visitor to Iowa during caucus season, I anticipated grandeur, much like Mitt Romney's event at the Hotel Blackhawk, where we encountered a packed house of Iowans and political tourists ready for lights, camera, action.
Turns out Romney's headquarters, one of the busier ones we visited, is a gutted Blockbuster. The majority of the headquarters were located in nondescript office buildings. Ron Paul's was tucked next to a Quizno's sandwich shop; while Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry had set up shop at suites behind homogeneous business complexes.
Folks were surprisingly welcoming to members of the press who stopped by unannounced. Santorum's phone bank was cozy and buzzing as two of his children, Elizabeth and John, made phone call after phone call amid other volunteers, including two young girls not even in their teens.
Most of the offices were practically empty. Many campaign communication directors assured us it was because the candidates had taken to the streets. But it was hard not to wonder: Are those scattered, unplugged phones at Bachmann's headquarters those of volunteers who have since jumped ship after a rough week? And why are Perry volunteers working out of a hotel instead of their office suite? Are these bigger signs of a campaign sputtering to a close?
When Iowans go out to vote tonight, which they will whatever the weather, I'll be thinking about what I saw at the campaign headquarters of The Des Moines Register's top three picks: A round of high-fives at the Romney HQ; a volunteer at the Paul HQ demanding I delete her image because she highly values her privacy; and a little girl taking a deep breath before making yet another call to a registered Republican, encouraging a vote for Santorum.