A Conversation with Danny Wilcox Fazier
Where were you when the results of the Iowa Caucus were announced on Tuesday night?
I was with former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum when he came so close to winning. How Santorum came on so quickly caught a lot of people by surprise. Huckabee did the same last time around in 2008, but his momentum started weeks earlier. Santorum, by contrast, seemed lifted from obscurity, advancing not just single digits, but to 8 votes behind winner Mitt Romney.
He put in the work – it’s what Iowans look for – he visited all 99 counties. He appeals to a large segment of social conservatives, evangelicals, and born-again Christians. They don’t buy into the “electability” of Romney, just because Romney polls well nationally against President Obama.
These conservatives are a specific interest group, very strong within the Republican Party, though they don’t speak for the state as a whole. They’re unified, energized, and proactive. Iowa Republicans are divided right down the middle: the struggle can be seen playing out between the social conservatives, who may have lost some strength since the Christian Coalition era, and the larger emphasis right now on the national debt and the struggling economy.
There are credible questions if Iowa is the perfectly representative testing ground, as Democrats have won the state in the general election for five out of the last six election cycles, including Gore in 2000 and Dukakis in 1988. However, the majority of the time Iowa does tend to swing with the winner.
Davenport, Iowa, January 2, 2012, Mississippi Valley Fair Grounds
Tell us about some of the logistics of covering the campaign:
I covered every candidate, logging over two thousand miles of driving in the last week and a half. I looked at the daily schedules and I knew where I could get and where I couldn’t. Even though I live in Iowa, mostly I stayed in hotels because the distances were too vast for me to get home at the end of each day.
In 2008, there was so much excitement that it was overwhelming. This time, without any Democratic challengers to President Obama, it’s only for one side. So there were more lulls and downtime, when the candidates weren’t in Iowa.
What did you find compelling from your perspective at street level?
What struck me about the people in the crowds was that they have this great anger arising from their perception of the direction of the country: with the debt, with the ongoing economic crisis.
Ron Paul’s campaign was notable: His supporters debated with great passion amongst themselves. His style is deliberately candid, whereas the other candidates were using more prepared and coached remarks.
At a “Rock the Caucus” event at Valley High School in West Des Moines, Michelle Bachmann, Paul, and Santorum made appearances. The response for Paul there was enormous. It does seem that the majority of younger Republican voters are supporting Paul.
The central theme was the economy, about which most questions were asked. Many of the contentious social issues such as gay marriage, etc. were not front and center. It was all about the economy.
Any more personal highlights?
It’s long hours and stress, but I enjoy the theater and the quirky aspects in addition to the importance of covering the presidential election.
I do want to demystify the political process with my photographs, to show what the process is like. It’s not all polish, and I like to travel around the edges.
One example: we were walking out into a field where Santorum and Congressman Steve King were pheasant hunting, and I was leading everyone, being the photographer from Iowa. We were trying to figure where they were going, and then we came upon them, with their guns. Everyone was ducking … it was comical.
TEXT and PHOTOGRAPHS by Danny Wilcox Frazier
Interview by Alan Chin