In the 1989 film Field of Dreams, there is a famous scene in which the ghost of legendary baseball player "Shoeless" Joe Jackson asks an Iowa corn farmer who has built a baseball diamond outside his house: “Is this heaven?” The farmer replies, “No, it’s Iowa.”
For 18 UChicago students who spent the summer in Des Moines covering or working for the 2016 presidential campaigns, Iowa turned out to be their own type of political heaven, from explosive news conferences with Republican frontrunner Donald Trump to the election-year circus of the Iowa State Fair.
“If you really want to get involved in politics someday, whether it’s as a politician or as a campaigner or as a strategist, you’ve got to go to Iowa,” said second-year Kennedy Green, who spent the summer working for Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley.
The students, who worked for news outlets such as ABC News, CNN and FOX, and candidates such as Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio, were in Des Moines as part of the Iowa Project, a yearlong effort by UChicago’s Institute of Politics to get students involved in the caucuses. The program launched in early 2015 with a series of campaign workshops featuring guests from past presidential campaigns. The IOP also hosted a series of sessions with two visiting fellows from Iowa, Democratic consultant Brad Anderson and Republican consultant Karen Slifka. As part of the IOP’s Speaker Series, students also heard from candidates such as Jim Webb and O’Malley, and attended the IOP’s 2016 Campaign Journalism Conference featuring RNC chair Reince Priebus, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and reporters such as NBC’s Chuck Todd, CBS News’ John Dickerson and Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin.
In addition to the events and training, Iowa Project Fellows also received a stipend to support living expenses for the summer. While students who applied to the program’s journalism track were placed with specific news outlets, students on the field track were required to secure their own positions. A weekend visit to Des Moines helped students learn about the city that they would call home for 10 weeks. Once the academic year ended in June, the 18 students started making their way to Iowa, excited but unsure of how the summer would unfold.
“When we were in Chicago, we heard about what Iowa was like and what the caucuses were like, but coming here and actually being on the ground has been just amazing,” said second-year Asya Akca, who interned for Radio Iowa. “This Iowa Project has really been able to do exactly what it was supposed to do, which is get the true campaign experience from two sides.”