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Iowa Influencers Are a Real Thing — and They Matter in 2020

Listen to Episode 9 of "Uncommitted: Iowa 2020" to hear how one family of rural Democrats tries to sway caucus-goers in a deep red county.

by Jen Kinney
Jan 21 2020, 3:28pm

Listen to the teaser below and subscribe here on Spotify for the full episode of "Uncommitted: Iowa 2020," a new podcast from VICE News.

HENRY COUNTY, Iowa — The Iowa Caucus is inherently social. It’s an event where everyday Iowans literally stand next to or across the room from their family, friends, and neighbors and publicly declare who they want to be the next president.

And these friends and neighbors? They are definitely trying to influence each other. Like Dave Helman of Henry County, Iowa. Dave’s got a favorite candidate, and he wants people to hear about her. Not registered to vote? He has the forms in his car.

Lucky for Dave, he’s married into a family that’s been involved in liberal politics since before Iowa was a state. For episode 9 of VICE News podcast, “Uncommitted: Iowa 2020,” which drops Tuesdays on Spotify, host Antonia Hylton and reporter Jen Kinney spent a weekend with a family that could only exist in Iowa.

Meet the Garretsons: four generations still living on the family farm they’ve had since 1837, when it was part of the Underground Railroad. The Garretsons are super engaged Democrats, even as the rest of Henry County has turned a deep red. The family once hosted the caucus in their living room. (That is not allowed anymore.) This year, they’ve been contacted by multiple campaigns to get the word out around town, and Elizabeth Warren even made a campaign stop on their farm.

In every recent cycle, a Garretson has made a speech on caucus night, trying to sway the "uncommitteds" toward their favorite candidate. In a small precinct where just 64 people showed up to caucus in 2016, that gives this family real influence. And this year, with so many candidates running, these Garretson-level influencers in small precincts across Iowa might actually be able to swing the vote for one candidate over another.

The appeal of Iowa is supposed to be this person-to-person campaigning, the touchy-feely, chat-over-a-beer nature of it all. Is that the epitome of democracy? Or do these highly engaged voters in one rural state have too much sway over all of us?

Listen to a teaser for episode 9 and subscribe here on Spotify now.

You can catch Uncommitted: Iowa 2020 Podcast on Spotify every Tuesday. And sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.

Cover: Uncommitted host and VICE News correspondent Antonia Hylton walks with Dave Helman and Joyce Garretson on the Garretson's 800-acre farm near Salem, Iowa. Photo by: Mark Lanning

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Politics
Iowa
Podcast
2020
influencers
Democrats 2020
Uncommitted: 2020