FORT DODGE, Iowa — With five days until the Democratic caucuses, Elizabeth Warren’s key campaign surrogate was here to rally volunteers who have been working for months across rural Webster County.
He lined up for selfies, accepted ear rubs, and stuck his nose into a custom-made peanut butter cake. When a photographer knelt down for a photo, he leapt up into his face.
This is the state of the Democratic primary, in what might be the most important week of a yearlong battle for the presidential nomination: Elizabeth Warren’s dog is campaigning for her in Iowa. Elizabeth Warren is not.
The Senate impeachment trial, which is keeping Warren and Bernie Sanders in Washington, has muddled the last days before the Iowa caucuses — turning what is usually a frenetic, nonstop week of campaigning by candidates into something messier and weirder.
Early last August, Warren held a town hall in Fort Dodge in a room packed with hundreds of people — a sign of her status as a candidate rising in the polls and drumming up huge energy. She promised cheering crowds to rid Washington of corruption, to “end lobbying as we know it,” to raise wages for teachers.
She also got an “extremely serious question” from a former Democratic chair: How do you successfully impeach Donald Trump?
Warren is now living out the consequences of that extremely serious question, stuck in Washington and unable to aggressively campaign in Iowa. She is still very much in contention in the state, caught in a tight four-way race with Sanders, Joe Biden, and Pete Buttigieg.
Sanders is stuck in Washington too. But he sent Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has become a celebrity in her own right, to Iowa in his place. And Buttigieg and Biden have scheduled a nonstop series of town halls across the state this week.
Warren has endorsements, but not like AOC’s. She rallied with Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness this past weekend before going back to DC. Megan Rapinoe, the star of the US women’s national soccer team who could pull a crowd on her own, is busy playing in Olympic qualifiers. Warren did still have a few other significant surrogates out in Iowa Wednesday, including former presidential candidate Julián Castro, who met with students at Cornell College in the morning.
But in Fort Dodge, Warren had her dog, Bailey Warren, and her husband, Bruce Mann, who spoke to a gathering of a few dozen voters and volunteers in the campaign’s offices, which appeared to have once been a doctor’s waiting room.
There were “Warren” signs hanging knee-high on the walls, a height strategically placed for “selfies” taken squatting next to Bailey. There were four folding chairs and a few old antique lamps. Mann spoke quietly and reverently about his wife as he scratched Bailey’s ears, inviting volunteers to shout out the single word they’d thought best described Warren when they had seen her at town halls.
Fort Dodge was Mann and Bailey’s last stop of the day. They’d traveled across Iowa in an enormous campaign bus printed with Warren’s face, fist raised, and foot-high letters reading “COURAGE OVER CYNICISM.”
They had just come from a long-arranged meeting between Bailey and Gideon, an 11-year-old boy who runs the 350,000-follower Twitter account called “I’ve Pet That Dog.”
“It’s different, it’s definitely different,” said Meg Beshey, a retired art teacher in Fort Dodge who was hosting a Warren organizer in her home. Beshey squatted next to Bailey for a selfie, much like the ones Warren famously takes at her town halls.
“It’s all part of the atmosphere of Iowa,” Beshey said as she watched the scene unfold.
She had brought a heart-shaped “dog cake” for Bailey, made out of peanut butter and oats, though she said it could be eaten by humans, too. It was a “Valentine” from Beshey’s dog, she said, but she hadn’t brought him to the office to meet the “potential first dog.”
“That wouldn’t be appropriate,” she said.