A few days before the Iowa caucuses Charlie and Sharon Weber were sitting in a coffee shop across the street from a Jeb Bush event they had been turned away from after having driven 45 minutes from Ames where they live.
It turned out to be an invitation-only event and they were disappointed - not because they were Bush backers but because they are a very Iowa kind of political tourist - determined to go to events of all the presidential candidates.
"In our case, we’re trying to be face-to-face with all 14 candidates," said Charlie Weber, who said they are both independent voters and have seen 10 so far, including frontrunner Donald Trump.
The couple moved back to Iowa, where they grew up, after 35 years in Michigan and now, retired, are making the events leading up to the first-in-the nation Feb. 1 caucuses a full-time pastime.
So which caucus - Republican or Democrat - will they attend when it comes down to actually voting? "I haven’t totally decided," said Charlie Weber. "We might split and go one to each for the experience," said Sharon Weber.
At the coffee shop, they met up with Linda Kelly, who had also been turned away. And her interest in the Bush event? "I’m a caucus tourist," said Kelly.
It turns out that Kelly lives near Anchorage, Alaska but is in the process of moving to Iowa where her husband has gotten a new job. She can’t vote in the caucuses because she’s not yet a resident. But that hasn’t stopped her from checking the daily “candidate tracker’ in the Des Moines Register.
“More of them come here than ever come to Alaska,” she said of the presidential candidates. “How could I not take advantage of that?”
Some people are full-blown tourists who show up to events and don’t even have a connection to Iowa.
Louise Fredericksen, 63, of Indianapolis, Ind., is retired and her husband, Garry, took a week of vacation so they could catch the presidential nominating contest close up in Iowa. They plotted their trip on websites that cater to political junkies and planned to fly to New Hampshire on Tuesday to see the show there.
"We're political tourists," she said, standing in line outside a Donald Trump rally in Marshalltown. "You don't get like anything like this back home. It's democracy up close."
Michael Simon, 18, is a New Jersey resident and first-time voter who is attending Emerson College in Boston. And there he was at a Ted Cruz rally Saturday in Ames, part of a political science class of 19 students who are going to as many events as possible. “The class is here to get on-the-ground experience,” he said.
At the same rally, first-year medical students Jerrica Werner of Overland Park, Kansas and Audrey Coventry of Kansas City, Kansas had driven to Iowa to listen and to talk to candidates, who, they said, rarely make it to Kansas. “We’re just trying to get the idea of what all the candidates stand for,” said Werner. “We’re very passionate about global health.”
She wasn’t totally satisfied with Cruz telling her that the U.S. health had to be addressed first though he agreed with the need to address global issues like AIDS and the Ebola virus. The two friends were soon figuring out how to go see Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bernie Sanders during their weekend trip.
There are also large groups of out-of-state supporters of the candidates who descend on Iowa to help with phone banks and door to door canvassing. Ted Cruz has a huge contingent from Texas and other states, so many that the campaign set up “Camp Cruz” in a former college dorm in Des Moines that houses about 830 volunteers.
According to a Cruz campaign press released, “over 12,000 volunteers have signed on” and rooms at Camp Cruz “are filled beyond capacity with volunteers from all over the country, some tripling up in rooms using air mattresses.”
B.J. Parker, 83 of St. Charles, Missouri and her daughter Cheri Galvan of Laguna Beach, Calif. are staying together in a dorm apartment. “Oh, it’s great,” said Parker, a former Texas resident. “It’s a regular college dorm with twin beds.” Her daughter flew out to Missouri and the two then drove to Iowa.
“I’ve been doing this all my life,” Parker said, meaning political activism. “Ronald Reagan - I worked in his campaign,”
Ivette Lozano, a Dallas medical doctor who knows Cruz’s father and aunt in North Texas, shut down her practice for a week to work on the campaign. Her support for Cruz boils down to: “There’s an urgency to do something different.”
Lesley Clark contributed to this report.