While the financial component of political donations tends to grab the most headlines, the dozen-plus Democratic presidential candidates crisscrossing Iowa in recent months have received contributions of other kinds as well.
Seven of the candidates have brick-and-mortar offices in Dubuque. Several others have staff or at least volunteers maintaining a presence in the community. And, with less than one month until Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus, more are trickling in.
So some households in Dubuque have found room for more, opening their doors to staffers and volunteers of various campaigns.
Trish McDonald, for instance, has welcomed staff and volunteers for the campaign of Andrew Yang, a prominent philanthropist. That includes the campaign’s Regional Engagement Director Viola Myers.
“As Iowans, we start getting those phone calls almost a year in advance,” McDonald said. “For some reason, on a Saturday night, I answered Viola’s call. She was the first person I had spoken to from Yang’s campaign.”
McDonald said she was impressed with Yang’s plans for a universal basic income, a $1,000-per-month check for all U.S. adults. But that isn’t what brought she and Viola together under the same roof.
“She was living on North Cascade Road and didn’t have a car,” McDonald said. “She was spending $30 a day on Lyft. I said, ‘No, no. You need to come live with me.’”
On reason McDonald said she wanted to offer was that she has more than enough room. She lives in an old Victorian home in Dubuque’s historic West 11th District and has taken in travelers before, including the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra’s concert master, artists painting murals for the Voices project and environmentalists traveling the Mississippi River.
Pamela Thorpe said one reason she is hosting a staffer for former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign is that she has the room.
“It’s a waste not to use our space,” she said. “All of our kids are gone. I kind of think it’s part of what people with big houses should do. Ours isn’t one of the big fancy places facing the bluff, but I think it’s a sort of duty.”
Another reason the Thorpes thought to host a campaign worker was that they believed in the candidate. They left a Biden campaign stop at Loras College in October inspired to caucus for the former vice president.
Although Thorpe said she would have hosted staff from any Democratic campaign, she was pleased to host a Biden staffer.
They got the call through an unofficial network of politicos in Dubuque.
“I heard about the op from a friend who’s in touch with the campaign,” Thorpe said. “We’ve hosted other political volunteers in the past, so she knew I was an easy mark.”
The various campaigns also seek housing for their staff and volunteers through the Dubuque County Democrats.
McDonald said she would have been open to hosting Republican campaign workers as well.
“People are people,” she said. “It just happens that my contacts are just in with the Democrats.”
Preya Samsundar, Republican National Committee’s Iowa spokeswoman, said staffers for President Donald Trump are not likely to have the same needs as those for Democratic primary contenders. She said because Trump is an incumbent — despite having a few low-polling primary contenders — staff for his re-election campaign will be more permanent.
“We don’t have to worry about taking down shop in a month,” she said. “After the caucuses, folks (whose candidates) don’t finish in the top five or six are pretty much done at that point. Their jobs are a lot more temporary than ours are. I’ll have lived in Iowa for almost two years by the time the election is over. I have my own apartment. I live here. Our campaign staff will too.”
Samsundar said no Trump staff currently live in Dubuque, but do elsewhere in eastern Iowa.
Both Thorpe and McDonald say their experiences have been great, even if it takes some getting used to.
“It’s weird at first, hearing doors open and close in your house,” Thorpe said. “You have to have a little Midwestern faith in humanity. ... But having Michael here has been great.”
Thorpe said their guest has become a fast favorite of the couple’s dogs and joined in with family board games on Thanksgiving. She said his parents even sent them a Christmas gift for giving their son such a nice home.
McDonald loved her experience so much she opened her doors again for an 18-year-old volunteer from Seattle whose Christmas gift was a plane ticket to Iowa — from Scotland, where he attends university — to volunteer for the Yang campaign for a week.
She dropped him off at the airport on Friday and said they both cried.