Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics

PolitiFact reporters descend on Iowa for on-the-ground fact-checking

Trump, an angry Republican, spoke at the John Wayne Birthplace Museum in Winterset and was endorsed by the Duke’s daughter.
Published Jan. 22, 2016

DES MOINES

The art and craft of political fact-checking is not much to look at, usually. We sit at desks and read transcripts. We watch politicians on TV. We read documents and reports. On lively days, we talk with national experts on the phone. Every now and then, we might have a heated conversation with a press secretary.

So when PolitiFact decided to send a small team to Iowa, I jumped at the chance: Fact-checkers unbound from their desks!

Three of us spent a week driving the icy roads of Iowa and tramping through snow to watch candidates Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders answer real questions from actual voters.

Sanders spoke in a small town hall building in Underwood before a room of about 300 people. Trump went before the cameras in a tiny exhibit room in the John Wayne Birthplace and Museum in Winterset. Clinton spoke in a little civic center in Toledo before an audience of about 200 people.

Over the years, Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses have always garnered a heaping helping of criticism, some of it fair, for not being representative of the American electorate. The state is too rural, too white. What gives Iowa the right to go ahead of all the other states?

I might have agreed with that before this trip. But being on the ground in Iowa, with its population of 3.1 million, I can see that Iowa has something special. Because it's small, Iowans get to see the candidates up close — very close.

The Iowa events are almost entirely different than the campaign rallies I've covered over the years in Tampa, with thousands of people cheering for general election candidates. You'll find music and speeches at those events, but little interaction.

In comparison, Iowa feels downright cozy and intimate. And for all the interconnectedness of 21st century America, most of the events we went to weren't widely broadcast, not even on C-SPAN.

As fact-checkers on the road, we found lots of things to check, some of which have already made the national radar and some not:

• Clinton said that just about every bill she introduced had a Republican co-sponsor. We rated that False, because the numbers didn't bear it out. She sometimes had Republican co-sponsors, but not most of the time.

• Carly Fiorina claimed that abortions were at record numbers and climbing higher. We rated that False, because abortions have actually been declining since the 1990s.

• Trump repeated claims that Christian refugees from Syria aren't allowed to come to the United States, a bizarrely incorrect claim that PolitiFact rated False months ago. There's nothing in U.S. law or regulations that prevents Christian refugees from coming here.

This year's race, though, isn't about unadorned facts or policy prescriptions. It's much more about personalities — and voter anger. At a bar in downtown Des Moines on Wednesday night, we marveled at this topsy-turvy race and wondered how we would regard it years from now.

Two of the biggest personalities of the 2016 race, to me, are Sanders and Trump. And I left Iowa thinking they have a ton in common.

They're both angry. They both hate the Iraq war, Goldman Sachs and the media.

At the Underwood rally, audience members brought their problems to Sanders, and his answer to every one of them was a massive government program. A working mom was struggling with a child who has epilepsy. Sanders talked about his proposal for a single-payer, Canadian-style health care system. A young man complained about crushing student loans; Sanders said he wants universities to offer free tuition.

As for how Sanders would get such plans through Congress, he called for a voter revolution, with the public organized and forcing change. I recall another candidate who said much the same thing back in 2008, and actually did create a group to harness voters' desire for change. That was Barack Obama and his group became Organizing for America. Yet Congress remains gridlocked.

Meanwhile, Trump simply tells voters he'll fix things without any detail. China exerting too much influence on the world stage? Trump will stop it. Immigrants coming to the United States? A big wall, paid for by Mexico. Terrorists recruiting over the Internet? He'll fix that, too.

How Trump will do all these things, he doesn't really say. He's more a person of grand pronouncements than policy details.

Sanders and Trump both seem to think, though, that tough problems have relatively simple solutions, if only people would get angry enough to vote them into office.

Both seem to sincerely believe they've crafted campaign messages that can take them all the way to the White House.

And who knows, maybe they have. In 2016, anything is possible.

Contact Angie Drobnic Holan at aholan@tampabay.com. Follow @AngieHolan.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Students and community activists marched in Tampa last year after the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The attack killed 17 people and gave rise to Florida’s school guardian law, which this year was changed to allow classroom teachers to be armed. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the measure into law. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
    Damien Kelly, the director of the Office of Safe Schools, told lawmakers that 11 districts have said they would like the option to arm instructional staff, but it wasn’t clear if all 11 had...
  2. Florida Senator Tom Lee, R- Thonotosassa. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times] SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES
    Tom Lee chairs the Florida Senate’s Infrastructure and Security Committee, which has been tasked by the Senate president with coming up with a response to the most recent spate of mass shootings.
  3. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, a Republican, has asked for a City Council vote on a resolution asking congress for gun control measures. DOUGLAS CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    However, the Republican’s symbolic resolution will almost certainly fail.
  4. Former Gubernatorial Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum, left, and Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa looks on while Terrie Rizzo, the State Chair of the Florida Democratic Party speaks during the Florida Democratic Party and Forward Florida Action Partnership to register voters in Florida held at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, May 16, 2019. JONES, OCTAVIO   |  Tampa Bay Times
    It’s called ‘Campaign Blueprint’ and it’s the latest piece of the party’s rebuild
  5. The Florida Supreme Court, Wednesday, May 1, 2019.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times] SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    A quick look at a variety of salaries in Florida government.
  6. Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Miami, Florida while visiting Ball & Ball & Chain in Little Havana for a meet-and-greet with Hispanic voters on Sunday, September 15, 2019. [CARL JUSTE CJUSTE | MIAMI HERALD]
    Florida Democrats have feared that Trump has been mostly left unchecked to court Miami’s exile communities.
  7. Hillsborough Democratic Party Executive Director Mark Hanisee. ALLIE GOULDING  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Party officials said they sold 750 tickets for $100 to $200 each for the Kennedy-King Dinner.
  8. H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute is the centerpiece of Project Arthur, an 800-acre corporate park that could include up 24 million square feet of office and industrial space on nearly 7,000 acres of what is now ranch land, but targeted for development in central Pasco. Times
    The H. Lee Moffitt facility is the centerpiece of an economic development effort in a proposed 800-acre corporate park.
  9. Marion Hammer, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. [News Service of Florida] News Service of Florida
    ‘We’re going to find out at some point in the future,’ one Republican said.
  10. Florida Supreme Court Justices Barbara Lagoa, left, and Robert Luck, right, were appointed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta by President Trump. Florida Supreme Court
    Ok losers, who needs access to our state politicians, anyway?
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement