DES MOINES, Iowa, 7:37 PM – “This is the main planning room,” Bobby Gravitz ’05 tells me as he sweeps his arm across a field of cubicles, half-eaten pizzas and young volunteers hunched over telephones. “Over on this side are most of the statewide directorial staff and over there is most of our Polk County field staff. Let’s try and find a place to sit down.”
This proves difficult. All we really need for an interview is a table and chairs – ready fare for virtually any office in the state of Iowa. But this is a presidential campaign office. Why spend valuable campaign cash on chairs when an old Culligan bottle will do the trick?
Bobby ends up leading us into a room affectionately called “The Gitmo Room.”
There are no windows, no chairs, and a single table with a broken leg in one corner. Across the wall – which is maybe ten feet wide – is a vinyl sign with an outline of the state of Iowa.
Bobby looks exhausted. His unruly black hair looks like it hasn’t been combed in a couple days and a thin veil of stubble cheats its way across his jawline.
“Yeah, we’re pretty tired,” he says. “But we’re pretty excited.” Three days to go.
Bobby plops down in a corner against a filing cabinet and Matt and I follow suit. Offiicially, Bobby is the Iowa Press Assistant for the Obama campaign. The guy who makes sure the TV crews get the best shot for the evening news? The one who sets up the radio station with a few Republican precinct captains who are going to support Obama? That’s Bobby.
“Back in February, I was working for the [former Iowa Governor Tom] Vilsack campaign as a research aide,” Bobby recalls, “And I remember watching the TV coverage of Obama’s announcement and thinking ‘God, I want to be a part of that.’”
Little over a month later, Vilsack closed the door on his own campaign, citing the campaign’s inability to raise the kind of funds necessary to compete with other, more recognized candidates. A few weeks later, Bobby found himself back in the race – this time with the Senator from Illinois.
“You can have a greater political impact through working on smaller, local races, but national presidential politics – it’s like Everest,” Bobby says, explaining the allure of the 2008 race for the White House. “It’s the center of the political universe. Everybody’s here. Everyone’s in Des Moines.”
The 25-year-old, Silver Spring, Maryland native is no stranger to the game. It was always a part of the family growing up, Bobby says, and he took time off from college to work for political causes such as Brad Carson’s ill-fated Senate campaign against Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
Now, he has landed in the Iowa operation of a candidate he believes to be “potentially the most transformative figure in American politics since Ronald Reagon or John F. Kennedy.” And in Des Moines, Bobby has found himself at the center of the storm. Political rock stars like Marc Ambinder and Obama campaign manager David Plouffe pass by regularly. Besides, Des Moines isn’t so bad when you know the people.
“I’ve been here so long I’m friends with actual Iowans,” Bobby says, half-joking. “A lot of these [Obama volunteers] just came on and basically only know other people on the campaign. So it’s like a weird little fraternity at times.”
Still, Iowa is no New Haven – at least in some respects.
“I still have yet to find a suitable equivalent for Ivy Noodle,” Bobby laments.