DES MOINES – Every spring, Washington impresario Tammy Haddad hosts a charity brunch before the White House correspondents' dinner, which is a must for reporters, editors, news broadcasters, and political activists.
This crowd is currently in Iowa – they drink, braise, occasionally drive off to visit one or two presidential candidates – so Ms. Haddad, a media consultant and TV veteran, decided to bring them the fun. Hence the Snowflake Garden Brunch, a Sunday get-together in Georgetown-in-the-Cornfields in Des Moines that attracted a healthy section of the visiting political class.
The participants were greeted with mimosa and a wall made of Krispy Kreme donuts. The moderator Greta Van Susteren talked to Senator Joni Ernst from Iowa. Mayor Pete Buttigieg's spokeswoman Lis Smith gossiped with executives from ABC and NBC. The 15-year-old son of Janice Min, the former editor of Us Weekly and Hollywood reporter, reported on-site for a group called KidUnity.
Sponsors included Wells Fargo, Anthem health insurer and a Washington-based lobbyist for the wind energy industry.
"I live the dream of brunching in Wells Fargo," said a reporter, looking at an ice sculpture of a cow.
Hundreds of journalists from Washington and New York have been traveling the country for weeks to gain insight into the psyche and soul of an average citizen and to test the capabilities of a huge field of democratic hope.
But as with any industry get-together, Shoptalk is difficult to avoid. Nowadays, Iowa and its hotspots for journalists – namely the brightly lit lobby bar with hideous carpeting in Des Moines Marriott Downtown – feel like a summer camp, a trade convention, and an I.R.L. Twitter rolled into one.
"It's not quite Mos Eisley," said Edward-Isaac Dovere, a staff writer at The Atlantic, and referred to the alien cantina in Star Wars. "But at some point everyone seems to be getting through."
On a last night at the Marriott, there were countless bullet vests. CNN's Jake Tapper held the court and Ed Henry of Fox News came by. Senior democratic officials clapped with correspondents from BuzzFeed, CNN, Politico and Time. Bloomberg News hosted a Super Bowl screening with an open counter and free chicken wings. The Marriott gift shop sold a t-shirt with a logo that seemed tailored to the visitors: “Hello. Didn't I interview you 4 years ago? "
It was the kind of crowd that gasps collectively and makes multiple exclamation marks when the final poll on the Des Moines Register among Iowa voters is abruptly canceled. What happened on Saturday evening.
"There are definitely no caucusgoers," said Dovere, "but here the activists and reporters simply assume that everyone is on the way."
The last weekend before the Caucuses brings with it a unique kind of madness, along with a few Dweeby Fandoms (hey, it's the "Pod Save America" guys!). More than 400 reporters attended Mr. Buttigieg's high school rally on Sunday. TV and newspaper managers who were in town to check out steaked out in the downtown chophouses while reporters who were just starting drinking in the Mexican dive shop El Bait.
Occasionally, the high ratio of reporters to real people leads to political consequences. John Kerry, the former Secretary of State, had the misfortune of sitting next to an NBC reporter at breakfast when he appeared to be chatting on the phone about a possible presidential campaign. The story exploded on Twitter before Mr. Kerry issued an obscene rejection.
BuzzFeed News reporter Rosie Gray wrote on Twitter about the Amtrak express train, which maintains the clattering classes between New York and Washington.
Did average Americans follow the Iowa reports? Not clear. While President Trump is on trial in the Senate, the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news last week devoted only 10 minutes of coverage to the meetings, compared to 86 minutes in 2016 to a study. Correspondents in Iowa who took three-hour trips to candidate forums in Decorah or Fort Madison got used to listening to C-SPAN radio to keep up with the impeachment process.
The Sunday brunch – which Ms. Haddad hosted with Hilary Rosen, another senior Washington media strategist, and Iowa political activists John and Christine Stineman – raised money for veterans and their families.
There was a contingent of Rob Sand, the accountant and boyishly clever boy of democratic politics in Iowa.
"You look like a young Pete Buttigieg," Mrs. Rosen joked as Mr. Sand's fingers flew to his smooth cheeks. "But Pete can grow a beard!" He protested.
Is Mr. Sand annoyed by all these paratroopers? "I tried to be" Iowa nice, "" he said ironically.
Brad Anderson, the Iowa State Director at AARP, said in an interview that he appreciated the overall national interest in his state. But he advised reporters to spend more time meeting with the people who really mattered: the Iowans, who would meet on Monday evening.
"Stand on a sidewalk and just start talking to people," he said. "You get a better feeling than with a fancy brunch."
Mr. Anderson said this accidentally while tickling Ms. Haddad's unusual brunch. Be honest: will he miss the media when they're gone?
"I will," he said with a laugh. "I love you. I'm not cheesy here, but the media appreciate Iowan's approach to this process, and I'm pleased."