Political Journalists Ring in 2008 in Iowa

Political journalists more accustomed to spending New Year's Eve at an inside-the-beltway Washington, D.C., soiree, or a trendy New York bar, are flocking to the new place to ring in 2008 — Iowa.

Due to an earlier-than-ever caucus date of Jan. 3, presidential contenders — and the political journalists who trail them — will be clinking champagne glasses at midnight this New Year's Eve in Iowa.

That's made the Midwestern state the place to be and to be seen today for an estimated 2,000 journalists, including 100 foreign journalists from more than 25 different countries.

Anne Dickerson, a television producer and wife of Slate's chief political correspondent, John Dickerson, left her two small children with their grandparents, so she could spend New Year's Eve with her husband in Iowa's capital city, Des Moines.

"We've been joking this is like a second honeymoon," she said.

'Completely Booked'

But the couple soon found out that getting a table in Des Moines this New Year's Eve rivals getting a reservation at a New York City hot spot.

"I called three weeks ago for reservations," she said. "All of the top restaurants are completely booked."

The Dickersons finally snagged a 7 p.m. dinner-for-two reservation at 801 Steak and Chophouse, an upscale Iowa steak restaurant in downtown Des Moines.

Other journalists made their New Year's Eve Iowa party plans much earlier.

The day the caucus date was finalized, Mark Barabak, political reporter for the Los Angeles Times, reserved a table for friends at Lucca, an Italian restaurant in Des Moines' new trendy East Village neighborhood.

"We started out with a party of eight, and upped it to 20 when they cut me off for space considerations," he said.

More than 450 journalists have RSVPed to attend the Raucous Before the Caucus media party at the Temple for Performing Arts in downtown Des Moines — it's hosted by Carrie Giddins and Mary Tiffany, the communications directors of the Iowa Democratic Party and the Republican Party of Iowa, respectively.

"Because the eyes of the world are on us, we recognize the importance of making sure everyone feels at home on New Year's Eve," Giddins said, noting that she and Tiffany are good friends and planned the media party on their own.

Iowa businesses have chipped in to sponsor the event. For $25 at the door, an expected 600 journalists will ring in 2008 with an open bar, a local band called Ashanti Jazz and authentic Iowa cuisine.

"We'll have Maytag blue cheese, Maid-Rite luncheon meat, Pella Dutch letters, pork chops, an all-corn table, with corn relish and corn salsa, cob corn, Iowa State Fair foods, like mini-corn dogs, mini-deep fried Twinkies and kettle corn," Giddins said.

After going out for a Mexican dinner in Des Moines, Washington Post political reporter Anne Kornblut said she's going to the media party for the Iowa State Fair food. "More corn dogs!" she said.

However, Adam Nagourney, chief political correspondent for The New York Times, said he's not one for parties.

"I don't like parties, I'm a misanthrope," Nagourney said. The veteran political journalist said he will, instead, take advantage of the new trendy restaurants in the city and have dinner with a small group of Iowa and New York friends.

Political Tourists

This year some city dwellers are coming to Iowa as political tourists.

Claudia Zelevansky, a theater and film director, and her friends came to Iowa from New York City seeking an alternative New Year's Eve.

"We wanted to get a sense of the real political scene instead of going to the inevitable lame party," she said. "We're driving all over the state for the next few days seeing as many candidates as possible. … We really just wanted a chance to see retail politics during a such an exciting and critical political season."

Zelevansky and her friends will ultimately meet up with journalist friends for dinner and then go to the media bash.

Many native Iowans are doing everything they can to make the displaced journalists feel at home on New Year's Eve, and to showcase Iowa's capital city.

When about 2,000 reporters check in to their hotel rooms, from now until the caucus Jan. 3, they will be given a downtown Des Moines gift bag with goodies, including a list of the "Top 10 Fun Things to Do While You're in Des Moines," a map, ChapStick, an "I Decide" button and a relocation brochure, in case any reporters like it so much, they want to stay.

"This is just one of those times that we get to show what Des Moines is all about. We get to show that we're more than corn fields, we've got a very cosmopolitan city, too," said Tiffany Tauscheck of the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau.

With just days to go before Iowa's caucus, the presidential hopefuls aren't letting up, except, perhaps, for a sip of champagne.

ABC News' Sunlen Miller, who covers Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., expects to be working into the wee hours of the morning, because the senator has five events that day, ending at 10:30 p.m., in Ames, Iowa.

"My New Year's will be spent by my laptop," Miller said. "Hopefully, we can enjoy a toast of Diet Coke, or coffee, together, for New Year's, and then get back to work," she said of her press corps colleagues.

Work-Life Balance

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and former President Clinton are separately crisscrossing the state at four events, each, today, meeting up for a downtown Des Moines celebration just hours before midnight.

ABC News anchor and correspondent Kate Snow said she'll be trailing the Clintons, but hopes to work in some family time on New Year's Day if the campaign schedule allows.

Her husband and two small children will be visiting family and skiing, not far from Iowa, she said. "So, I may see if they can come meet me for a couple of hours on New Year's Day, but it's not likely."

Other reporters are also trying to find a way to merge work with family this year.

After spending the last few New Year's in New York City, NPR White House correspondent David Greene persuaded his wife to spend the weekend with him in Des Moines.

"She's heard me talk about Iowa for months, and she wanted to see it, herself. I'm hoping to take her to a fun dinner that night — maybe Dos Rios," Greene said. "Then, make it to the media party, and then, fit in karaoke! I'm sort of an addict."

But other journalists had a harder time luring spouses to the Hawkeye State.

Charlie Cook, publisher of the Cook Political Report, said he tried to persuade his wife to come to Iowa with him, but their three kids were finally going to be all at home, and she didn't want to miss them.

"I really like Iowa and the people there. I find them much nicer than people in New Hampshire, who tend to be more gruff and cynical. Must be the proximity to Boston," said Cook, who is dining at Barabak's table on New Year's Eve.

ABC News political director David Chalian is also looking forward to New Year's Eve in Iowa.

"I will be spending New Year's Eve at my favorite Des Moines restaurant — Lucca — with some friends. Then, on to the bipartisan bash," he said.

"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else this New Year's Eve, other than Iowa."