Obama spends Earth Day in Newton

President Obama makes his first trip back to Iowa today since taking the oath of office.  His last visit to Iowa came on Halloween, 2008. 


His visit to the old Maytag washer and dryer factory on the north side of Newton is an Earth Day moment, intended to highlight the conversation of this plant by Trinity Structural Towers into a place where the huge towers that support wind turbines are built.  About 140 people are employed here.  Some of them were waiting outside the plant at 10 o'clock, but they declined to speak with reporters.

An anti-abortion protester was stationed right across the street from the plant, advising reporters that they would not report about his presence (proving his wrong with this sentence, I am).  Someone soon pulled up with a boom box.  It was tuned to KGGO, a local Des Moines "classic rock" station and the sound was turned way up, to drown out the protester.  The first song we heard was U2's "Bloody Sunday."

A business across the street from the factory which sells scooters is celebrating Earth Day/Obama's visit by having its selection of scooters lined up outside in the parking lot, festooned with balloons to attract attention.  A few folks were observed strolling by the scooters, but we saw no sales made during our time outside, waiting in line to enter the facility.

An Obama advance person advised the waiting "throng" of local reporters and photographers to stand on the grass, not the driveway into this facility.  To some, this seemed a celebratory Earth Day moment.  Others feared the trampling would kill the grass.  Soon, orders were issued that the media types were to line up, two-by-two, on the sidewalk stretching east and west along the factory's outer fence line.  Thus, the grass was saved from intense trampling.

As we made our way closer to the door, a television truck celebrated Earth Day by firing up their fossil-fuel-powered generator.  Plumes of fumes floated over the waiting journalists.

Once past the security check, journalists found a set up with provides a folding table for the small but hardy group of Iowa journalists with laptops and the three radio folks who are here.  Newsman Randy Van from Newton radio station KCOB is set up at this table, ready to broadcast the event live.  Iowa Public Radio's Jeneane Beck — a former KCOB employee — is sitting next to Mr. Van.  I am sitting to Jeneane's right, plunking away on the laptop.

A small stage is set up.  An American flag, a dark blue flag with the prsidential seal and a lectern are featured.  In front of the stage, there's an array of nearly 200 chairs for the invited guests.  Former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack is here, as are several legislators, Secretary of State Michael Mauro (who endorsed HRC before the Caucuses) and Attorney General Tom Miller (who endorsed Obama during Obama's first trip to Iowa in 2007). 

There's a literal hum of electricity in the air.  Trails of flourescent lights are high above on the ceiling of this manufacturing plant, but a separate lighting and electrical system have been brought in to power all the media equipment and special lighting for the event itself.

UPDATE:  I was in the "local pool" which means I was walking around in a glob of reporters, photographers and sound people as Obama toured the factory.  He talked with plant managers.  At two points in the tour, though, he talked with workers.  You may listen to what two workers had to say about their conversation with the president.  The quality of the sound file is not great; when the president's helicopter landed, the workers fired up the machines and the noise overrode my Marantz' ability to get clear audio.

UPDATE II:  Jonathan Martin from The Politico asked press secretary Robert Gibbs about the "Iowa experience." 

UPDATE III:  Here's the first Radio Iowa storyAnd here's another — about tire gauges. That second story includes Obama's reference to compact fluorescent lightbulbs. He called them "squirrelly." 

Both stories have an audio link at the bottom of the page if you'd like to listen to Obama's 34 minute long speech.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.