WINTERSET, Iowa (Jan. 29, 2016) – The road to the presidency is paved through America’s heartland, along county roads far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city.
That’s what brought us to Winterset on Friday, three days before the Iowa Caucuses.
“Our community is very nostalgic,” Heather Riley said, executive director of the local county chamber.
Winterset is the famed birthplace of John Wayne and its covered bridges are the inspiration behind the bestseller “The Bridges of Madison County.”
“We’re proud of our community and like to show it off,” Marcia Sparks said, a longtime resident and owner The Bakery Unlimited.
Winterset, like many other Iowa towns spattered with campaign buses every four years, is one of those towns presidential hopefuls would otherwise probably fly over.
“We’ve had Ben Carson, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee all come through this café,” Walter Jahncke said, owner of the Northside Café.
Winterset is also one of those towns its residents would never leave.
“We’re smart, we’re educated, we’re savvy,” Riley said.
And Iowans know how to have a little fun with the caucuses, too.
The grill at the Northside Café has been sizzling this election cycle, ever since the restaurant rolled out its “Trump burger,” a third of a pound of beef layered between a half-pound of ham.
“Before we knew it, everyone in the world was talking about it,” Jahncke said.
In fact, a news crew from Japan showed up shortly after us Friday to inquire.
“Everybody loves it,” Mark Anderson said, the café’s chef. “Yesterday like a 10-year-old kid ordered it, his mom let him order it, and he ate the whole thing.”
Trump has traveled to Winterset twice this season. He recently received the endorsement of John Wayne’s daughter here.
Hillary Clinton made a campaign stop, too.
“He came through kind of like the king with his motorcade and stuff,” Riley said. “It’s just kind of a spectacle.”
In three days, Iowans will take their first-in-the-nation status to heart.
“Well we usually have a pretty good turnout,” Sparks said. “And I’ll be there.”
Iowans know their sometimes shaky track record.
“I feel like Iowans has picked winners in my mind,” Jahncke said. “They just weren’t the winners of the election.”
But they are sure proud of their history and responsibility.
“I think it’s an opportunity,” Riley said. “And knowing they want to come here and talk to our citizens, that’s special and that’s cool and I think we all appreciate it.”