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Des Moines Register: News media stalk Iowans

By Mark Siebert/Des Moines Register

January 18, 2000
Web posted at: 1:17 p.m. EST (1817 GMT)

Des Moines Register DES MOINES, Iowa (Des Moines Register) --Mild-mannered college professor Hugh Winebrenner, every four years, changes into super source.

Even before Winebrenner finishes his morning coffee, a Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter calls. Winebrenner unfolds his Wall Street Journal for a quick glance at which quote of his they used. The night before, he had eight seconds of national TV time with CBS's Bob Schieffer.

Usually, Winebrenner is a professor of public administration at Drake University. He also studies presidential campaigning and wrote a book on the Iowa caucuses. So any national political reporter worth his or her laptop has Winebrenner on speed dial.

These days they're using it.

In the span of two hours one morning last week, telephone calls came in to Winebrenner's Clive home from CNN, CBS, Fox News and the Associated Press bureau in Chicago.

Winebrenner's not alone, of course.

The media, politicians and seemingly anyone with an agenda has briefly turned their attention to Iowa and Iowans.

What concerns Iowans?

What do we think of the candidates?

Are we turned off by negative campaigning?

In the future, Andy Warhol once said, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.

The exceptions, of course, are Iowa and New Hampshire, where the spotlight of fleeting fame sweeps through every four years.

Know who Chris Petersen is?

Germans soon will.

Petersen is the Clear Lake farmer asked to stand by Vice President Al Gore during a nationally televised Democratic presidential debate on Jan. 8.

Petersen is amazed by the avalanche of attention that followed.

The second-in-command at the White House listened to his worries about family farmers.

So did a slew of reporters.

"I'm extracting every bit of use I can out of them," Petersen said. "I'm trying to get awareness out here."

Public television is scheduled to come to his farm this week. A German television crew already visited.

Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the front-runners to win their parties' presidential nominations, have both called on Rosa Mendoza.

Mendoza runs a multicultural center in Muscatine. She usually shies away from attention, but she can't get the presidential campaigns off the phone - at least that's what she said in a front-page story in the Los Angeles Times about the courting of Hispanic voters.

"It's just outrageous how big things have gotten. It's crazy," she said.

Ten-year-old Rafael Luna of Des Moines was on the Drake campus Monday for a Martin Luther King Day forum.

So was Bill Bradley. So was a reporter from the El Paso Times, who wanted to know how many Hispanics went to Rafael's school.

"And she wanted to know who I wanted to be president and stuff," Rafael said.

In other words, Iowans, if you haven't been interviewed by a reporter, shown on TV, called by a pollster or pandered to by the next leader of the free world, then you haven't been trying.

The attention can be more than just brief.

It can be painful.

Mendoza had to do damage control. The L.A. Times story referred to Muscatine as the "fading Pearl of the Mississippi," a comment some locals mistakenly thought was Mendoza's.

Some of the spotlight's luster has faded for Winebrenner, too.

"I don't want to sound blase about it, but there aren't too many things that make my blood pressure go up with excitement," said Winebrenner, a veteran of five presidential caucuses.

He doesn't cut out stories he's quoted in. (He's logged more than 60 media calls since Jan. 1.) He'll tape-record his TV appearances, but usually tapes over them.

His phone rings again.

This time it's not a reporter but US West wanting to know whether Winebrenner wants caller identification.

He laughs. "No, I like being surprised by who's calling me."

ELECTION 2000

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