DES MOINES, Iowa — The last time the Super Bowl collided with the Iowa Caucuses, Ronald Reagan was beginning his dramatic run for the presidency in 1980. This weekend, 40 years later, Iowa’s bars were again a battleground where presidential candidates were competing against quarterbacks for attention.
A bar just a block from the Iowa State Capitol created cocktails named after candidates to start a conversation.
“Iowa has a culture of politics here that still wants to have a conversation,” said Nightingale bar manager Hailey Workman. “In some places people are too angry or too closed down to the other side and they shut down and don’t want to talk about [politics].”
Workman said Nightingale created drinks that would poke fun at both sides of the aisle to create an equal playing field. The “Orange U Impeached,” played opposite of the “Joe Malarkey,” and “Feel the Bern.”
Not every bar said they felt politics should be discussed. One door down, a local gay bar, Blazing Saddles, hung political posters like football jerseys. “Elizabeth Warren for Women,” rainbow “Bernie Sanders for President” and “PETE” in all capital letters hung in the same window.
Ironically, Blazing Saddle bartender for nearly 30 years, Greg Chamberlain, said that it was too awkward to talk politics in his bar.
“It’ll probably be like Thanksgiving dinner,” Chamberlain said. “You won’t talk about politics unless you’re in an enclosed group where it’s safe to talk about politics.”
Chamberlain explained that even for a bar that leans blue like Blazing Saddle, Democrats are so divided that discussing party politics can get heated. He said he worried a little bit about watching the Super Bowl at the bar because customers can’t escape the political ads.
“Most [political ads] will be received pretty respectfully, because somewhere in the room, it could be one of their candidates,” Chamberlain said.
Some Iowans said they are sick of politics all together. Shops sold T-shirts reading “Iowa: apparently you have to come here to be President!,” across the street from Nightingale.
Some Iowans seemed quite aware of the irony of their position. One blue voter, John Bailey, said he wishes Democrats would immediately choose a candidate so the non-stop political ads would end.
“I just want to get past all of this crap, find out who’s going to be the nominee, vote and get it over with so that we can restore sanity,” Bailey said.
The worst thing to Bailey isn’t the annoying ads, but the way it ruins his Super Bowl experience. He said that he doesn’t know what friends fall on which side of the aisle during Super Bowl watch parties.
“You have to see all of these political ads and it just creates these awkward moments,” Bailey said. “Some people are internally cheering and some people are internally hissing.”
But what does Bailey hate most about ads? He said he can’t stand when people with similar political views start attacking each other.
“You have Republicans attacking other Republicans and Democrats attacking other Democrats and it just feels really weird and awkward,” Bailey said.
As an Iowan who grew up in a red town and lives in a blue city, Des Moines, Workman said night life can be a place to talk politics without fear of judgement like her family during the holidays.
“My family talks about politics on Christmas and we talked about politics at Thanksgiving because the minute you start to put guard rails on people’s freedom of speech is the minute things start to go wrong,” Workman said.
Candidates seem to get the message, too. During a normal Iowa Caucus, all eyes would be on the races, but all eyes were on the Super Bowl this weekend. Rather than final rallies in packed halls, candidates made their cases in packed bars while watching the San Francisco 49ers’ play the Kansas City Chiefs.
After a fourth-quarter comeback, the Chiefs prevailed 31-20 to win Super Bowl LIV.