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'Tranquility' Is A Way Station On Iowa's Campaign Trail


OK, let's turn now to Snapshots 2016. This is what we're calling a series of audio portraits of people we have met out on the campaign trail - people who are swept into the momentum when a candidate comes to town. This morning, NPR's Tamara Keith introduces us to an Iowan who opens up his home to campaign employees, volunteers, even some of the candidates.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: To get to Tranquility, you have to drive two and half hours north and a little bit east of Des Moines, Iowa.

KURT MEYER: We are out in the middle of nowhere, as we can see - as you can plainly see.

KEITH: You are.

MEYER: Welcome. It's great to see you.

KEITH: Thank you. Good to see you.

Kurt Meyer meets me in the front yard of the house he calls Tranquility.

MEYER: So this is our digs.

KEITH: It's a very comfortable and beautiful home at the end of a gravel road, just south of the Minnesota border. Meyer and his wife built the house a decade ago on the land where he grew up.

MEYER: We thought, you know, this will just be kind of low-key. And no one will ever know we're here, and we're tucked back in.

KEITH: The plan was to get out of the city and unwind, have a house where their adult children could celebrate holidays and get away from it all, but then he became a Democratic activist.

MEYER: I'm the chair of the Tri-County Democrats, which is Worth, Mitchell and Howard Counties.

KEITH: And their home became a way station for those campaigning in this rural part of Iowa.

MEYER: We have felt for some time that if political candidates or their staff are willing to make the pilgrimage to North Iowa, the least we can do is show hospitality. And it's also a wonderful way to get to know these people who make our political system work.

KEITH: Tranquility is a place where there's always a free bed or couch for a day or two or a month. There's hot coffee and a warm breakfast.


KEITH: Wearing an apron, Kurt Meyer tosses some little sizzlers and spam in a piping hot frying pan.

MEYER: You're extending hospitality, and hospitality is a big part of how politics works.

KEITH: On the morning I stopped by, a regional director for one of the presidential campaigns was set up at the kitchen counter, working on his laptop.

MEYER: Water?


KEITH: And not long ago, Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley spent the night and, Meyer says, gave the house a big endorsement.

MEYER: He's sitting here, and this was Saturday morning. He was just drinking coffees. I really don't want to go.

KEITH: That's right about the time several deer walked past the windows. Meyer says spending time with staff and candidates in this way gives them a different view than seeing a candidate give a stump speech.

MEYER: That's insightful, but equally insightful is what they say afterwards. The other thing that I always point out is it's one thing to talk to the candidate. It's quite another to talk to the staff, and that's when you find out what's really going on.

KEITH: As a county party chair, he hasn't endorsed anyone in the presidential race yet, which means there's an open invitation if Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton is looking for a place to stay in the-middle-of-nowhere Iowa, just south of the Minnesota border. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Tranquility. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.