As I cradled my 1-year-old last night, I caught a whiff of Marco Rubio’s cologne in her hair. He held her yesterday afternoon after his Cedar Rapids, Iowa, rally, lifting her in the kind of staged political embrace that somehow involved nuzzling her cheek. The photographer from the local daily newspaper managed to capture the exchange moments before Jane burst into tears.

I suppose you could say I’m the political equivalent of a dance mom, one who will drag my well-coiffed daughters around to chase the next twinkling opportunity – only our trophy is a brush with the next president of the United States.

Hillary Clinton gushed over the valentine my 2-year-old had made her, raising her eyebrows and dropping her jaw with convincing enthusiasm. (I was rather proud of the “Be My President” verbiage, which quickly made its way onto the HillaryforIA Twitter account.) Carly Fiorina paused in the midst of answering a question in Manchester to comment on my daughter’s fox shoes. “I’m a shoe girl too,” she said. “You’ve got it going on.”

Jeb Bush greeted my disinterested daughters with the patience that has been a hallmark of his sputtering campaign. And Donald Trump ditched us on the windblown outskirts of an airport hangar without the guts to look us in the eye or wave goodbye. He slipped into the far side of a black SUV parked between his Boeing 757 and the crowd. Through the tinted windows, I could see him turn his face away from us to gaze at the jet he had made a centerpiece of his meandering speech. It felt as if he were avoiding eye contact, and even the couple behind me bickering about whether or not Ted Cruz is eligible for the presidency stared in glum silence as he rode away.

The access Iowans enjoy to their future president and his or her primary contestants never ceases to amaze me. So, too, am I surprised by how few take full advantage of the up-close availability. We’re not just talking a five-second photo-op but, if you’re willing to hug the rope line and wait it out, an actual conversation. Even fewer bring young children. My husband and I were sometimes the only ones with toddlers at these pre-caucus weekend rallies, which boosted our already-good chances of meeting the candidates. One campaign staffer handed us a political sign and asked us for a family photo as Carly Fiorina lifted my 2-year-old onto her lap.

Hey, every presidential candidate needs a baby, and I have no problem being the mom who supplies one.

My husband, a native Iowan, shares my interest in presidential politics, so we decided to throw out the nap schedule and maximize our visit to his family farm.

A secret-service guy from Hillary Clinton’s Friday speech in Dubuque smiled knowingly as we walked through the scanner at Donald Trump’s Saturday speech in Dubuque. “I see what you’re doing,” he said.

By the time we were driving to our fourth event of the weekend, our 2-year-old cried out, “I never want to go to a rally again!”

But we aren’t using the girls for our benefit, as one Twitter user suggested. We’re doing this for them. From the long waits to the tight crowds, taking toddlers to presidential rallies proved the most exhausting thing we have done as parents. But we think they’ll appreciate the photos one day, especially if Hillary Clinton becomes our first female president. We want to demonstrate what it looks like to be a participant in national politics, not just an arm-chair commentator.

I didn’t hear a single speech in its entirety, just as I haven’t taken in an unabridged homily since becoming a mom. But standing in the back of the room, you get a different vantage point that can round out your perspective.

We may look disingenuous, hitting up back-to-back rallies, leapfrogging from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. (I never spotted another repeat rally-goer.) But I think it’s prudent – and utterly democratic – to shop around. And yes, I like the pictures.

Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn.

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