Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), ahead or tied for the lead in most recent Iowa polls, is making a six-day primary-season pilgrimage across Iowa this week, looping around the state on a journey that began Monday in the center of the state, in the town of Boone. Here's the view from the press bus on Day One.
8:30 a.m., Des Moines
It's time to go.
9:45 a.m., Boone, Iowa
We arrive at the first stop of the day, a speech at a Christian bookstore nestled between a gas station and a Walmart. Cruz heads off his bus to speak with the press. Of course there's a comment about the weather.
The media throng streams into the small store. ("It's like a clown car," said one woman.) The distractions kept coming: A chime kept ringing out when someone opened the door — an interruption Cruz called "fun, kind of like being on a game show." When a cell phone rang with the theme to a Clint Eastwood Western, Cruz did an impression of the actor.
Cruz also made news, stating he believes the standoff in Oregon should end peacefully and that he would repeal President Obama's executive actions on guns.
Noon, somewhere in Iowa
Reporters got a barbecue lunch on the bus. I didn't spill any on myself, so 2016 is starting out well. The Iowa landscape is bleakly beautiful — snow on farmland under a gray sky.
12:30 p.m., Carroll, Iowa
Cruz is holding an event at a bar here that advertises having eight beers on tap, fried pickles and a $1.50 Bud special on Mondays. The stump speech happens again, but this time a man shakes a cowbell when people applaud.
3:00 p.m., Guthrie Center, Iowa
A Cruz supporter sat at the bar at the next stop, drinking a beer. People waited and Cruz showed up — only to tape a segment for "Hannity" that would air on Fox News later in the night.
When he was done: cheers. Then it was on to the stump speech. He's going to "repeal every word of Obamacare" and every "illegal and unconstitutional" executive action of Obama., abolish the Department of Education and change the tax system so people can file their taxes on a postcard. Cruz stood in the middle of a group of tables. A little girl waved to him much of the time. The two later talked about their birthdays.
5:00 p.m., somewhere in Iowa
It's getting dark.
6:00 p.m., Winterset, Iowa
Cruz talked to the media, standing in front of a backdrop with his logo on it — the kind people are photographed in front of at award shows. Inside, an Iowa family music group sings a song they wrote about Cruz.
No stump speech here — Cruz had a chat with James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family and Cruz surrogate. He discussed his faith and quoted the Bible; he asked people to pray for his children. The ceiling leaked. Cruz said if Hillary Clinton is elected the Supreme Court will rule that no American has the right to bear arms and the government could make firearm ownership a felony. A man in the back yells: "Come and take it!"
10:30 p.m., Missouri Valley, Iowa It's late and Penny's, a 24-hour diner whose blue plate special is a hot meatloaf sandwich for $7.99 and desserts are cinnamon rolls and bread pudding, is packed with Cruz supporters and media - it's hard to move around. It's the last stop of the day. Cruz gets behind the diner counter and holds a full carafe of coffee, walking over toward mugs. He pours cups. He stands in front of a shelf holding diner replicas and cups decorated for holidays. He jokes about taking orders - "hash browns and eggs over easy." Another joke, about how the etymology of "politics" is poly, for many, and tics, for blood-sucking. Another round of his stump speech. He finishes up and shakes hands and snaps selfies with voters until well after 11.