37 Down, 62 to Go

During the campaign cycle before the Iowa GOP Caucuses, Senator Rick Santorum and Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann both completed “The Full Grassley,” visiting all 99 of Iowa’s counties. (The feat takes its name from Senator Chuck Grassley, who allegedly has visited all 99 counties in each of his 30+ years in elected office). Senator Santorum did his Full Grassley the smart way: he basically lived here for a year, took his time working his way around the state, got to see its sights and know its people, and reaped the benefit of his retail policking with a neck-and-neck finish with the better-financed favorite, Governor Mitt Romney. Representative Bachmann, on the other hand, tried to pull it off as a 10-day stunt, which was disastrous for her, as her chronic late appearances, visible fatigue, and lightly-attended campaign events made her and her team look inept, not connected at a grassroots level.

As a new Iowan, and given my penchant for punishing endeavors, I really like the idea of completing my own Full Grassley, and have already made several day and overnight trips around the state toward that end. I’m doing it all on the road (I suspect Senator Grassley flies in to some key cities around the state when he’s making his rounds), and trying to find a balance between the Santorum and Bachmann approaches: taking time between trips, but making every trip count. Sometimes Marcia and I travel together, and sometimes I venture solo. Here’s a graphic of the counties I have visited to date (we live in Polk County, fourth row from the bottom, sixth from the left):

I have visited the 37 shaded counties as of January 26.

While it would obviously be easy (or at least easier) in some cases to just drive over a county line, or walk a circle around the many “four (county) corners” in the state, then drive on to the next destination, I am making a fairly serious effort to experience the counties in more meaningful ways: either by spending a sizable amount of time in them by fully transecting them from side-to-side or top-to-bottom, or by visiting signature county landmarks, or by having meals in great local restaurants. The breadth and depth of variety around the state is wonderful, and I appreciate seeing it up close and personal.

Monday and Tuesday this week, I will be doing this, with an overnight stop near Donnellson, from where I also plan to visit Keokuk, in the far southeast corner of the state. That region is known for Bald Eagles, fossils, and geodes, so it fits in well with many of my geeky interests and pursuits. When I get back Tuesday night, I will have shaded the entire southeastern corner in the map above, bringing my county total to 54. I will dispatch a good chunk of northeast Iowa over the next month or so, too, via trips to and from Clinton and Dubuque (in Iowa) and Chicago.

My goal is to complete the Full Grassley before I start working again full time, which (hopefully) will be sooner rather than later. So I may end up doing a mad Bachmann dash at some point if one of several employment prospects pans out soon, though for now, I’m savoring the luxury of getting to spend quality time all around my new state. It’s doing wonders in terms of making me feel like Iowa and Des Moines really are home.