03/28/2008 02:48 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Des Moines T-Shirt Shop A Hotspot For Campaign Stories and Faces

Elana Berkowitz and Mark Pike, OffTheBus correspondents, follow the youth beat this week while traveling through Iowa.

Smash, a local Des Moines shop offering new and vintage clothing run by two young designers, has become a regular spot for young campaign staffers, roving journalists and volunteers who pick of hand silk-screened t-shirts with assorted slogans like "Rock Out With Your Caucus Out." Co-owner Mike Draper, 25, says that all the additional visitors from the flood of folks who just can't get enough of caucusing in the snow has mean more than $35,000 in additional business. But business isn't all they get.

For the swarms of bloggers and newspaper reporters trying to figure out what new news we can possibly wring out of the caucuses, the cliché of the "colorful local joint" has become a staple. (Things have been getting desperate. I have twice in one day seen reporters at campaign events prowling about for lively, atmospheric quotes or even the hint of a "trend" afoot and then accidentally interviewing other reporters, realizing their mistake and then disappointedly shrugging their shoulders and walking away.) Visit the Waveland Café for breakfast and you are bound to find someone from CNN casing the joint for a broadcast later that week or a print reporter moving through rows of maple-syrup spattered linoleum counters asking middle-aged patrons for caucus predictions. For those stalking stories of young people during election season, Smash can be relied on for those in need of "color."

After bantering about which campaigns had the cute staffers, Draper claimed: "look, the Harvard track political type people just don't think appearance is as important as, say, friends at a community college so it's hard to say much about campaigners' looks. I mean, when I was in school in Pennsylvania and we'd visit the local community college, our heads would just explode, hottest women ever."

The Obama offices are right down the block so they get lots of campaign visitors. In fact, a senior campaign official purchased a shirt for Michelle Obama reading "January 20, 2009: Hang in America." Good thing, then, that both Draper and co-owner Garrett Cornelison will be caucusing for Obama. Their three part-time employees are caucusing and supporting Obama, Huckabee and Ron Paul respectively.


For those who lament the supposed apathy of the youth vote, Draper wryly admonished, "Don't worry, the arty Des Moines kids will be attending the caucuses."