THE BLOG
01/21/2016 11:24 pm ET Updated Jan 21, 2017

Iowa: Destination for Political Tourists

Kelly Fratar and Nikki Maziasz traded a mild California winter for the below-freezing temperatures, and the heat, of the Iowa caucuses.

Although the 2016 Presidential race dominates newspapers, television and social media this month, for Fratar and Maziasz the 24-hour news cycle wasn't enough. The two baby boomers still felt distant from the candidates.

"We're from California, so we're the last ones - this thing will be a shoo-in once it gets to us," Maziasz said. "That's why we're here. We don't get this detailed politics in California."

As the first state to choose a Republican and a Democratic presidential candidate, Iowa is a special in each presidential election cycle. Hopefuls flock to the state, giving Iowans personalized, up-close attention that other states do not receive.

But it wasn't just the Presidential hopefuls who flocked to the state in late January. Iowa attracts all types of political tourists in the buildup to caucus night.

Some, like Fatar and Maziasz, flew in to observe the candidates so they could make informed votes in their home states. Others flew in from countries as far away as New Zealand to get firsthand exposure to "fascinating and entertaining" United States politics.

Many, like Jackson Davis, traveled to Iowa as part of the campaigns.

Davis was a junior film major at Emerson College before taking a semester off to be part of Bernie Sanders' Digital Road Team. He enjoyed the involved experience he got from traveling with Sanders, but also appreciated how social media had others 'feeling the Bern.'

"It's been a whirlwind, an honest once-in-a-lifetime experience," Davis said. "Traditional volunteer efforts are still vital and effective, but you don't have to go door-to-door canvassing to make a difference anymore. The digital grassroots movement of Bernie 2016 is not only massive, but also very inclusive."

Jenny Barin, from FWD.us, also understands the power of social media on the 2016 election cycle - but like Davis, she traveled to Iowa hoping to impact the election on a more personal level.

Barin, 23, and two colleagues attended town meetings and other events for candidates of both parties, and asked questions about immigration policies. The group also pushed for voter engagement in Des Moines. Although FWD.us constantly campaigns online for immigration rights, Barin hoped she had much greater impact as a political tourist.

"Being at the center of the political universe is really cool," Barin said. "I'm surprised when I go to an event with Rand Paul or Marco Rubio, and not everyone there is a Republican, not everyone there is even registered. I love the variety of political views, and I feel comfortable engaging and asking questions and listening. It's really cool, I wish everyone could get treated the way that Iowans are right before the caucuses."