Rockin’ to the White House

By Margaret Manning
The connection between voter(or caucus-goer) and candidate is essential in the battle for support in the Iowa caucuses. Presidential candidates are utilizing any resources they have to ensure their messages are conveyed and the citizens of Iowa are committed to caucus.

Social media extends the reach of campaigns from the pages of a newspaper to the screen of a device, a fact easily observed among candidates in the 2016 presidential race. Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook have intensified the way candidates communicate and mobilize voters.

Hillary Clinton is “Just chillin’ in Cedar Rapids,” Governor O’Malley has a Snapchat geotag for his Des Moines headquarters, and Carly Fiorina’s “curse” is rivaling Marco Rubio’s fashionable shoe choice on Twitter.

In the case of traditional social media platforms, candidates have exhausted their capacities. However, there is another form of communication notably used during political events across the state of Iowa.

Music. It plays before rallies and town halls, sets the stage for candidates to enter, and energizes the crowd. From playlists on Spotify to music of their own, these presidential candidates are sending “good vibrations” to their audiences.


Bernie Sanders is on Spotify. The 74-year-old senator’s “Bernie Sanders for President” playlist carried Sanders’ message loud and clear during his town hall meeting at North Star Elementary school in Knoxville, Iowa on Dec. 31, as well as his New Year’s Eve celebration in downtown Des Moines.

Songs like Twisted Sisters’ “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and Muse’s “Uprising” made the list as well as R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know it.” Of course the crowd favorite was “Disco Inferno” by the Trammps.

Synonymous with his messages of “the real power in our country is corporate America” and “banker’s are too big to jail,” the Sanders’ campaign utilized songs from multiple generations to create an eclectic scene for a campaign rally.


The campaign of former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, strikes a different tune. According to O’Malley’s Iowa caucus director, Joe O’Hern, the governor’s campaign anthem is Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” and was even the candidate’s walk-out song at the Democrats’ annual Jefferson-Jackson fundraising dinner in Iowa.

Most notably, however, O’Malley marches to the beat of his own drum. The candidate’s band “O’Malley’s March,” has landed on many a Snapchat during O’Malley’s time in Iowa. In addition to the governor’s oratory ability, Martin O’Malley has no trouble making his presence known amid the cacophony of candidates.


Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has an anthem of his own. The southern native continuously highlighted his deep south, small town roots during his town hall in Urbandale, Iowa on Jan. 4.

Surrounded by homestyle food from the Machine Shed restaurant, Huckabee compared the presidential race to the fight for the NCAA National Championship, an approach that only a fellow SEC football supporter could successfully execute.

It is no surprise that Huckabee jams to Montgomery Gentry’s “My Town” while on the campaign trail. What better song to paint a picture of Huckabee’s hometown message? You can practically smell the food and hear the call of the Hogs.


Ohio Governor John Kasich was quick to answer a few questions at his Jan. 4 town hall in West Des Moines, Iowa then exit not only the building but the state. While he was not available for comment on his musical selection, a good choice for the Kasich campaign would be the Steve Miller Band’s “Take the Money and Run.” *Photo by Avery Woodard

CRUZIN’Cruz on stage

While not as hip as Senator Sanders and his playlist, Ted Cruz spared no expense to ensure his message of evangelical conservatism was heard loud and clear. The Bontrager Family Singers kicked off the well attended Cruz rally in Winterset, Iowa the night of Jan. 4.

The gospel, bluegrass group consisting of local Iowan homeschooled children played a variety of known worship songs such as “I’ll Fly Away” while also adding a new twist with original songs “In God We Still Trust,” “Call Me Old-Fashioned,” and the show closing “A Time for Truth” during which a clear endorsement of Senator Cruz was included in the last lines.

Cruz continued his strong Christian dialogue with the help of Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family. Cruz said he never tired of the rigorous campaign trail due to the constant re-energizing of the crowd and music, much like a pastor before a congregation.

“Pastor Cruz” shook hands with every supporter in the room while “It’s America” and “Life is a Highway” rocked the small theater. It is clear, Cruz is cruisin’ across America. *Photo by Zach Barnett


Former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was not without fanfare during her address at the Iowa West Community College in Council Bluffs on Jan. 5. The opening act for the standing room only rally was the Louis Central High School concert band playing a medley of songs from the “Star Wars Theme” to the University of Iowa fight song.

Clinton’s official Spotify playlist then filled the room with pop songs, the most notable being Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger.”

Clinton is the only candidate who has an official campaign Spotify account. Clinton attempts to reach her target audience of women with her playlist entitled “Girl Power” as well as her playlist “Team Hillary (hearts) Team U.S.A.” Songs like Beyoncé’s “Who Run the World,” and Martina McBride’s “This One’s for the Girls” fill the playlist with Hillary’s agenda to empower young women.

While repetitive after waiting for the infamously late Clinton to arrive, the secretary’s song selections are well planned. All three of the campaign’s Spotify playlists consist of catchy, high energy songs which every voter has heard on a radio station. The result of such planning is an entertained and energized crowd that is “For HER.”


Senator Marco Rubio did not stray far off the beaten path for his musical choices. Highlighting his slogan “A New American Century,” the junior Florida senator sticks to songs like Rodney Atkins’ “Take a Backroad” and the ever so patriotic “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood.

While the songs fit well with Rubio’s consistent message and official backdrop which is set up for every event, they seem rigid and impersonal.

Rubio himself has a personal playlist on Spotify that would serve him better to energize his audience and make the famous candidate appear more human. It would be nice for voters to know their candidate listens to artists like Flo Rida and Foster the People.

Songs of American pride serve Rubio’s patriotic tour well, but a little Kanye West isn’t bad every now and then. After all, he’s on the Senator’s top 10 list.*Photo by Zach Barnett


Dr. Ben Carson, like Governor Kasich, has no official playlist and his musical preference is not known. However, after his event in a café in Winterset, Iowa on Jan. 6, it was evident Carson’s song selection could be “Help” by the Beatles.

His unorganized and rather hectic town hall meeting sends out a cry for help to get the doctor’s “feet back on the ground.” Won’t you please, please help him heal, inspire and revive America?


Queen’s “We Will Rock You” blared throughout the small backroom bar of Buzzard Billy’s in downtown Des Moines for Senator Rand Paul’s birthday bash on Jan. 7. Rand and about 100 of his closest friends squeezed into the room to celebrate the libertarian’s birthday.

Of course “Happy Birthday” was shouted as the candidate entered the room, but Andy Gramer’s “Good To Be Alive” was a warm up song while waiting for Paul. “We Will Rock You” was the crowd favorite and fit nicely with the exclamations of “President Paul” and “End the Fed.”

Not the songs of choice for a birthday party, but for Rand Paul, they seem to set the perfect mood to raise a glass of Fat Tire(“President Paul’s” personal favorite and talk about shrinking government intervention.


Donald J. Trump takes the cake for best use of musical messaging. Held in the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, the Trump rally was comparable to a rock concert. The venue itself stood as a museum decked in 50s jukeboxes and dinner booths from the days when Buddy Holly rocked the stage for his final performance.

Equipped with large monitors and decorative curtains, audience members in the standing-room-only crowd seemed not to notice the lack of space as they sang along to songs like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” Aerosmith’s “Come Together,” and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.”

As Trump took to the stage Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” rippled through the crowd from the speakers. Trump, the eye of the tiger, was met with thunderous applause.

Trump’s “I am not a politician” message registered with the crowd. His strategy to make a political rally seem un-political was executed successfully through the power of rock n’roll. The crowd left Trump’s event energized with the message of “Don’t Stop Believing” we can “Make America Great Again.”

*To learn more about your presidential candidate in one song or less, follow the “One Note. One Vote” playlist created by @ml_manning.