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The interviewee strikes back

Des Moines clothing store makes fun of the Iowa caucus media frenzy

Shirts for out-of-town media. Photo: Lars Gesing/CU News Corps

Shirts for out-of-town media. Photo: Lars Gesing/CU News Corps

Shirts for out-of-town media. Photo: Lars Gesing/CU News Corps

Lars Gesing, CU News Corps Assistant Director

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Logo final_highDES MOINES, Iowa – “Sorry to interrupt your meal, but are you alive and have an opinion on the election?“

Being an Iowan during the caucus and general election season isn’t always easy.

There’s a reporter lurking at every corner, looking for man-on-the-street insights on the first-in-the-nation caucus. (We plead guilty as charged. States in Play has interrupted plenty of Iowans in their daily routines these last few days.)

And so as hosts of reporters gear up to descend on Iowa once again for the looming 2016 caucus cycle, Raygun – a printing and clothing store in the Des Moines East Village – welcomes them with a fair bit of biting Iowan humor.

Just a few blocks down the road from the state capitol — the hackneyed backdrop to many a political reporter’s latest TV dispatch from the heartland — the shop ridicules Iowa’s role in the presidential nomination process and the ensuing media frenzy on t-shirts, postcards and just about everything else that would carry a print.

“We are always making fun of ourselves,” says Jennifer Leatherby, a designer at Raygun. “The political nature of Iowa as this stronghouse is still a phenomenon, even though it has always been that way. If you want to be the president you have to come to Iowa. Thus the media always comes. This is our way of saying, ‘Props to them.’”

Raygun designer Jennifer Leatherby works on some new ideas. Photo: Lars Gesing/CU News Corps

Raygun designer Jennifer Leatherby, 29, works on some new ideas. Photo: Lars Gesing/CU News Corps

Leatherby says it was the store’s owner, Mike Draper, an active Democrat in the state, who came up with the idea after more than a decade of living in the East Village and regularly seeing TV reporters and their crews shuffling around to get the capitol stand-up money shot.

Most of Raygun’s shirts and goods take humorous aim at the pride and prejudice that comes with being a Midwesterner.

“When a presidential candidate comes here, his whole thing is to try to capture rural America,” Leatherby says. “They always go to the Iowa state fair. Hence our joke, ‘Is there a bale of hay I can interview you next to?’”

The store’s ridiculing of out-of-town reporters has brought it national media attention. (While we reporters take our job seriously, most of us do like to laugh at ourselves from time to time.) Just in the last few weeks, CNN and C-SPAN took a brief hiatus from tracking the presidential candidates’ every – and many – step in the state to produce a story on Raygun’s latest marketing coup.   

Leatherby says the media shirts are more a humorous statement than a moneymaker but would provide the store with a great deal of free advertising.

“Even though we make fun of it all, we really appreciate the news media,” she says. “We know that you have to come here to do your job.”

Even if that means having to answer the same questions every four years.


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