Fact Checker

Fact Checker: Has Beto O'Rourke visited the most Iowa counties? Depends on when you start counting

For Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, his wife, Amy O'Rourke, and their three children arrive at a Fourth of July parade in Independence. He was one of three Democratic presidential candidates — including former Vice President Joe Biden and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio — who appeared at the Buchanan County parade. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
For Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, his wife, Amy O'Rourke, and their three children arrive at a Fourth of July parade in Independence. He was one of three Democratic presidential candidates — including former Vice President Joe Biden and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio — who appeared at the Buchanan County parade. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Claim

“O’Rourke has visited more Iowa counties than any other presidential candidate this cycle.”

Source: Beto for America, the campaign for 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, in a June 24 news release promoting a July visit to Iowa.

Analysis

Visiting all 99 counties in Iowa is a rite of passage for some politicians.

There’s even a nickname for it — the “full Grassley,” named after longtime Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley’s annual visits to each Iowa county. Other politicians have attempted to replicate it.

In 2012, presidential hopeful and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum campaigned in all 99 counties leading up to his surprise Iowa caucuses win. This time around, several candidates have been working to get out of the cities to connect with rural voters.

Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney’s campaign provided documentation that he had held 330 events covering all 99 counties, and this year alone had visited 40 Iowa counties. Politico reported that Delaney, who launched his campaign in July 2017 and began visiting Iowa as a candidate that August, made it to all 99 counties by August 2018.

In the news release, the Beto for America team stated, “Since launching his bid for the White House, O’Rourke has held 83 Iowa events and town halls in 40 counties to meet with, listen to, and learn from Iowans in every corner of the state.”

In response to a request from the Fact Checker, on July 8 it provided a list of counties the candidate had visited, with details about the stops — meet and greets, house parties, town halls, a 5K run, a flood tour in Davenport, and a canvass kickoff — since the former Texas congressman announced he was running for president on March 14. By July 8, he had made it to 43 Iowa counties.

From what the campaign had seen, “this is the highest number of counties in the field,” O’Rourke’s team said in an email.

The campaign said it tracks campaign visits for O’Rourke as well as other candidates internally and checks the Des Moines Register’s candidate tracker regularly. The campaign provided no data on other candidates’ visits.

The Register’s tracker appears to be missing some stops. For Delaney, the Register identifies 90 counties visited, and for O’Rourke 39 counties visited.

After being contacted by Fact Checker, the O’Rourke team seemed to acknowledge the discrepancy in its claim by changing its messaging in a July 9 news release promoting a July 19-20 visit to Northwest Iowa. This time, it changed the claim to ”visited more Iowa counties than any other presidential candidate this year.”

Conclusion

While O’Rourke has held many more stops in Iowa and visited more counties than most of the more than 20 Democratic candidates in the field, his campaign was incorrect stating he has visited the most counties this cycle. That title clearly belongs to Delaney, the first Democrat to declare. The O’Rourke campaign has since corrected the wording by accurately stating O’Rourke has visited more counties than any other candidate so far this year. His 43 visits are more than Delaney’s 40 counties this year, and more than Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan’s 35 this year.

The campaign’s initial claim of most counties visited this cycle by any candidate gets an F.

Criteria

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads that appear in our market. Claims must be independently verifiable.

We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at factchecker@thegazette.com.

This Fact Checker was researched and written by B.A. Morelli of The Gazette.

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