Tales from the Trail

Notes from West Liberty, Iowa

(View an in-depth look at scenes from Iowa and New Hampshire in a downloadable pdf format here and a look ahead to the primaries here)


West Liberty is Iowa’s first Hispanic-majority city. Fifty-two percent of the people in this town of about 3,700 are Hispanic, according to the latest U.S. Census. It’s a number that would be impressive in any state. But it’s especially noteworthy in Iowa, an overwhelmingly white corner of the America Heartland where just 5 percent of the population statewide is Hispanic.

The town, located between Davenport and Iowa City, has long had a sizable and growing Hispanic population. The reason? The major employer here is West Liberty Foods, a 260,000-square-foot food processing plant that employs about 850 workers.

The big product the plant cranks out is turkey. Each year, about 5 million live birds go in end of the West Liberty Foods plant and come out the other as about 200 million pounds of processed turkey product of one kind or another, some of it actually recognizable.

Slaughtering, gutting, dismembering, processing and packing the big birds is dirty, difficult and dangerous work. The lines where the workers slice, saw, claw and carve the turkeys move at a fast clip. Fifty-one birds are killed every minute, according to plant manager Tom Alberti, meaning 51 birds a minute move down the line.

Controversial Obama ad revives immigration issue

Immigration has been absent from the presidential campaign for months, but it came to the front again this week in a controversial television spot for Barack Obama.

The Democratic presidential candidate sought to cast Republican rival John McCain as an anti-Hispanic hard-liner and link him to talk radio host Rush Limbaugh.

The Spanish language TV ad — dubbed “Dos Cartr220ai.jpgras,” or “Two Faces” — aired on Wednesday. It courted Hispanic voters who make up 9 percent of the electorate and who could help swing the outcome in battleground states in the U.S. southwest as well as in Florida on Nov. 4. 

Democrats may need time to heal, Richardson says

LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Democrats will eventually unite once the hard-fought presidential nomination battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is resolved but that process may take time, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said on Monday. 

billrichardson.jpg“There’s going to be a need for healing,” Richardson, a former White House hopeful who is backing Obama. 

Richardson, who had served as energy secretary and ambassador to the United Nations in former President Bill Clinton’s administration, remained on the fence for several weeks before deciding to support Obama, an Illinois senator, two months ago.