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What Voters Are Expecting From Trump's State Of The Union Address


At this hour, members of Congress and their guests are gathering for President Trump's State of the Union address. Lawmakers are one audience for the president. Beyond the House chamber, the president is speaking to a much bigger audience, the American people. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea has been talking with some of them, specifically with some voters in Iowa. Hey there, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hey. How are you?

KELLY: I'm all right. Tell me exactly where you are.

GONYEA: I'm in northwestern Iowa, the northwestern quadrant. I'm in the town of Denison. It's...

KELLY: Denison - I've ever been, OK.

GONYEA: It's about 8,000, 9,000 people - so a small town. It is the home of the Academy Award-winning actress Donna Reed from...


GONYEA: ..."It's A Wonderful Life." So that's Denison claim to fame. It's cold here. I can tell you that. It's been - the vortex is hanging on.

KELLY: The vortex has left Washington. It's warm here, and the other thing going on is of course everybody buzzing about the State of the Union address. As you know, it is the talk of the town. Is there a similar sense of anticipation building in Denison?

GONYEA: Not all that much. And I will tell you this is a conservative part of the state. This is Steven King's district, he of the very controversial statements, who's been stripped of committee chairmanships and the like. So it's that part of Iowa - you know, far from Des Moines and the college towns.

But I was in a diner today and did kind of a quick survey going from table to table. And of eleven people I talked to over the period of about 15 minutes, only two said that they were for sure going to watch the State of the Union tonight. The rest were too busy, weren't interested. I was hearing that from both Democrats and Republicans, I might say. And then there was one person who said, maybe. So it's not like they're on pins and needles waiting for this, at least this small sample I talked to.

KELLY: Not planning to watch - no doubt they're planning to be riveted to their radio and listening to us here on NPR instead. If they are - if they're not planning to be paying total attention to this speech, what is on their minds? What are people talking about in that diner?

GONYEA: Well, they are talking about all the things that I hear people talk about everywhere. Of course we are in Iowa, so they want to hear what the president has to say about tariffs and how that could affect farmers and the farm economy. People are talking about the wall. I'm at kind of a small bar tonight, and there's a group of people getting ready to watch. And one of them was 31-year-old Jake Porter (ph). He happens to be a libertarian. He's active in that party here. I asked him as I have asked others what the State of the Union is. Here's his answer.

JAKE PORTER: Well, he's pretty polarized. I think there's a lot of issues, a lot of people back and forth, fighting. And nothing's really getting accomplished.

GONYEA: So you hear that a lot, I should add. He's a libertarian, but I heard that thing about polarization from Republicans, Democrats as well.

KELLY: I mean, and it's fascinating because Iowa of course is significant 'cause it's the first state to vote in the primary cycle - the caucuses about a year away but candidates for president already beating a trail to Iowa. If they're not buzzing about the State of the Union, are they buzzing about 2020?

GONYEA: I can tell you they are already talking about 2020. They are noticing the candidates are rolling in already. There have been a couple of candidate visits to Denison already. So you can definitely feel that Iowa is gearing up for that.

KELLY: NPR's Don Gonyea in Denison, Iowa, thanks so much.

GONYEA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Don Gonyea
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.