Thousands of Iowans have heard directly from the presidential candidates for up to an hour at a time, over the phone.  

Campaign operatives say it’s inexpensive technology. Using a variety of sources, a call list is developed. A candidate’s staff sets the time for a “telephone town hall meeting” and thousands of numbers are dialed. There’s no travel for either the candidate or the voter.

“It’s kind of a tough time, in the middle of the afternoon, but I appreciate you taking the time,” Mitt Romney said during a tele-town hall on the day before Thanksgiving.

Unless the media is notified, there are no reporters monitoring every word the candidate utters. Plus, the technology allows the campaigns to collect valuable data from the people who are on the call. Participants get these sort of prompts: “Press one on your phone so we can log you as a supporter.”

According to Rick Perry’s campaign staff, 14,000 Iowans joined one of its tele-town halls in late November.

And it’s not just candidates who are hosting these telephone town hall meetings. Groups that hope to shape the campaign debate have held telephone town hall meetings so their members can ask questions directly of the candidates. 

FLS Connect is one of the firms offering “tele-town hall” services. Its website claims to have dialed more than 100,000 numbers for a tele-town hall in 2010, getting more than 20,000 participants listening on the line at the same time. 

Some of Iowa’s congressmen have held massive telephone town hall meetings with constituents. One firm in the business is able to dial 6000 phone numbers in a minute to connect to the conversation, and the cost is about three cents per line connected.

Listen to the AUDIO of Henderson’s report.