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Politics in Iowa are a party

Early caucuses blend the holiday and political seasons, and Iowans enjoy the fuss.

By ADAM C. SMITH, Times Political Editor
Published January 1, 2008


OSCEOLA, Iowa - Forget ball drops and champagne, eggnog and mistletoe.

Here in the Hawkeye State, holiday greetings come in the form of incessant campaign ads on TV, politicians and reporters everywhere you turn, and never-ending calls from pollsters and campaign volunteers.

And weirdly enough, Iowans are eating it up.

"I've become convinced over the last couple days that you Iowans are crazy," Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden quipped Monday after walking into a library meeting room in Ames that overflowed with hundreds of people. "Where else in America could you draw a crowd like this to a library on New Year's Eve?"

Because so many states like Florida sought more influence in the presidential nominations by scheduling early primaries, Iowa set its caucus for Thursday to protect its status as the first in the nation. The result has been an odd mingling of frantic presidential campaigning and holiday rituals.

Across Iowa on Monday night, candidates staged campaign rallies disguised as New Year's celebrations.

"I didn't have better offers for tonight," said retired John Deere employee Jim Sutton, who drove more than an hour to attend Democrat Bill Richardson's New Year's celebration in Des Moines. "I just really relate to him and wanted to be here."

Political strategists had worried they might antagonize voters with too much politicking around Christmas. But while plenty of Iowans are more than ready for all the caucus fuss to end, many say they have enjoyed the timing.

"It's been great for me," Osceola Republican Sharon Dunfree Murray said of the earliest-ever Iowa caucuses, after shaking hands with Mike Huckabee. "Because I've been off work for the holiday, this is the first time I've been able to go to these political events."

While some Iowans had feared such an early caucus would minimize the importance of Iowa's caucus, Iowa Gov. Chet Culver said the result has been to magnify its importance. The Democratic governor hears few complaints from voters.

"I think it's in some ways helped," Culver said. "People have had more time to volunteer, and they've not been distracted other than Christmas Day."

With the Democratic and Republican races both wide open and millions of dollars pouring into the Iowa campaigns, veteran caucusgoers say they've never seen anything like this year. People talk of getting seven different campaign voice messages in two hours, 10 campaign mail brochures in one day.

"They gave us one day off - Christmas - and then it started right up again," said Doris Thompson, a Republican retiree from Knoxville. "I mean, these politicians never shut up."

Adam C. Smith can be reached at or 727 893-8241.

[Last modified December 31, 2007, 22:54:21]

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