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Iowans Have Their Say in Caucuses


And now let's follow NPR's Linda Wertheimer to a small town in central Iowa -Nevada. Spelled like Nevada, pronounced Nev-ay-da(ph), is a farming community, and the results there did not match the rest of the state, though the spirit did.

(Soundbite of high school)

LINDA WERTHEIMER: Things were hopping at Nevada High School last night. There was a basketball game and two Democratic caucuses. The fourth precinct caucus was in the cafeteria and it quickly filled up. As happened across the state, these caucuses were about twice the size of last time and there were lots of new people, like Nancy Bear(ph). She came with her two daughters, both beautiful girls with buzz cuts and lots of piercings. I asked why they decided to caucus this time.

Ms. NANCY BEAR: A lot of the excitement about the campaign. I definitely don't want another Republican in the office and so I want to get behind the person that I feel will be, you know, the best candidate for president, and we're going to go with Edwards. Tracy and I are. My other daughter's over there with Hillary.

WERTHEIMER: Paula Strum(ph) and her husband were also first-timers but inspired by Senator Barack Obama to get into grassroots politics.

Ms. PAULA STRUM: I've never been interested enough to do it before. And Barack Obama inspires you.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think - why do you support him?

Ms. STRUM: Because he's a very smart man, and because he will change the way things are done in Washington.

WERTHEIMER: The caucus chair, Fay Burdick(ph), moved things along quickly. The first order of business was to count the house; each candidate would need at least 15 percent of the total to move on to the next step.

With her calculator in hand, Ms. Burdick did the math and announced that each candidate needed at least 20.1 caucus-goers. Then she sent the Nevada Democrats to their corners.

Ms. FAY BURDICK (Caucus Chair): Hillary group will go to the Hillary sign. John Edwards people will go to the John Edwards sign.

WERTHEIMER: But Ms. Burdick was moving a bit too quickly. She skipped over the one-minute speeches in support of all the candidates - speeches given by the caucus-goers. However, not all the candidates had speakers.

Ms. BURDICK: Let's start in alphabetical order. Is there anybody to speak for Joe Biden? Is anybody here to speak for one minute for Hillary Clinton?

WERTHEIMER: Yes, there was. Kathy Bagley(ph), who was the precinct chair for Hillary Clinton, came up to make a little talk.

Ms. KATHY BAGLEY (Clinton Precinct Chair): I happen to personally, as well as many of these people, believe strongly in Senator Clinton. And I'll tell you why - because I've met this lady. I've talked to this lady. I've looked in her eyes and I've seen that she has a real heart for our country.

WERTHEIMER: The Clinton forces were well-prepared with bottled water and cookies for their supporters. They brought sandwiches as well. But it turned out that sandwiches are against caucus rules and could not come in. That work paid off. Clinton led in this particular caucus - 44 people went to the Hillary side; 32 to Obama.

Down the hall, at the caucus for the rural areas south of Nevada, it was a little more complicated. John Edwards had more supporters than the others. But a little horse-trading evened things out.

Janice Beaton(ph) caucused for Bill Richardson; she explained how switching a couple of Clinton supporters to Richardson hurt Edwards.

Ms. JANICE BEATON (Richardson Precinct Chair): When I looked at the numbers, as the Richardson chairperson, I thought, well, I need to warn the Clinton camp that many of us in the Richardson camp would go to Edwards and give him two if they didn't give up a couple of theirs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DAVID LEAR(ph): Janet made a very persuasive argument. We knuckled under and helped her out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MYRA LEAR(ph): And it paid off. And it paid off for you.

Ms. ELLEN LEAR(ph): And there was a couple of us who were in the Hillary camp, and we had Richardson as our second. And so we saw the numbers and decided to go join Janice.

Mr. LEAR: Clearly, all four of these candidates are really superb people. John Edwards should have gotten two...


(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: You also heard there from David Lear and his two daughters, Myra and Ellen, age 19 and 18. This is their first caucus and first presidential election.

Plainly, these people don't take their preferences that seriously. Many people echo David Lear's feeling that most Iowa Democrats like several of these candidates. Just about everyone left happy last night - winners and losers -that was, by the way, not true for the high school basketball fans. The Nevada High School Cubs lost last night.

Linda Wertheimer, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.