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Iowa Voters Play Special Role in Presidential Politics

The 2012 U.S. presidential election process officially begins Tuesday, the Midwestern state of Iowa. Republican voters will gather in caucus meetings across the state to vote for one of seven Republicans hoping to face President Barack Obama in the November election.

Just another quiet winter’s day in the small town of Atlantic, nestled among the picturesque farms and rolling hills of western Iowa. That is until presidential candidate Newt Gingrich rolled into town.

By now, Gingrich is familiar with the Iowa candidate’s routine. Chat with voters, take their questions and ask for their support. “And that is why I always tell audiences that I am not going to ask you to be for me, I am going to ask you to be with me," he said.

Across town at a diner, Ben Nelson and his pals are digging into brunch.

It is all part of those small town Iowa values, he says. “It is really small, but it is nice because you know everybody and always seem to have a lot of fun," he said.

Over eggs and toast, Michael Dunn and his co-workers are ready for the coming caucus. When it comes to picking presidents, he says Iowans are pretty straightforward. “I think they look for integrity and honesty," he said.

Back at the Gingrich rally, Eleanor Becker has been won over. She says the personal contact with the candidate is essential. “Because you can gauge whether they are telling you the truth, or if they are [trying to deceive you] sometimes," she said.

The voters here know Iowa plays a special role in the election process, says farmer Jim Pellet. “I think this is the testing ground for them. If they do not pass in Iowa they are not going to last for a long time," he said.

As the Gingrich bus leaves town, Atlantic turns quiet again, a small town in the American heartland that once every four years has its moment in the sun.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.