The midwestern state of Iowa has become the focus of political discussion in recent days ahead of the state's caucus. Several candidates for the Democratic nomination are running neck-and-neck according to the latest polls, and those who do well in Iowa could gain valuable momentum for the primaries ahead.
It is not hard to find political opinions here in Iowa City. It is home to the University of Iowa and is considered a strong liberal Democratic enclave in this mostly rural, farm-oriented state.
Iowa residents enjoy all the attention their state is getting, both from the candidates and the more than 1,000 journalists who have descended on the state in the past week. There are Iowans who literally wear their choice on their sleeve or their lapel. There are lots of posters, signs and lapel buttons around this town for former Governor Howard Dean, Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, but no one will know how much support they really have until caucus-goers make their decisions known Monday.
There are many people who refuse to say which candidate they support. In many cases, they say they honestly do not know yet.
University student Erin says she will go to her local caucus to learn more.
"Just kind of to hear all the discussion about all the different candidates," she said. "I am sort of leaning towards Dean, but I have not decided what to do." She said she will listen and might even change her mind at the caucus.
It is winter here in Iowa, and some pundits have speculated that turnout at the caucuses could be affected by bad weather. They should meet Gail, who was strolling down Iowa City's main street Saturday eating an ice-cream cone and who admitted, "I will probably go for the one my husband picks because he reads more and knows more."
Some people in other parts of the country question all the attention this small state is getting just because it is holding the first event in this election year. But most Iowans are proud of the democratic tradition the caucuses represent and they defend their state as a good place to start the political season. Bob is one of them.
"Iowa has always been an interesting state," he said. "There have been times when we have had Democratic senators and a Republican governor. It is not uncommon to have it split it up that way. I think Iowans are pretty discerning about how they feel about things."
In a hair-stylist shop just off main street one woman discusses her participation in her local precinct's caucus. She says she will not choose any of the Democratic candidates because she is a Republican. Even though President Bush is virtually assured of being the Republican candidate this year, Joan says many Republicans still attend their local caucus.
"I like going," said Joan. "These are real people discussing real issues and they actually do care. So I love going and just meeting with my neighbors and discussing what we feel about life."
In many parts of Iowa people will say that they have little interest in the caucus process or politics. Some Iowans seem to be eager for the whole thing to be over, but Joan says that is not true here in Iowa City, where she says her conservative stands on issues often lead to lively discussions with her more liberal neighbors and co-workers.
"In this community, this is what drives people," explained Joan. "They absolutely thrive on politics around here. Academics and politics [provide] the flavor of Iowa City."
Whether they love all the attention and the political hoopla or not, Iowa residents have only a short time left in the lime light. Once the caucus results are in, the whole political bandwagon will move on to New Hampshire and other states holding primaries. The presidential candidates may come through the state on quick visits leading up to the election in November but, for the most part, Iowans will have to watch the process unfold from a distance.