Iowa Caucus-Goers Discuss The GOP Field

Iowans gather Tuesday evening for the state's precinct caucuses. A group of caucus-goers talks about who they plan to vote for and how they made up their minds.

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For Iowa Republicans, it's the end a yearlong getting-to-know-you process with the candidates. NPR's Sonari Glinton sat down with a group of caucus-goers to talk about how they plan to vote and how they made up their minds.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Drive due west of downtown Des Moines on I-80 and you get to Van Meter, Iowa. It's a city that has about 1,300 residents. I met up with nine of them over a few pitchers of beer on the eve of the caucuses to talk politics, the Republican field and Iowa. Hello.

MARK MILLER: Mark Miller.

GLINTON: Sonari. Nice to meet you.

MILLER: Nice to meet you.

GLINTON: How's everyone doing?

MILLER: We're good. We're good.

GLINTON: All these voters will caucus in the lunch room of a combined junior-senior high school. Tom Harbison is making his debut as chairman this year running Van Meter's Republican caucus.

TOM HARBISON: We're going have three areas. We're going to have the main area where we all sit as registered Republicans. And then, we'll have an area for the press. And then, we'll have an area for observers. That's where we're going to go, and they can observe it.

GLINTON: Most of the people I sat down with were pretty well decided about who'd they vote for. There were four for Mitt Romney, two for Rick Santorum and two for Newt Gingrich. Jeanne Harbison is a retired school teacher. She was the lone undecided Republican.

JEANNE HARBISON: A lot of the people that we're looking at in the top three have a lot of the same values and platform to me.

GLINTON: Harbison calls herself a social conservative. Right now, she's leaning toward Gingrich.

HARBISON: All his baggage is pretty much out on the front. Everybody has seen it. The others maybe we don't know yet what's going come, you know, to the forefront.

GLINTON: The major split at this table was between people who consider themselves values voters and those whose first concern is the economy. Pat Hart runs a heating and air-conditioning company. He's a Mitt Romney supporter, and for him, it's all about the economy.

PAT HART: The one nice thing about this election coming up I think is (unintelligible) because you've got about four people that are all playing for the religious right vote and maybe that will split it up enough that middle survive. And I think when they get right down to it, Mitt has the same values, I think, that the people that, say, the religious right.

GLINTON: All the voters say regardless of who wins the caucuses they'll support the nominee. Bev McLinden has participated in caucuses for years. She says she can't remember a political season quite like this one.

BEV MCLINDEN: I've made it a point to go out and see the different candidates on multiple occasions, and there's something about each one that I kind of like, except I do have a little bit of a problem with Ron Paul...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCLINDEN: ...if I was to pick one, that, you know, I can flatly say, you know, I would not, you know, support him in any way. But there are personal qualities in each one of the candidates that I truly, truly like.

GLINTON: Meanwhile, Mark Miller, who works for an agri-business firm in Des Moines, says he's never seen the Republican Party in Iowa this galvanized.

MILLER: I don't remember ever being called as much as I've been called by candidates relaying their message. I don't think it would be unusual to say that I get a dozen to 20 calls a day knowing that I'm a Republican and asking me for a vote or trying to clear up some matter. It's unbelievable the amount of information we're getting.

GLINTON: Miller says he enjoys getting up close and personal with the candidates, but this time, he felt more involved in the process in part because of social media.

MILLER: Each candidate, because of technology, has been able to put their best foot forward. And then, when they screw up, you know, it's bad news because it's just that quick, too, so - because the opposition jumps right on it. And boom, you know, you get those wide swings in the polls that we've seen.

GLINTON: Bev McLinden does administrative work from home. She, like all the caucus-goers at the table, says she's excited for tonight and a little wistful.

MCLINDEN: I think it's fun, to tell you the truth. I like the whole political process here. And now, it's coming to an end, and the intensity has increased. It's fun to see that. You know, I'm going to kind of be sad when everything goes away.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCLINDEN: Even the phone calls.

GLINTON: Those phone calls will end soon enough. Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Des Moines.

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