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Food Impacts Iowa Campaigning

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Food Impacts Iowa Campaigning

Election 2008

Food Impacts Iowa Campaigning

Food Impacts Iowa Campaigning

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Ahead of a debate among Democratic presidential contenders in Iowa, White House correspondent David Greene is on the road, talking to voters and sampling local cuisine. He talks with John Ydstie about the Democratic and GOP front-runners, and how food affects a candidate's image.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

To show you're really Iowa out on the campaign trail, you have to sample the local fair. The candidates have eaten pizza, fried Twinkies, ice cream, and all sorts of meat sandwiches.

And to truly cover the campaign, our own David Greene has done the same.

DAVID GREENE: The fair is great. I am standing among some of the rides; there's a big balloon of a dinosaur, and there's a lot of good carnival food - popcorn, candy apple, snow cones, and a lot of political candidates.

Ms. KIM WHALEN (Co-owner, The Machine Shed, Iowa): It's this real, real fine loose meat sandwich, and everybody seems to love it with mustard and pickle on it because that's what the tradition's been.

GREENE: All right, I'll take it with mustard and pickle.

Ms. WHALEN: Okay.

Whalen owns The Machine Shed - it's a farm-themed restaurant and country store along Interstate 80. If you come here, you can enjoy a plate of their famous stuffed pork loin and even go for a tractor ride out in the parking lot.

YDSTIE: And we're checking in with David over the next few weeks, taking the polls of Iowa through the food and thoughts offered by the state's people, and he joins us from the Bluegrass Cafe in Tama, Iowa.

David, what's on the menu?

GREENE: Well, John, I am sitting with a half-eaten pork tenderloin sandwich in front of me - it's an Iowa classic. They take pork loin, they tenderize it and flatten it, and they put breading. It's got crackers; eggs on it. They fry it up; they put it on the sandwich - lettuce, tomato, pickles, mustard. It's fantastic; I wish I could give you a bite.

And, you know, it's funny, food is no joke. I don't know if you remember John Kerry when he was running for president, he went into Philadelphia and he ordered a cheese stake with Swiss cheese, which is a huge no-no when you're in south Philly, and he took a lot of flack for that. So, you know, in the next month or so leading up to the Iowa caucuses, a food mistake looms as a possible danger for these candidates.

YDSTIE: So, David, what's the political talk in the diners? Are Iowans talking about the Republican debate in Florida earlier this week?

GREENE: They're definitely talking about it. I'm in the Bluegrass Cafe in Tama, which has been a political crossroads. and, you know, I walk in to here, I walk in to other places, and I immediately find people who are talking about, you know, the most recent debate, and a lot of them watched the Republican debate the other night.

And, you know, one question I had - Mitt Romney, who's the frontrunner here in Iowa along with Mike Huckabee - the two of them are in a real dead heat - but Romney took a lot of criticism and he has the whole campaign for what critics say is switching positions on the issue of abortion. He was once prochoice, now he's pro-life, and some of his competitors have made a big deal out of that. And, you know, at the same time, Hillary Clinton, on the other side, has taken a lot of criticism for changing her position on the war in Iraq.

And Iowa voters - very, very savvy about this kind of stuff. They say, look, you know, it's very human to change your mind. They said it didn't - you know, some said it didn't bother them that Romney has changed his position on abortion. But if they look in these candidates eyes and they feel like that, you know, minds are changing for just political reasons, then they're going to hold them accountable for that.

So that's one issue; the other was guns. One of the questions the other night in the Republican debate for the candidates was, do you own a gun? And a lot of Iowa voters here say, they don't really care if the candidates own a gun at home, what they do care about is where the candidates stand on Second Amendment, and whether that means Americans have the right to own a gun.

YDSTIE: Well, the Democrats are all in Iowa today for a debate tonight. Bring us up-to-date on that side of the field, is it still really tied at the top?

GREENE: It seems really tied. You know, it's feeling like the Iowa caucuses, you know, it's really caucus time here. I mean, we've got a winter storm in Iowa this weekend, all the Democrats are going to be stumping through here, and John Edwards, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton appear to still be in that very, very tight race. It seems wide open.

And if you talk to voters here, one of the really fascinating questions is, you know, if voters are supporting some of the second-tier candidates, like a Joe Biden, a Chris Dodd, a Bill Richardson, the way the caucuses work is, you know, you go in that night, you can support one of those candidates, and if they don't get enough support in your caucus, you can then turn to another candidate.

When you talk to a lot of people here in Iowa in the diners, on the streets, and some of them say, you know, I like Bill Richardson, I like Joe Biden, but I know they might not get the support, and then I have to make a second decision that night, who do I vote for? Hillary Clinton? Barack Obama? John Edwards? So the polls might not be telling the whole story at this point - if there's going to some of that movement on caucus night. And Iowans love to say that they're ready to offer a surprise to the rest of the country. So we've got a month; we'll see what happens.

YDSTIE: NPR's David Greene, who's now two sizes bigger than he was when the campaign started, speaking with us from the Bluegrass Cafe in Tama, Iowa. Enjoy your sandwich, David.

GREENE: Thank you, John. I'll bring you some back.

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