Iowans Not Overwhelmed by Presidential Candidates

Iowa is taking a long, late look at prospective presidents in debates intended for candidates to elaborate on issues Iowans care most about. The Republicans led the debates with a serious discussion of debt and taxes. Many Iowans still haven't settled on a candidate to support.

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Iowa is taking a long late look at perspective presidents this week. The Des Moines Register and Iowa Public TV are sponsoring a pair of debates intended to draw out the candidates on issues Iowans care most about. The Republicans led off yesterday with a serious discussion of debt and taxes, among other things.

NPR's Linda Wertheimer has this report on the reaction of some Republican businesspeople in Des Moines.

LINDA WERTHEIMER: We watched the debate in a room often used for political focus groups. Pat Magoldrick(ph) arranged it for us. He is a stockbroker, still undecided but this debate helped him clear out some underbrush.

Mr. PAT MAGOLDRICK (Stockbroker, Iowa): I don't know if I came out with a final decision, but it reaffirmed that the two candidates that I have narrowed it down to are still my number two - my one and two candidates, and that's Romney and McCain.

WERTHEIMER: Magoldrick also brought along friends who belong to a local breakfast club. These are fiscal, not social conservatives. All candidates rated a mention from the group, but there was a shade more enthusiasm for Romney.

Bob Westland(ph) is also a broker.

Mr. BOB WESTLAND (Stockbroker, Iowa): Romney, I think, set the standard for the rest of them, and I think closely following was McCain, Giuliani and Huckabee. And I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this and who I'm going to eventually caucus for, but that's how I see this debate.

WERTHEIMER: The candidate who's currently surging - Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee - disappointed Kathleen Ziemer. She breeds native Midwest butterflies and She didn't like his crack about global warming not reaching Iowa, which is in the middle of an ice storm.

Ms. KATHLEEN ZIEMER (Owner, Butterfliz of Iowa, Iowa): That just shows that he doesn't know what he's talking about because 30 years ago this would have all been snow. There would have been no ice. Ice didn't become a problem in Iowa until just the last few years. And that is a product of environmental change. So he kind of got a bad mark on that one.

WERTHEIMER: Ziemer's business is called Butterfliz of Iowa.

Bottom line, our group is still considering a cluster of candidates. Why so undecided after so long? Tom Zucker owns a Harley-Davidson dealership.

Mr. TOM ZUCKER (Owner, Zook's Harley-Davidson, Iowa): Nobody's really changed anything from the beginning of this process. They're all saying the same things. They're just mumbling the same words. And in many of the campaigns in the past, somebody has made major stumbles. Nobody has done that yet.

WERTHEIMER: There was nothing dramatic or emphatic - nothing to help these Republicans find their winning candidate. Sherry Reid(ph) is a retired nurse.

Ms. SHERRY REID (Retired Nurse, Iowa): Who could beat that other candidate on the other side of the House? I know people are going to go over to the other side and vote. And I know women - Republican women that will vote for Hillary just because she's a woman. Everybody's looking, trying to find that one person in the Republican Party that's going to jump over the top and take it.

WERTHEIMER: How to sort out the top contenders? Sherry Reid thought that Mitt Romney looked presidential. She could imagine him meeting with other world leaders.

Ms. REID: He does have that presentation to go to another country to talk to other foreign leaders because he's a businessman and he has had that experience, and I don't quite see that much experience in that area of like with Huckabee. He - I mean there are some things in the finishing that are lacking that other world leaders do expect in their leadership.

WERTHEIMER: John McCain has concentrated his campaigning in New Hampshire. Rudy Giuliani has spent little time in Iowa. But McCain had more fans in this crowd than Giuliani did. Once again, Tom Zucker.

Mr. ZUCKER: He's got just a few things he sings about. He sings about how tall he stood after 9/11, and that's about all he really sings about. And he kind of dissed Iowa on all of the things he's done. He wasn't here for the straw poll. He did very little campaigning here, and so it's the kind of a thing, well, if he doesn't need us then maybe we don't need him.

WERTHEIMER: Our undecided Iowa Republicans have had the same problem all year. No candidate has swept them off their feet yet, and it certainly didn't happen in this debate.

Linda Wertheimer, NPR News, Des Moines, Iowa.

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