Candidates Ring in 2008 in Iowa

Democratic and GOP presidential candidates welcomed the new year at parties and events across Iowa in the final stretch before caucus-goers open the 2008 presidential voting season. Polls indicate the race may be too close to call.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

This might be the first day of the new year, but the 2008 presidential campaign is entering its second year today. Most of the men and one woman running for president spent many weeks over the past year crisscrossing Iowa. The first real measure of the candidates will come in that state's caucuses just two days from now.

Last night, candidates and their supporters celebrated across Iowa. NPR's Don Gonyea was there for many of the festivities, and he joins us now to talk about it.

Hello, Don.

DON GONYEA: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: How did the various candidates bring in the new year?

GONYEA: Well, let's start with one of the big events in Des Moines last night. It was a Hillary Clinton rally, where she was joined by her husband Bill and her daughter Chelsea. She came out at about 10 p.m., and she told the crowd that her new year's resolution was to run a winning campaign this year.

MONTAGNE: Oh, oh, surprise.

GONYEA: No big surprise there. But then the former president spoke.

President BILL CLINTON: My new year's resolution is to never let an opportunity to go by without telling you that she is the best candidate I have ever had a chance to support for president. I hope you'll elect her. God bless you, and Happy New Year.

GONYEA: So that's the former president. As for the other leading Democrats in Iowa, Barack Obama, he held a big rally up in Ames - that's a college town. John Edwards, meanwhile, was bit farther north. He was up in Mason City, meeting with supporters.

MONTAGNE: Okay. Let's turn to the Republicans. And how did they bring in the new year?

GONYEA: Well, Mitt Romney, he did not attend a party. He ended his public schedule right around eight o'clock or so with a walk through a family festival at a local convention center in Des Moines. But there was one moment for Romney to mix it up a little bit when he walked pass a stand where a DJ was playing. In fact, here's a little sound from that scene.

(Soundbite of song, "Macarena")

LOS DEL RIO (Singing Group): (Singing in Spanish)

GONYEA: Okay, we all know that song.

MONTAGNE: "Macarena."

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONYEA: Exactly. And for the record, Renee, Mitt Romney did not dance the "Macarena." He stood. He watched. I can tell you, he did tap his toe, but only just a bit.

MONTAGNE: And the current frontrunner, Mike Huckabee, was he tucked in early or out there celebrating?

GONYEA: He was tucked in pretty early as well. I can tell you, midday yesterday, he held a big news conference where he made a big announcement that he would not run a very tough attack ad that his campaign had put together just the day before, really going after Mitt Romney. At this conference, he told more than a hundred reporters there that he would run a positive campaign. But then, he turned around and played the attack ad anyway for the media, just to prove that they actually had one. Later, at his New Year's Eve party, it was about 6 p.m. in Des Moines at a Country Club, he talked to supporters there again about the decision not to run the ad.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Governor, Arkansas; Republican Presidential Candidate): I'll tell you why, because tonight when I put my head on the pillow in 2007 and I plan not to wake until 2008…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HUCKABEE: …I'll be able to sleep with peace in my heart that I know I've done the right thing, even if it's not the most politically conventional thing.

MONTAGNE: Although, Don, sounds like he got it both ways.

GONYEA: That's certainly what it appears. He says that's a cynical interpretation of it.

MONTAGNE: The Des Moines Register release it's final a pre-caucus poll. Tell us about that?

GONYEA: Well, the number show something very interesting, that there are a lot of people hugely enthused about these caucuses this year. Of course, they're wide open on both sides. And 60 percent of the Democratic caucus goers, those who are expected to participate, say it will be their first ever. On the Republican side, it's also a big number, 40 percent, and there are still enough undecideds out there to make it very fluid. As for who's ahead on the Democratic side, Barack Obama has a seven point lead. Then bunched together behind him are Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. Mike Huckabee's still ahead of Mitt Romney on the Republican side.

MONTAGNE: And what will the candidates be doing on this New Year's Day? Is it actually a campaign day?

GONYEA: Oh, it's a campaign day. Now Mitt Romney has set up a day-long series of football watching parties. The others will all be attending rallies and town hall meeting and going door to door, and it's really all about turnout now.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Don Gonyea in Des Moines, Iowa. And Don, Happy New Year.

GONYEA: And to you. Thank you.

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