JOHN YDSTIE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie, sitting in for Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
The clock is ticking for the presidential candidates in Iowa. And as caucus night approaches, Democrats are piling up endorsements. The first lady of Iowa, Mary Culver, announced yesterday she's backing Democrat John Edwards, while Iowa Congressman David Loebsack got behind Barack Obama.
Hillary Clinton is still smiling from her weekend blessing by the Des Moines Register. That endorsement is featured in ads her campaign released yesterday, just as the candidate fired up a chop or hop tour across the state. NPR's David Greene was following her in her helicopter. I'm not sure what you are in, David.
DAVID GREENE: In a bus.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MONTAGNE: Looking up, I guess.
MONTAGNE: It's - for a lot of the time. And, David, has Hillary Clinton's message changed in these last days of politicking, since it's a bit of an issue in her terms of likeability there in Iowa?
GREENE: Absolutely. And she has this new strategy, Renee. She released this video called "The Hillary I Know," and she has this surrogates traveling the state, old school friends. And here's a little bit of what she has to say yesterday, talking to a crowd in Johnston, Iowa.
Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Democratic Presidential Candidate): Here in Iowa, I want you to have some flavor of who I am, you know, outside of the television cameras. When all the cameras and the lights disappear, what I do when nobody's listening or taking notes and recording it.
GREENE: I think the Clinton campaign still feels like after a lot of campaign time, that they have to work on Hillary Clinton's likeability. She'd almost reintroducing herself here in Iowa, just a couple of weeks before the caucuses.
MONTAGNE: And voters, how are they responding to the, I guess, the newer, more intimate side of Hillary Clinton?
GREENE: What you hear from a lot of people at these events, they say Hillary Clinton has won me over. She is the smartest, most experienced person in the race, but they just fear she can't win in a general election. She can't get crossover votes from Republicans. And so a lot of Democrats, still scared of making her the nominee, even if they do like her personally.
MONTAGNE: Given that the caucuses are really hurdling towards us in Iowa, do you expect the game plan to change for Clinton and her rivals in these last days?
GREENE: A lot of the campaigns, including Clinton's, are talking about going after voters who have never caucused before, and that's actually a really big group. I'm going to give you number that surprised me, Renee. The last few caucuses, only 6 or 7 percent of the voting age population in Iowa actually caucused.
You know, we get all these stories on how engaged people are. And for a reality check, I went up near the Minnesota border to Forest City. It's the hometown of Winnebago Industries. They have a lot on their mind right now. There's a report out that RV sales are actually going down in the country. That's often an indication of a recession. There are no talks of job cuts, but certainly the prospect is there. So I went up to Forest City to just talk to people, get a feel for how politics was mixing into the conversation up there in Winnebago's hometown.
(Soundbite of workshop sounds)
Mr. HARLAN RODBERG(ph): Well, I'm holding out there. I was here when they built the first one back in '66. And I'm still here enjoying myself everyday. Yeah.
GREENE: Harlan Rodberg is inside the Winnebago factory. He says the reports about RV sales are slowing down don't scare him.
Mr. RODBERG: You can't take booze and sex and weekends away from the American people. They're not going to sit back and do nothing. Sooner or later, they're going to realize that, hey, we've got money saved. I'm going to buy a motor home. And they'll buy the motor home and get going again. You know, it's - we've seen these ups and downs throughout - been through it many, many times.
GREENE: Harlan says he'll be thinking about the economy when he votes for president next November. As for the caucuses here in Iowa in a few weeks, he says he'll take a pass.
Mr. RODBERG: No. I don't like to get that political, you know, because, you know, when it comes time to vote, I'll vote one way or another. Whether you vote for a man or a woman, you know, time will tell.
GREENE: You might think about a woman?
Mr. RODBERG: Well, she's got a lot of good ideas, you know? But time will tell.
Ms. JESSICA BANNISTER: Yup, that's right. Well, I just finished a to-go order for Winnebago - usually burgers and fries and cheese balls, basically.
GREENE: Up the road a bit from the factory is the Sportsman's Cafe. Jessica Bannister is working there, her mom owns the place. Jessica says a lot of their business comes from the Winnebago lunch crowd.
Ms. BANNISTER: You aren't friends with somebody in this town who doesn't work there, who hasn't worked there for many years. You don't meet a group of three people and they don't know somebody that works there or worked there themselves, you know. Everything is Winnebago.
GREENE: Bannister says she's not so worried about Winnebago, because the company's been around for years and survived. She says she's more worried about high gas and heating prices. She's been taking her two daughters out for dinner a lot less to save money. She says she knows a lot of the presidential candidates have been talking about the economy, but the caucus craziness hasn't grabbed her yet.
Ms. BANNISTER: I know Hillary Clinton's been to Clear Lake twice. That's about as much as I know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GREENE: She says the campaigns would have to do a lot in the next two weeks to convince her to go caucus.
Ms. BANNISTER: If somebody handed me a pamphlet saying here's what this candidate is going for here, here's what this candidate is going for, and here's what this candidate is going for. And I got to sit down and read all those pamphlets and learn the truth about each one of them, then, yes, I would vote. You know? Especially, you know, if I thought Hillary was going to do everything better than the men.
GREENE: So the fact that she's a woman alone wouldn't be a big deal.
Ms. BANNISTER: Yeah, it is. But I'm not going to vote for her just because she's a woman, either.
GREENE: One of Jessica's customers is Roger Torkelson(ph). When I stopped at his table, he gives me a strange look.
Mr. ROGER TORKELSON: Oh, yeah. I could you that, you know, you're not a Midwesterner.
GREENE: In fact, Torkelson says he makes a game of it, picking out tourists or other visitors who come into town to visit Winnebago. Torkelson says when it comes to politics, there's an issue that tops his list.
Mr. TORKELSON: We all do a lot of hunting, you know? And, of course, if you talk gun control, well, that gets pretty close to our hearts, you know?
GREENE: He says he sees some news about Democrat Bill Richardson.
Mr. TORKELSON: This is just one that really sticks out of your mind, you know? You know, if I was a Democrat, I probably looking at Richardson, you know? And Republican - man, I don't have any idea.
Ms. SALLY LARSON (Owner, Sally's): I'm Sally Larson. I'm the owner of Sally's.
GREENE: Sally's is a little restaurant up the street, and the owner's excited about her graham cracker crust pie.
Ms. LARSON: It's the best pie, I'm told, in the whole United States, and some even the world. We have had the world travelers in here and it's - you need to try a piece.
GREENE: I think we're going to try a piece.
Sally Larson says if she goes to caucus, she might back Democrat John Edwards.
Ms. LARSON: We need somebody in who's going to put God back where he belongs in our society.
GREENE: Where does God belong?
Ms. LARSON: First, just taking it off the money and…
GREENE: And Edwards - you can see Edwards is doing that more than Obama.
Ms. LARSON: More than Hillary or Obama, yes.
GREENE: Sally is thinking of either Edwards or Republican Ron Paul. The only waitress at Sally's, Rachel Booth, says she likes Ron Paul, too.
Ms. RACHEL BOOTH (Waitress, Sally's): I like the fact he doesn't want to live in my bedroom or my back pocket. Ron Paul doesn't think that the presidential layer should really have anything to do with you and me except making sure that the state doesn't abuse us.
GREENE: The problem, Rachel says, is she doesn't know if Ron Paul can win. So she would lean towards Hillary Clinton.
Ms. BOOTH: You can't sleep with a man who has a job and not know what the job's all about.
GREENE: So it's experience by osmosis.
Ms. BOOTH: Osmosis.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GREENE: To make her point about Hillary Clinton, Rachel says she'd never trust her boss Sally to operate a tape recorder.
You could trust my wife over Sally to do (unintelligible).
Ms. BOOTH: Yeah. Yeah. Because your wife has stood there and said, oh, come on. Can't we get this over? But honey, I have to push this button, and I have to talk to these people because of this and this and this. Therefore, your wife knows more about it than Sally does.
MONTAGNE: And David, you're still there with us. So Rachel, the waitress, Hillary could possibly count on her vote.
GREENE: Possibly is the word, because what Rachel told me at the very end was that she might have to work on caucus night, so it's going to depend.
MONTAGNE: Now if the numbers are so small, it does - as people have much commented on - seem like a relatively few people have an awfully lot of influence.
GREENE: Yeah. It is pretty striking. I mean, and it makes Iowa's role in this whole process all the more remarkable. It's not like whoever wins Iowa definitely wins the nominations in these parties. But we're talking about fewer than 200,000 people who actually caucus. And so these people, they have a pretty important advisory role, I guess you could say, in telling the rest of the country who the presidential candidates are going to be.
MONTAGNE: NPR's David Greene in Des Moines, Iowa. Thanks very much.
GREENE: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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