Iowa Town Becomes Crossroads for Candidates With the Iowa caucuses just days away, the presidential candidates were working extra hard during the weekend to find undecided voters. One of the places they were looking was Pella, a largely Dutch community of about 10,000 people about 45 miles southeast of Des Moines.
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Iowa Town Becomes Crossroads for Candidates

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Iowa Town Becomes Crossroads for Candidates

Iowa Town Becomes Crossroads for Candidates

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Perhaps unbelievably, the Iowa caucuses are in just five days, the first test for presidential candidates in 2008. So they're working extra hard this weekend to find undecided voters. One place they're looking is in Pella, a largely Dutch community of about 10,000, 45 miles southeast of Des Moines.

After chasing the candidates all over the state this year, NPR's David Greene has discovered that all he has to do is hang out in Pella, and let the candidates come to him, one right after another.

DAVID GREENE: Normally when you drive into Pella, you're struck by the town's famous windmills. But this weekend, you're more likely to be struck by one of the town's giant campaign buses.

Soon Mitt Romney's bus will be here, but there's Fred Thompson's bus pulling out of a hotel parking lot right now. Turn right on Main Street and there's Mike Huckabee's bus parked in the snow outside the Pizza Ranch where Huckabee is talking to a room crammed with several hundred people.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Republican Governor, Arkansas; Presidential Candidate): There's an old saying: What do you get when you squeeze a lemon? Well, some of you would say lemon juice. Actually the real answer is what you get is whatever is inside the lemon. Truth is what happens when you squeeze somebody under pressure. What comes out? I'll tell you what comes out, whatever is within.

GREENE: Huckabee is an ordained Baptist minister. He's also been anointed the front-runner by most of the polls in Iowa. And in these final days, he's telling Iowans that being a pastor and a governor in Arkansas has prepared him to be president.

Mr. HUCKABEE: I believe character comes from hardship, from experience, from life. I've been there.

GREENE: Huckabee spent less than one-tenth the money Mitt Romney spent in Iowa. So he says, if people support him, they'll send a message that votes can't be bought.

Mr. HUCKABEE: I'll see you next Thursday, and let's have a great victory in Iowa's caucuses next week. Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. SHARON STEINHOOK(ph) (Resident, Pella, Iowa): I'm Sharon from Pella.

GREENE: Sharon Steinhook came to the Pizza Ranch wrestling over whether to support Huckabee or Republican rival Fred Thompson. She says she liked what Huckabee had to say.

Ms. STEINHOOK: He felt very strongly that everything begins at the top - it begins with God - and soldiers (unintelligible) down, and I believe he'll get his directions from the right place.

GREENE: And you came in here undecided still?

Ms. STEINHOOK: Between him and Thompson, yes.

GREENE: And you're not even going to see Thompson up the road now.


GREENE: You're hooked.

Ms. STEINHOOK: I'm hooked, yes.

GREENE: Well, if I can't go up the street to hear Fred Thompson with Sharon, Michael Dupre(ph) is outside heading in the direction I'm going.

Mr. MICHAEL DUPRE (Resident, Pella, Iowa): It is magical. The snow is falling and all the political candidates are coming to see us. It's very exciting.

GREENE: Especially exciting for a 17-year-old, like Dupre. He turns 18 next month so he's allowed to caucus, and he's caucusing for Democrat Dennis Kucinich. Still, he says, he saw Fred Thompson doing a TV interview in town earlier. He saw Huckabee. He points me to Smoky Row, the coffee shop where I think I'll find Thompson.

Mr. DUPRE: You can go in through here. You can go into the front door.

GREENE: And Fred Thompson is still in there.

Mr. DUPRE: Yeah, I believe so.

GREENE: And there's his bus.

Mr. DUPRE: Blocking my car.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: So you can't get out. Maybe…

Mr. DUPRE: I can't get out.

GREENE: …maybe you have to go see him.

Mr. DUPRE: So I have to see him again.

GREENE: And who do I find right inside? It's Sharon again, signing on with Huckabee, but she's like so many Iowa caucus-goers - if there's a candidate happening in town, they can't resist.

But she gets to Fred Thompson too late.

Ms. STEINHOOK: We go on in and it was already over. We missed him.

GREENE: Thompson has slipped out and probably already gotten on the bus. His campaign signs are left behind, but soon they'll be gone and replaced by signs and stickers for Mitt Romney.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Republican Governor, Massachusetts): You see me here before. This is not my first visit to Pella. I like Pella.

GREENE: But does Pella like Romney? Romney has spent more time and money in Iowa than anyone for the past year, and yet he's in a battle with Huckabee. Romney tells the coffee crowd here that he's looking beyond their state as well.

Mr. ROMNEY: By the way, to win the White House, you can't just win one state. You have to win these purple states, like Iowa and New Hampshire. And I'm going to fight in Missouri, and Michigan, and South Carolina, and Florida, and California. I know I'd be all over the country making sure that if I get this nomination, I'm not just a one-hit wonder.

(Soundbite of music)

GREENE: Out on the street by Romney's bus, Steve Deeswart(ph) says he's been enjoying all the candidates coming through.

Mr. STEVE DEESWART (Resident, Pella, Iowa): You can't run around and not bump into one.

GREENE: Deeswart says he enjoyed Fred Thompson yesterday.

Mr. DEESWART: He's a real good, homey guy. He fit right in to the crowd. I think that anywhere he goes he's probably going to be a guy that's going to be like by most people.

GREENE: And then, of course, maybe he'll go with Mitt Romney whose bus is parked right here in front of him.

Mr. DEESWART: The Mitt Mobile. This (unintelligible) here and take a look at it and interesting to see what these people kind of run into you.

GREENE: Probably not the last bus you're going to see this weekend in Pella.

Mr. DEESWART: No, we'll see several.

GREENE: Are you ready for all this to end?


(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DEESWART: Yeah, I'm proud of Iowa being the first caucus state. But if somebody decides they want to be ahead of us, I'm not sure I would miss it that much.

GREENE: And after a whole year of this, a lot of people in Pella probably feel the same way.

David Greene, NPR News, Pella, Iowa.

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