January 2, 2008
Bill Richardson Visits Woody's in Pella, Iowa
By: David Lightman, Margeret Talev and Matt Stearns of McClatchy Newspapers
It's game on, but not football
PELLA, Iowa - So a guy walks into a bar in this small town, interrupts the folks watching the Outback Bowl, and asks for their vote.
That was the story of Iowa presidential politics on New Year's Day. The guy was New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson; the place, Woody's Sports Bar.
(Photo courtesy of Evan Vucci of the Associated Press)
The scene was repeated in different ways throughout the state, whose voters will caucus tomorrow and open voting for the 2008 presidential nominations.
Candidates found friendly audiences who didn't mind having their football-watching and holiday relaxing interrupted. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney visited a string of homes throughout the state; in West Des Moines, he stood in front of the TV at Andrew and Ann Warren's home and made his case.
Delaware Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. took over the Raccoon River Brewery Co. in downtown Des Moines, and few patrons seemed to mind that he made it hard to see or hear the Capital One Bowl.
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama started his day at a Des Moines high school gym reminding supporters to knock on doors and keep making phone calls.
And in New Hampshire, which holds the nation's first secret-ballot primary, next Tuesday, Arizona Sen. John McCain said campaigning on a holiday was just great, despite the downpour of snowflakes.
"It's fun. The people are very friendly as long as you're polite to them," he said as he shook hands and posed for pictures at the Tilt'n diner in Tilton.
New Hampshire State Rep. Dennis Reed, a McCain supporter, said he was happy to see the senator at the diner but confessed to a slight case of holiday candidate fatigue.
"I sure hope we don't have to go through this again, this front-loading primary stuff," he said. "To me, it took away from the holidays. On TV, we're inundated with commercials. The department stores probably felt a little shunned, having their ads compete with the campaign ads."
The mood was different in Iowa.
Jamie Lawler, a Des Moines ophthalmologist, was standing in the Warrens' den watching Michigan play Florida in the Capital One Bowl, knowing that Romney would soon be invading the premises.
But that was fine. "I'd like to keep watching; I'd like to see Lloyd Carr [the departing Michigan coach] win his last one," Lawler said. "But I haven't decided who I'm going to vote for yet." So he welcomed Romney's visit.
Intense presidential campaigning on New Year's Day is largely unprecedented, since Iowa's caucuses have never been held so early.
Candidates generally kept things civil, though Romney launched a new ad attacking McCain. The ad quotes the National Review as saying that "McCain is not as conservative as Romney."
But that tone was the exception. As the Outback Bowl kicked off the day's games, Richardson walked into Woody's, where about 20 people huddled around the bar's seven TV sets.
Richardson stood in front of a pool table and gave a brief pitch about health care, Iraq - the usual stuff. Then he paused. "By the way," he asked, "who's playing? And who should I be for here?"
Someone hollered, "Wisconsin!"
"OK," Richardson fired back, "I'm for Wisconsin."
Then he asked who was undecided, and promised to sit down with each - there were about half a dozen.
Tom Vanzee, a water-treatment operator, sat at the bar, ordered a 16-ounce Bloody Mary and took in the scene.
"I have no problem with all this," he said. "He could be our next president."
About an hour up Highway 163 in Des Moines, Biden got a warm reaction. Bill McCarthy, chief deputy sheriff, said he didn't mind spending part of his holiday with him.
"This is once every four years," he said. "And it's a big thing for the state of Iowa."
What Biden and the other candidates found were swarms of people still trying to make up their minds.
"I'm looking for electability," said Brian McCormac, a Des Moines attorney at the Biden rally.
Those at the Romney house party had similar views.
Jen Wallace, a teacher, liked both Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani but was not pleased that "Giuliani didn't really come here." She came to see if Romney could close the deal.
Then there was the other reason no one seemed to mind the intrusion: "I'm an Iowa fan," said Ryan Jacobson, a college administrator, "and they're not playing in a bowl game."