Thursday, July 19, 2007

Following the money

A story in Friday's Observer will show which presidential candidates (aside from John Edwards) fared the best in raising money from the Carolinas last quarter. Hint: One's an Illinois Democrat and the other's a New York Republican.

For a really cool, interactive look at where candidates raised their money from across the country, check out this page from the Federal Election Commission.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Monday's YouDebate

The pack of Democratic presidential candidates comes to Charleston Monday for their second debate in the state this year. And this one should be interesting.

It's sponsored by CNN and YouTube, which is asking its users to submit questions on video. A lot of them are serious, about things like health care and education. And then, there are the others.

Check this one by a guy named pzottolo. He asks:
-- "How do you propose to put the care in health care? And baby-kissing doesn't count."
-- "Are you concerned with how the American president looks to the world? And if so, would you be willing to undergo plastic surgery?"
-- "Will the separation of church and state be more than just the word 'and'?"

Then there are a couple Tennessee country boys who call themselves travisandjonathan. They have a question for John Edwards.

"Tell us how good lookin' do you think you are," they say. "Rate yourself on a scale of 1-10. Don’t be false modest .... Do you think you're better-looking than Barack Obama?"

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Democracy, Iowa style

Pat Minor sat in a sun-drenched park in Anamosa Iowa Saturday, a few feet from John Edwards. It was the third meeting of the day with Iowa voters for the Democratic presidential candidate. But not his first with Pat Minor.

At the gathering of about 150 people, the 55-year-old bookstore clerk asked Edwards whether, as president, he would invite the Palestinians' elected Hamas government to the negotiating table. Not until it recognizes Israel and renounces violence, he replied. Then Edwards complimented his questioner.

"You do a thoughtful job of bringing this up everytime I see you," he said.

Minor has talked to Edwards about the Palestinians four times this year. Earlier this month, she got a chance to ask former President Clinton, campaigning with his wife Hillary. That's how it goes in Iowa. It's an old saw, but a lot of Iowans won't decide who they'll caucus for in January until they can look a candidate in the eye, kicking the tires before they buy.

"It's always up close and personal," said teacher Connie McKean.

With their January caucuses, Iowa voters get the first say on the 2008 presidential race. And they take thier role seriously. Almost 400 showed up to hear Edwards in Fort Dodge Thursday night. Other crowds swelled appearances in smaller towns on Friday and Saturday. Clinton and Obama have drawn even more.

People who show up ask nuanced questions about returning veterans, energy policy, health care and other issues.

"Your voter out here is a savvy voter," said Mike Robinson, chair of the Linn County Democratic Party in Cedar Rapids.

In North Carolina, the presidential race is still an abstract issue for a lot of voters. If candidates pop in at all, it's usually to raise money or change planes. Here, amid the cornfields, politics counts. Voters aren't the only ones who know it.

"You actually get to look us in the eye and judge who deserved to be president of the United States," Edwards said in Anamosa.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Fields of Dreams

Yesterday our three-van caravan sped through north-central Iowa past miles of corn and soybeans. The land is basically flat, which made the steel windmills loom like giant towers on the horizon, their blades turning lazily in the breeze. The wind farms out here are expansive and seem to stretch on forever. Like the corn.

It was probably as fitting a place as any for John Edwards to lay out his latest plan, for "green-collar" jobs. Those would be part of a plan to reduce America's dependence on fossil fuel and create jobs along with a new energy economy. Edwards is doing his part. He rode in a Ford van, not the SUV he routinely drove around in four years ago.

The green economy was the subject of the speech he gave at five stops. It was a short speech. Five minutes and then Q&A. Iowans seem to like that.

The Edwards campaign knows a photo op when they see it. The last stop, just outside Webster City, was smack up against a corn field. Rows of head-high corn stretched out behind Edwards as he spoke to about 150 people just before dusk. Red, white and blue bunting hung over a barbed wire fence between him and the corn. Photographers had a literal field day. If you pose it, they will come.

At one point, there was some rustling in the corn. Edwards seemed startled. "Somebody's walking around in the corn," he said. A photographer pushed her way past the corn, cameras strapped around her neck "I'm glad those are cameras in your hands and not guns," Edwards said.

Edwards has visited Iowa a couple dozen times, and been to almost if not all its 99 counties. I guess that's why he forgot a little of North Carolina's. In Humboldt, a woman prefaced a question telling him she was from North Carolina.

Where, he asked.

New Bern, she said.

New BernCarteret County,” Edwards replied.

New Bern is actually in Craven County.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Dodge city

FORT DODGE, Ia -- We're about to get out of Dodge.

After breakfast, we'll climb into a small press van and follow John Edwards on a day-long swing through north central Iowa. This is an old meat-packing town in the middle of miles and miles of corn. We'll see more corn today.

Last night Edwards spoke at the Fort Dodge library. People began coming in an hour ahead of time and by 7, there were nearly 400 people sitting in seats and leaning against bookshelves. Edwards arrived 25 minutes late. Standing with rolled up sleeves, he spoke for a few minutes about health care and rural America, but devoted most of his time to answering questions.

Iowans take this stuff seriously. There were questions about terrorism, stem cell research and education. Amanda Feeley, a 32-year-old stay-at-home mom with three kids in tow, asked Edwards is he would take what she called the “food stamp diet challenge,” and eat on a dollar a day.

“The $400 haircut would have kept my family in groceries for three weeks,” she said. The audience groaned.

The haircut thing won’t go away. And Amanda said she’s leaning toward supporting Edwards.

After the meeting, we came back to the Best Western Starlite Lounge, out on the edge of the prairie. We had a late dinner at Buford’s, the steakhouse in the hotel. Edwards walked in with a blue t-shirt, past a table with reporters and a couple staffers.

“It’s good to see you guys, but I’m not going to eat with you,” he said, heading off to a corner table.