Although it's possible to stand as undecided at the caucus, there seems more point to it if I have a candidate to support. In England, I've really not been following the race at all, so I made up for it this week with visits to four of the contenders for candidacy. (Clearly, any candidate who is not so obliging as to spend Christmas week campaigning in Des Moines doesn't have their priorities straight.)
As the state with the first caucus, we're coddled here in Iowa. They all come to us, and they come to us so frequently that it's possible to meet with them practically at one's convenience and get to know them at relatively small events. When my sister texted a friend of hers in D.C. that she was going to see a candidate speak, the friend texted back "Cheer loudly!", implying that that's the only that the candidate would hear her. Here, it's eminently feasible to shake hands with and exchange at least a few words personally with all the candidates of either major party, if one can be bothered.
I could have gone pheasant hunting with Huckabee yesterday. Instead, I checked out two more (Democratic party) candidates here in town, bringing to four the number I've seen in person. Not bad for being home for a week.
Richardson: A group of sixty-or-so people in the West Des Moines Public Library, starting 20 minutes late. He was introduced by a veteran. The best of them so far at speaking to an audience in a conversational style. His policy points were the most interesting of the group for only one reason: he was the first candidate I heard. Everyone sounded nearly identical on policy, once I'd heard more than one. A friendly fellow who focused on energy, ending the Iraq war, and immigration. He seemed a little more desperate for votes at the end than most, and was the most enthusiastic about taking lots and lots of questions from the audience. Alas, we didn't really have the two-and-a-half hours of interest which the questions ran to, but at least Richardson seemed to enjoy it all.
Obama: A group of about six hundred people at a Holiday Inn event room, starting an hour-and-a-half late in the middle of a snow storm. (The weather delayed Obama's arrival, but it would not have started on time regardless, I suspect.) A well-run event beginning with an informative and entertaining series of trivia questions on the candidate, with right answers rewarded with advertising material. Clever. He was introduced by a precinct candidate who used to be registered as a Republican. He's a good and engaging speaker, whose style seems clearly influenced by his activist experience, although for the first half of the speech I worried it would be content-free. He took exactly four questions from the audience.
Biden: A group of perhaps 200 people at the Italian-American Cultural Center, starting - to our great shock - on time! He came with his wife, his brother, his son (state attorney of Delaware), and his fellow senator from Delaware, who introduced him. He only really talked about foreign policy (which, to be fair, is his strength), but gave a somewhat well-structured emotional appeal to how he related to everyday people, except for the bit where it meandered off into story snippets which failed to tie together.) He speaks well, in a lively professorial style, which made it particularly apparent when he had a stretch with no content. He took questions, but finished right on time, an hour after he had begun.
Clinton: A group of perhaps 700 people at the Celebration Barn, starting over an hour after the listed time, but with a fun and entertaining polka band to keep us going until then. The polka band played stirring patriotic pieces, old-time campaign numbers, and various polka pieces. She arrived with Chelsea Clinton and Christie Vilsack (former first lady of Iowa, wife of the erstwhile presidential candidate, and co-chair of Clinton's state campaign), who introduced here. She sure does know how to structure a speech, from quiet to rousing, although, of course, covering pretty much the same ground as all the other candidates who dealt with more than one or two issues in their speech. It was a lecture, with no Q&A session at the end, although she did have the time to do a round of handshaking and autographs afterwards, since it was presumably the last event of her day. I admired the Wellesley t-shirts in the audience.
Edwards and Kucinich aren't in town this week, and I missed a Dodd event today. This means I go back to being a normal voter whose information about the candidates is gathered through the media.