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Candidates Make Last-Minute Bids in Iowa

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

And these are the sounds of the last hours of campaigning in Iowa.

(Soundbite of political speeches)

Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Former Senator; Democratic Presidential Candidate): I'm asking you to go and caucus for me and to take some of your friends with you to the caucus.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): And I think these caucus attendees look at the differences between the different candidates, that I'll be able to get the support that I need to, well, do pretty darn well here in Iowa.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Massachusetts Governor; Republican Presidential Candidate): If you go out there and caucus for me and we win this thing, I want to tell you, the political landscape of America will never be the same again ever, because it's not possible to get outspent like me and win.

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): Are you fired up?

Unidentified Group: Fired up.

Sen. OBAMA: Are you ready to go?

Unidentified Group: Ready to go.

Sen. OBAMA: Fired up.

Unidentified Group: Fired up.

Sen. OBAMA: Ready to go.

Unidentified Group: Ready to go.

Sen. OBAMA: Oh, that's what I'm talking about Davenport.

BLOCK: Voters in Davenport and the rest of Iowa will gather tomorrow evening for the first decisive choices in Election 2008. The race is very close on both sides. For the Republicans, polls show Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney in the lead with John McCain gaining some ground. For the Democrats, John Edwards, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are running in a tight three-way race. We'll hear about efforts to get people out to the caucuses and we'll talk about the significance of the Iowa vote in a few minutes.

First, NPR's David Welna reports on the candidate's final pitches.

DAVID WELNA: On one of the coldest mornings this winter, Hillary Clinton showed up 25 minutes late to a church meeting room in Indianola, Iowa that more than a 100 hundred people had packed into.

She spoke for nearly an hour and took no questions, but Clinton did promise that, in her words, if you will stand up for me one night, I will stand up for you every day in the White House.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (New York, Democrat; Presidential Candidate): And I will be ready on day one to assume the responsibilities that we, starting tomorrow, will pass on to the next president. So please, put on your coats, warm up the car, call your friends, pick up a buddy, come out to caucus tomorrow night, and together, we will make history. Thank you all so much and God bless you.

(Soundbite of crowd)

WELNA: Many in the crowd were older women. They tend to favor Clinton more than any other Democrat. Here's 66-year-old Cecilia Mescar(ph).

Ms. CECILIA MESCAR (Iowa Voter): I was voting for Hillary Clinton if she ever ran when her husband was president - and I say, the next president after Bill Clinton runs through his terms, I want Hillary. And I want to see that dream come true.

WELNA: But others there were still struggling to make a decision. One of them was Katie Tener(ph), a 19-year-old independent, who says she definitely plans to caucus tomorrow night, but she's not sure for whom.

Ms. KATIE TENER: I figure I'll figure it out when I walk into the caucusing room. So…

WELNA: But you just heard Hillary Clinton make her pitch, didn't it impress you much.

Ms. TENER: I was impressed by her, but I'm also impressed by Barack Obama and some of the other people I've heard. So I don't really know yet.

WELNA: Still up in the air?

Ms. TENER: Yes, definitely.

WELNA: John Edwards, who seems to be running neck-and-neck with both Clinton and Obama, is making a final statewide appeal in Iowa this evening with a TV ad featuring a man who lost his job when the Maytag plant here moved its operations overseas.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Mr. DOUG BISHOP: I want a guy who's going to sit down and look a 7-year-old kid in the eye and tell him I'm going to fight for your dad's job. That's what I want.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. BISHOP: I'm going to do my best to make sure that my children aren't the first generation of Americans that I can't look them in the eye and say, you're going to have a better life than I had. And I think the person that's going to get that done is my friend and yours, Senator John Edwards.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. EDWARDS: I'm John Edwards and I approve this message.

WELNA: And Barack Obama made a final appeal for support in Coralville this afternoon, reaching out to those who are now backing someone else.

Sen. OBAMA: If you're stuck with the other person…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. OBAMA: …then make me your second choice.

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. OBAMA: Make me your second choice. I still want your support.

WELNA: Across the state in Mason City, Republican frontrunner Mike Huckabee took aim at the Republican whose lead he appears to have overtaken, Mitt Romney. He didn't mention Romney by name, but he did refer to the many millions of dollars Romney has poured into the campaign from his own fortune.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Arkansas Governor; Republican Presidential Candidate): Within about the next 36 hours, those of you here in Iowa are going to make political history, one way or the other. And one of the things I'm hoping for is that we absolutely shock the chattering class of the political pundits on the East Coast - those who have already figured out how it's suppose to turn out. And, you know, there are some who've already figured out that, well, because some folks have more money, they're suppose to win.

Wouldn't it be something if Iowa proved that the people of Iowa cannot be bought, that they can't even be rented for the night.

WELNA: Romney made his own swipe today, not at Huckabee, but at one of the leading Democrats. He promised CNN that if elected president, he and his wife would not embarrass the nation by their conduct in the White House.

David Welna, NPR News, Coralville, Iowa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.
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