The candidates’ on-the-ground efforts — or on-air advertising blitzes — came down Tuesday evening to homey gatherings of neighbors in community centers, churches and elementary schools across Iowa’s 99 counties. In Dallas County, the state’s fastest-growing jurisdiction, just outside Des Moines, the contenders sensed an opportunity. Romney, who bested Mike Huckabee by four votes here in 2008, courted the growing numbers of Wells Fargo Mortgage employees, medical workers and other white-collar suburbanites. Rick Santorum preached to evangelical congregants of the Point of Grace mega-church. And Ron Paul persuaded farmers in the west to plant his lawn signs in their fields. But as of 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, the candidates had to let go and trust their political ambitions to Iowa voters and the stage-frightened volunteers deputized to woo them.
The first volunteer to arrive, a Rick Perry supporter named Lynn Kozak, claimed a table in the cafeteria closest to the gym, where the caucus would take place. A team of volunteers for Paul, who, per campaign instructions, declined to give their names, took the table next to her and perused the Perry pamphlets. (“He stole our high-school-sweetheart thing,” one Paul volunteer lamented.) Next came Andi Tisor, wearing a “Newt 2012 Iowa Caucus Team” T-shirt and setting up next to the Paul people, joking, “This would be a lot more fun if there was a bar set up here.” Risa Karras, a mild-mannered Romney volunteer, arrived last and quietly handed out stickers opposite the registration table.
Nearby, the Burnses rose from their table, passing the volunteers and nodding hello to neighbors as they made their way to the gym.
Unlike the Democratic caucuses, where factions of supporters try to get neighbors to join them in different parts of the room, the orderly Republicans sat quietly in the bleachers and 240 folding chairs arranged in rows on the glossy hardwood floor. At 7:30 p.m., under basketball backboards and surrounded by campaign posters and the purple and yellow colors of the Waukee Warriors, Adam Fox, a local party official, approached the microphone stand.
“It’s great to see so many people fired up to beat President Obama,” Fox said before leading the room in the Pledge of Allegiance, passing around the “buck bag” for donations for the county party and accepting election as the evening’s caucus chairman.