Christmas Cheer, Campaigns an Awkward Mix For Iowa Voters

(By Mark Hirsch -- Associated Press)
By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 24, 2007

DES MOINES -- Chris Dodd, the Democratic senator from Connecticut, has been rolling across Iowa in what he calls the "Twelve Days of Results" tour. It's like the 12 Days of Christmas -- only with themes such as "Results To Protect Homeowners" replacing all that "10 Lords a-Leaping" business.

The tour ends Monday at noon in the town of Carroll, where the candidate will help box up care packages for National Guardsmen stationed overseas ("Results For a New American Community"). Then the Dodd campaign goes dark, as they say on Broadway. He'll treat staffers to ice-skating on Christmas Day, followed by hot chocolate and holiday cheer at his rented home (other candidates campaign here; he lives here). But no speeches.

"I have a pretty good ear, and it would take a tin ear to give a stump speech on Christmas Eve," Dodd says.

The presidential campaign and the holidays are tripping over one another. It's a little awkward. Many people don't want the sacred tarnished by the profane. At a subconscious level, everyone understands that red-meat politics doesn't mix with tinsel and mistletoe.

Because many states jockeyed for earlier positions on the primary-election calendar, Iowa scheduled its caucuses for a date, Jan. 3, that clings to 2008 by its fingernails -- and is just nine days after Christmas. Candidates who have feverishly campaigned throughout 2007, many of them having visited all of Iowa's 99 counties, must suddenly experiment with such novel practices as silence. For at least a couple of days here, the only decent thing a candidate can do is disappear.

Many campaigns shut down after a flurry of events on Saturday. Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois, had a final rally late Sunday afternoon in Council Bluffs. Hillary Clinton's camp scheduled a party Sunday night for staffers, volunteers and hopelessly trapped-in-Iowa journalists. Most candidates will go into campaign mode again sometime on Wednesday.

In recent days, campaign buses have journeyed from one twinkling, reindeer-guarded event to another. Teenagers in Waterloo attended a Mike Huckabee event wearing shirts saying "Merry Christmas and a Huckabee New Year." Mitt Romney drew well over 1,000 people to a West Des Moines holiday party at which the post-speech music was not the standard campaign-trail, get-yourself-to-the-polls pop tune, but rather "Silent Night."

Jackie Dodd, the senator's wife, told supporters Thursday night at a holiday party, "I think this is the cruelest trick that's ever been played on Iowa, to make it so you have to focus on the caucuses at the same time you are focusing on the holidays."

Some residents see no conflict.

"It's an interesting time frame to couple them together. Prayer and action. 'Faith without works is dead.' That's what the Word says," said Sara DeMeulenaere of Des Moines, who describes herself as a "messianic believer."

Pastor Bill Devlin, who is touring Iowa for a nonpartisan group called Redeem the Vote, said: "I think it's perfectly appropriate to talk about politics around the Christmas table. I think this is something Jesus would want us to do."

Any discussion of the Christmas/caucus overlap must acknowledge one underappreciated fact: Many Iowans don't caucus. Reporters typically interview people who are attending political events. Wander a couple of blocks away and you'll find all manner of citizens who will be at home on the night of Jan. 3, watching the Orange Bowl.

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