Pregame from the Iowa GOP Straw Poll

9:15 a.m.  People are starting to trickle into the event.  Food is being unloaded.  "Gators" are running hard with supplies.  The Fair Tax rally seems a bust.  There were a dozen people in Stephens Auditorium.  The Fair Tax folks say their rally isn’t starting ’til 10:30 now.

9:20 a.m.  Iowa GOP chair Ray Hoffman walks down the concrete stairs near Stephens Auditorium, resplendent in his navy jacket, starched white shirt and yellow tie.  He was on site at 4 a.m. for a TV interview — that got cancelled.  Hoffman picked up a cup of coffee from the Fair Tax folks and chatted with me for a while.

"We’re expecting another record being broken," Hoffman said.  "In 1999, we had 20,000 people that voted and I believe we’re going to beat that record.  The wind is blowing just a little bit.  People are out.  Everybody’s got a smile on their face.  I can’t wait to go out and I can’t wait ’til tomorrow when it’s all finished," Hoffman said.

He praised his hard-working staff and praised me for wearing casual clothes in the heat.  "I thought I’d look good for America," Hoffman said of his own more formal attire. 

9:25 a.m.  The Romney folks have their young volunteers walking around in a sort of parade with placards on sticks.  There’s a dixieland band playing in the Romney fortress, but no supporters.  (Note on that later — they were in line waiting to vote.)

9:30 a.m.  A woman dressed in red, white and blue was walking nearby.  Mary Hildebrant is from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and she’s here to support Tommy Thompson.  "He is our man.  He’s been our governor and we just really respect him and not only that, he’s been a true friend and he’s an honest man and that’s why I’m here," she said.  "He’s got friends from every walk of life."

9:35 a.m.  The Brownback campaign has a row of laptops set up to register voters as they arrive on site. 

Tim Leister of Gilbert, Iowa, checked in.  "I agree with all of (Brownback’s) conservative views.  I was in the military for 15 years…and we need to uphold the 2nd amendment and we’re pro-life and pro-family and he’s consistently voted on those things in his career and hasn’t flip-flopped.  That’s what I like about him.  He’s consistent."

9:40 a.m. Steve Scheffler of the Iowa Christian Alliance is greeting people at his organization’s booth.  Which candidate will draw religious conservatives’ votes today?  "I don’t think there’s any consensus candidate. I think a lot of ’em are still looking.  I think a few of them are starting to make some traction…Brownback is more organized than I originally thought."

9:45 a.m.  At the Huckabee tent, there are two more Wisconsin folks.  "This is democracy.  This is how it’s supposed to be.  We’ve never been to one of these before.  It kind of gives me goosebumps," said Scott Neitzel of Madison, Wisconsin.  Nietzel and his wife, Kate, were there.

9:50 a.m.  I catch site of the huge Duncan Hunter mug shot riding around in the back of a pick-up, with an American flag flapping in the breeze.

10:00 a.m.  "I’m for Mike Huckabee," said Don Tresemer of Council Bluffs, Iowa.  "I like his stance on immigration, on energy and taxes, so I think he’s a good man."

10:15 a.m.  I found all the Romney people.  There were waiting in line underneath Stephens Auditorium, waiting to vote.  "I got ’em in the shade," one man wearing a Romney staff t-shirt barked into his handheld to command central, explaining where he’d diverted the troops.  The doors opened a little late.  "It doesn’t bother me a bit,"  Tammy Morgan of Conesville, Iowa, said of dipping her finger in ink — Iraqi style — to signal she had voted.  It’s her first Straw Poll and she voted for Mitt Romney.  "I’ve been to some of his meetings and I just like what he has to say better," she said. .   

10:20 a.m. State Senator Jeff Angelo of Creston, Iowa, is a Giuliani supporter.  "There is no Giuliani tent here today so I am just here to freely take in the spectacle," he said.  "….I’m free and unemcumbered today, looking at the ferris wheel and the live performances and the barbeque.  I’m amazed by it all."

10:30 a.m.  Dave Fischer of Des Moines voted for Steve Forbes at the 1999 Straw Poll.  This morning, he was holding up a four-by-eight-foot Ron Paul sign. "I’m a life-long Republican, a life-long Iowan.  I’ve never been more enthused about a candidate, any candidate in my life," he said of Dr. Paul.

10:35 a.m.  Two women from Dubuque drove nearly three hours to get to the Straw Poll.  Linda Derks of Dubuque is a Tancredo supporter.  "My main concern is illegal aliens and he’s been on that subject for several, several years rather than a Johnny-come-lately, seeing which way the wind’s blowing," Derks said.  Her pal, Cheryl Kramer of Dubuque, didn’t have a chosen candidate when she arrived in Ames.  "That’s what makes this fun!" she exclaimed.  "I’ll decide who I’m going to vote for when I get in there."

10:45 a.m.  Buses keep pulling into the parking lot which is normally packed with cars for an Iowa State football game.  Betty Anderson of Carroll came on a Brownback bus.  "He’s got my values, the same values I have:  pro-life, whole-life, traditional marriage," she said.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.