Molly Clause's night at the caucus
An Iowa Democrat has 30 minutes to rustle up five more votes for her candidate.
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In her many years of caucusgoing, she says, no decision had been this difficult – not just because of what she sees as the strength of Democratic field, but because of what she believes is at stake for the country.Skip to next paragraph
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"I don't view this as a choice between experience and change," Clause, who is a grandmother, recalls telling herself. "I want skill."
In the end, she decided that Biden, the tough-minded, internationally seasoned chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had the right stuff.
She meets her candidate
On New Year's Day, Clause fastened a "Biden for President '08" button to her cap and drove to a Biden campaign stop at a snow-flecked county building in Indianola.
"I like the hat, kid, I like the hat," the senator said, noticing the button as he strode into the room and reaching to shake her hand. Clause couldn't stop smiling.
"Folks, this race is in your hands," Biden, in a crisp blazer and white shirt, boomed to a conference room of supporters, on a day temperatures never made it out of the teens. "On caucus night, if you stand up for Joe Biden, you're going to be surprised how many people stand next to you."
He discussed the growing threat of Pakistan and spoke of meetings with foreign leaders. Clause walked away more convinced than ever of her choice. "He hit on all the things I care about," she said.
The Biden campaign asked her to volunteer as a "precinct co-captain." She spent the next two nights on the phone in her home office, urging friends to caucus for the senator.
Quest for five more votes
Patterson is a small town that juts out from the corn fields in Madison County, famous for the novel inspired by its covered bridges. The town has a weather-lashed one-room community building, and it had been designated one of the 1,781 caucus sites across Iowa.
A little after 6 p.m. Thursday, Clause parked her Jeep Liberty on the snowy road outside and burst through the door with a Biden sign and a wicker basket of Chicken McNuggets she had picked up on the way from work.
"Dan, have you had dinner?" she asked one man, as she bobbed through the growing crowd with nuggets and sweet-and-sour sauce to woo the undecided.
"Consider Joe Biden," she pleaded. "Consider Joe Biden."
By 7 p.m., 116 caucusgoers had jammed into the room – any US citizen and Iowa resident who turns 18 by the general election and registers as a Democrat can take part. Someone had already plugged in a coffee urn. Others had covered a row of tables with plates of home-baked cookies.
The precinct chair, a farmer named Daniel Ryner, called the caucus to order and announced that given the turnout, candidate preference groups would need at least 17 people to be viable. Clause, in the same cap with the pin that Biden had noticed two days earlier, winced and shook her head.