Eldridge, Iowa

I'm all the way east, near the Mississippi River, at the Eldridge caucus at the North Scott County High School and will be blogging it live in this post. This shop is gonna be run by Marty O'Boyle, a Scott County (Davenport) Democrats vice chair, and he's the subject of intense speculation out here: a jolly, very influential Dem decked out tonight in a blue rugby shirt, he committed to Gephardt early in '04 and realigned with Kerry when Gephardt blew it. But he's "kept his powder dry" this year, as someone in the Obama Davenport operation told me. Everybody's watching which way he'll go. 

The firefighters are big in this area, so if Dodd's not viable, they'll be a major bloc to watch for ...

I'm bringing this to you from the office of the assistant principal, Frank Wood -- he's a state senator as well and a big Obama supporter. The tall, bald, bespectacled Wood just popped in here, shocked at how many independents they're signing up already. They've registered about twelve and "have twelve standing out there waiting to sign up," he says, breathlessly. "This is very nice ..."

Josh Brennan, Edwards's youthful, red-bearded precinct captain, downplays expectations -- "this area is getting more rural" -- and predicts the caucus will break for Obama. "My heart is pounding. I'm very nervous." 

6:30pm: James Hill, a redheaded Obama supporter, just rolled in. He's bringing his life partner along to caucus for Obama for the first time. "We're all really interested in the horse-race," I tell him. "I got kicked out of the state of Nebraska for drugging a race horse," he replies. I get the feeling he's not kidding. His shirt says Pirate Rule. "I am a pirate," he explains. "Except I don't like booty. I went through the candidates' lives and decided to be for the one who passed up money the most times. It was Obama."

6:40pm: How's the crowd? "Really big," says Brennan. "Good for Obama?" I say. "Bad for us," he mutters, mournfully.

6:45pm: Turns out Hill is the Obama precinct captain. This strikes me as slightly alarming. He tells me he was kidding about the life partner thing, but not the pirate thing. "I ran for local office as a pirate in 2004," he says. "I got 1%." He has a "1%" tattoo on his back.

6:49pm: The Hillary tables are full evidence of the "Granny Getout" Mike mentioned. Average age for Hillary supporters, in sharp contrast to Obama and Edwards supporters, appears to be approximately 81. "Connie! Get over here!" yells John Peters, a Hillary fan with a white flat-top haircut (!!) who's a caucus veteran and who's taken it on himself to call out to renegade friends. "Aaah!" Connie says, trotting over to the "Undecided" table.

... the Hillary campaign is the only one to deliver food, natch -- sandwiches and cookies. Peters is making liberal use of this fact to attempt to attract people to his tables.

7:00pm: Word has just come in from Dodd: Go with Hillary if Dodd isn't viable. Wood, the assistant principal, attempting to counteract this order, hands the firefighters sitting at the Dodd table a flyer: "OBAMA: LET BIDEN, DODD, KUCINICH INTO NEW HAMPSHIRE DEBATE."

"I heard it's not true [about Hillary]," says one of the firefighters. "Oh no!" says Fae Harvey, the Hillary precinct captain, earnestly. She's come to babysit the Dodd people and hand out Hillary flyers. "It's true!! From Dodd's orders. I wanna win. I'm not gonna win lying." 

Hill comes over, joins the Dodd table, and points at me. "This is a true story: I got kicked out of a peace protest for being too loud." I think, James, noooo! These are firefighters! They are not into peace protests or your insane stories! "Haha, I love this guy, even though he's a little wacky," I say to the group, feeling awkward and sorry for James. But actually, his humorous manner works. "Remember the sixties?" says one firefighter, Jim Turnley, eagerly ...

7:10pm: It's a real squeaker here between Hillary and Obama. Looks like the same amount for each. Harvey is running around frantically, counting her Hillary brood ... stay tuned ... 

7:14pm: We've shattered a record here in Eldridge: 92 registered Dems showed up, 89 new voters, for a total of 181 caucusers -- about double the amount in 2004.

7:21pm: In his capacity as state senator, Wood makes a little speech -- I detect an unusual number of uses of the word "change" ... -- and returns to sit with the firefighters.

"That is a huge number, Marty O'Boyle is saying about the attendance. Wild applause!

7:22pm: It's gonna take 22 people to be a viable group here. No way Dodd, Biden, or Richardson will make it -- even Edwards is questionable.

7:39pm: Everyone's broken into groups. It's kind of hard to tell what's going on, because I have to stand over in an "observers" area, but -- whoa! One of the firefighters made a call, and says nobody at the Dodd headquarters knows about the Hillary directive. Confusion!

Turnley has plastered an "Obama" sticker over his "Dodd" one. "I hope [Fae Harvey] was joking [about Dodd telling the firefighters to go with Hillary], for the sake of her campaign," says Turnley's 18-year-old daughter, an aspiring journalist and Obama lover with funky dyed hair whom he's brought over to meet me. Suddenly, a cheer rises from the Obama cluster. "A chunk of Richardson people just came over to us," notes Turnley, now a proud Barack man.

The rest of the firefighters went over to Richardson -- which means they're still winnable, since Richardson isn't viable. And on that note, oh my God -- Wood is, right now, giving one of the wobbling firefighters, a burly man with a shaved head, a back massage.

7:48pm: "You guys could make this an even 80," Wood is telling the firefighters. There are only two undecided ones left.

7:52pm: Boy, there could not be a more ridiculous, stereotypical contrast between the Obama and Clinton precinct captain. You've got James Hill, youngish, a little irreverent. And then Fae Harvey, who's older and who's got puffy hair, no patience, and jeans pulled up to here. Harvey points to Wood. "Are we still allowed to be doing this [lobbying undecideds]?" she says, a little petulantly. "By all means," Wood replies gallantly.

Hill walks over to me to share his magic trick for undecideds. "I like to say something a little squirrely to these people," he says, pointing at the undecideds. "Make them remember you."

7:55pm: Marty moves to close the first alignment. "DON'T MOVE!" people shout. Marty's whole family is here: His wife has settled for Hillary; his son, Jesse, is for Edwards; his sister was for Richardson (now for Edwards) ... everyone is sitting, and Marty is still wandering in the middle, undecided, the belle of the ball. "Marty, over here," someone from Edwards's cluster shouts. "Listen to your wife!" yells a Hillary person. "Marty, Marty!" the Obama people yell. He just grins.

7:57pm: The first number comes out: 76 Obama, 56 Clinton, 43 Edwards, 4 undecided, and 1 Biden. Everyone looks around -- where's the Biden person? "That would be ... me," says Marty from the podium, with a pleased grin. What a rascal. He likes the underdog. He won't change his vote.

8:00pm: A huge cheer goes up from the room. "What happened?" I ask nobody in particular. "They just got the two firefighters!" an Obama volunteer shouts, gleefully. Have those two Dodd firefighters ever felt so special since their wedding day?  

8:08pm: A bitter fight has devolved over the last two undecideds -- a Hillary man in a Hawkeyes hat and an Edwards guy in a Steelworkers shirt are shouting at each other. "She's old!" mocks Edwards Man. "He's just comin' along and saying, 'Woo, I'm gonna save the poor middle class!'" Hillary Man hollers, waving his hands. "Well, so is Obama," Edwards Man snaps back. "Too much fighting," whimpers one of the undecideds' kids, running towards me.

They're arguing with each other, but it's displaced anger: neither of their candidates has gotten the most votes. "If I had a say, we'd have a primary and I wouldn't have to listen to this bullcrap," says Hillary Man, skulking off.

8:20pm: New numbers after realignment: 80 Obama, 58 Hillary, 43 Edwards. "Biden realigned with Obama," Marty announces from the podium -- meaning himself. Gasps punctuate the crowd. "That's not so nice to your wife," mumbles somebody from the Hillary camp.

8:40pm: The caucus is over: Two delegates to Obama, one to Hillary, and one to Edwards. "You picked their asses up," a good-humored Hillary guy named Dose is telling Wood, referring to the firefighters. Wood smiles courteously. An Obama woman in a white sweater wanders over to Dose and puts a "L" up on her forehead, for "Loser." "Yeah, yeah, you come over here now, thanks a lot," says Dose. "You just wait until the convention."

The spin begins. "What does it mean?" I ask Peters, the man with the white flat top who supported Hillary, as he leaves the high school. "Oh, I don't think it'll mean a damn thing," Peters says airily. We only have four delegates here."

"We were only twelve away from Clinton's number," says Josh Brennan, the red-headed Edwards precinct chair. "I think we did phenomenally, especially because Senator Frank Wood is the assistant principal here and he's an Obama supporter," adds Brennan's sister, who's helping out.

Brennan and his sister sit down, away from me, to discuss results from nearby counties, which they're getting breathlessly via text on their cell phones. I spot Fae Harvey, diligently texting at her own table. People are dispersing. After the delegation math ended, everybody's attention has instantly turned to the statewide returns.

Everybody's, that is, except James Hill's. Obama's pirate and precinct chair is over by Marty's podium. He's busily submitting a handwritten resolution to the platform negotiations, which only two or three random people are waiting around to take part in. The resolution reads:

BECAUSE, Of the tense nature of the nation, the day following the NFL Championship game shall be a national holiday, celebrating hedonism of course. 

-- Eve Fairbanks