DECORAH, Iowa--AT A RECENT rally at Luther College, Brenda Meyer text messaged her sons when Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said he respected the rights of hunters while decrying the dumping of handguns and assault weapons into cities. Meyer is a 46-year-old nurse from Decorah. She is a lifelong Republican and everyone in her family is a hunter.
She was in Decorah only because she was dragged here by a friend, Carol Hemesath, a Democrat and a mental-health therapist. Another Democrat nursing friend, Deb Tekippe, tried to persuade Meyer to come along earlier in the day but Meyer turned her down.
Meyer's text message was, "Interesting for a Democrat. Obama believes we should own guns to hunt."
She said she is seriously considering crossing party lines for the first time to vote for Obama. "My father would be rolling in his grave if he knew I came to this rally," Meyer said. "I hope I wasn't shmoozed but he said sometimes we have to do the right thing because it is the right thing, even if it is unpopular. It is time we had a president who did that."
Asked if President Bush had any credibility left with her, she cited Iraq and his veto of expanding health insurance for children and said, "No. None . . . . I like the fact that Obama admits that he will make mistakes as president. We need that honesty."
The first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses have emerged as perhaps the only chance for Obama or any other candidate to stop Hillary Clinton's nomination. It is the only early state where Clinton does not have a double-digit lead in polls, a fact frequently attributed to heavy anti-Iraq war sentiment among Democrats. If Obama ekes out a victory, it is because the perception of his sincerity trumps Clinton's experience.
Hemesath and Tekippe both said they formerly favored Clinton, but changed their minds.
"Yes, I think Hillary has the experience and intelligence, but Hillary has a message that she will lead us," Tekippe said. "Obama has more of a message that he can lead us, but with our help. I had Hillary's picture on my table. It will have to go to the back now."
Hemesath said, "I actually kind of like the fact that he is a bit raw, unpolished. He seems more honest. I want somebody who represents this country like a human being. George Bush has the US hated like at no time in my life."
Several other voters at Obama appearances in Waterloo and Independence said Obama became their favorite after souring on John Edwards. Edwards led in many Iowa polls in the spring and summer with his populist message but voters said he plummeted in sincerity with his $400 haircut and his ties to subprime mortgage companies in the national foreclosure debacle.
Julie Falcon, 49, a federal natural resources worker whose votes have swung from Ronald Reagan in 1980 to John Kerry in 2004, wrote a note during Obama's speech in Independence that said, "So far out of the others I have seen, he is by far the best of the three," referring to Obama, Clinton, and Edwards.
Fifty-year-old Geri Porteney of Oelwein picked up an Obama supporter card after crying to him in the front row about how her brother had to work despite cancer to keep his health insurance. Porteney said Clinton may know the issues, but the way Obama looked her in her wet eyes and held her quaking hands "meant more to me than anything."
Rex and Nell Boyd, both 55, who own their own window sales and installation business, came 90 miles from Belmont to hear Obama in Waterloo. They once favored Edwards. "I liked the way Obama answered the black man [in the audience] on criminal justice," Nell said. The couple spend their spare time teaching youth canoe and kayak skills and helping build theater sets at the local high school. "He said poverty drives crime and the fix is education," Rex said. "But parents have to do their part, too."
Also in Waterloo, two 23-year-old nurses, Crystal Schrader of Cedar Falls and Julie Gleason of Denver, Iowa, said were leaning toward Clinton because she is a woman. They were persuaded to give Obama a further look because of the fact Obama said that he is a Christian, but that his administration would embrace all religions. "Too many people in politics are saying my Bible is better than your Bible," Gleason said. Schrader added, "We have a cultural melting pot. We don't need a president who polarizes."