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Still Undecided in Iowa's Three-Way Race

The Iowa three-way race. (AP).

By Peter Slevin
DES MOINES -- Marilyn Heaps-Nelson Bull is undecided. And, boy, would the leading Democratic candidates like to change that.

Not that they know her, but they covet the demographic she represents. At 61, she is an unassuming retired physical therapist from Des Moines. She has never caucused before. In fact, she voted for a Republican named George W. Bush in 2000. But then he started the Iraq war and, as she sees it, took away American civil liberties.

So this year she intends to caucus -- and caucus for a Democrat.

"There's so much riding on this," Bull said this week as she waited for John Edwards to appear at a rally inside the ornate Temple for the Performing Arts in Des Moines. "I'm looking for some change."

Bull stood quietly on the side as steelworkers in bright T-shirts waved signs and chanted, "We love Elizabeth! We love John! We want to see them on the White House lawn!"

She never took off her winter coat as perhaps 300 people strolled into the hall along with a sizeable media contingent on hand to assess Edwards's strength against Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Polls continue to show a persistently close race, with Edwards always slightly behind the other two, with plenty of Iowans still unsure.

Bull considers Obama likable but unseasoned and Clinton too abrasive. Edwards, though, comes across as "just more personally for the people." She showed up to watch him, hoping to walk out the door a committed supporter, her decision at long last made.

As the spirited piped-in music stopped and the speeches began, Bull was excited to see Elizabeth Edwards and Mari Culver, the wife of Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, climb onstage. Culver, a lawyer and women's advocate, called Edwards a candidate who can win "not just the caucuses, but the general election, too."

Bull smiled and quietly applauded, still wearing her woolen gloves.

So far, so good.

Her support was there for the taking as Edwards took the stage, looking and sounding upbeat, wearing a dark suit and pale blue tie in place of his usual faded campaign trail jeans. Early in his 15-minute speech, which was repeatedly interrupted by cheers from the faithful, she was feeling encouraged.

But then Edwards amped up his populist attacks on big business. He told how he was the right man for what he predicted would be an "epic fight." He said, in a familiar line from his stump speech, that only a tough president can stand up to drug companies, insurance companies, defense contractors and their lobbyists.

"When they give up their power," he called out, "is when we take their power away from them!"

He went on to tell of a lesson he learned from his millworker father when Johnny Edwards, then 4 or 5 years old, came home bloody from a playground fight. His father told him not to start any fights, but not to "ever, ever run away from a fight."

"I want you to go out there tomorrow," the father told the teary-eyed boy, "and I want you to find that kid who kicked your butt. I want you to kick his butt. I want you to fight with everything you've got."
And that's where Edwards lost Bull.

To her ear, and to her sense of how to make progress, the skilled former trial lawyer sounded too pugnacious. She echoed a view frequently spoken from one segment of a divided electorate this campaign season that going toe-to-toe is not the right approach.

"I'm not angry. I'm not against corporate America. My kids work for Intel. It's important what they're doing," Bull explained as the crowd filed into the bright 26-degree afternoon. "I'd be interested to see if the other candidates have a little more willingness to work together."

Her status: Still undecided.

"I don't know what I'm going to do."

By Washington Post editors  |  December 19, 2007; 11:08 AM ET
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Wow! This is the first time I've seen this. My mother(Marilyn Heaps-Nelson Bull) usually votes Republican. Given that we are in a fight to the death against Islamist extremists I plan to vote for either Rudy Giuliani or John McCain. The other Republican candidates either seem too wimpy or too religious.

The Democrats simply repeat the same tired mantras against capitalism. Capitalism is what has made America rich and strong. Many politicians have never worked in industry and have no idea how to make money, only to take it away from productive citizens.

James Heaps-Nelson

Posted by: jheapsnelson | December 25, 2007 6:13 PM | Report abuse

You think Joe "Plagerizer" Biden is going to get more than 15% statewide?!

Posted by: JakeD | December 19, 2007 6:27 PM | Report abuse

I predict that Ms. Bull will caucus for Biden. He is the candidate with the proven ability to reach across the aisle to get things done, as he did when he got 75 Senators to vote for his Iraq plan. He is bright, funny and a wonderfully likeable person. I am an Iowa caucus goer who is going to caucus for him. He already has enough support in my precinct to be viable, even if attendance is more than 2004.

Posted by: snelson648 | December 19, 2007 6:21 PM | Report abuse

On the topic of John Edwards's alleged infidelity, this week the CBS EVENING NEWS continues its series 'Primary Questions' where Katie Couric sits down with the presidential candidates and asks what makes them tick . . . everything from losing their tempers to the biggest mistake they've ever made

KATIE COURIC: Harry Truman said, "A man not honorable in his marital relations is not usually honorable in any other." Some people don't feel comfortable supporting a candidate who has not remained faithful to his or her spouse. Can you understand their position?

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: Of course. I mean, for a lot of Americans -- including the family that I grew up with, I mean, it's -- it's fundamental to -- how you judge people and human character -- whether you keep your word, whether you keep what is your ultimate word, which is that -- you love -- your spouse, and you'll stay with them.

KATIE COURIC: Do you think -- what -- what about people who use that as a way to evaluate a candidate? In other words, there have been a number of fine presidents according to some analysts-


KATIE COURIC: -- who have certainly not been sort of exhibited the greatest moral character --


KATIE COURIC: -- when it comes to infidelity --


KATIE COURIC: -- I guess is what I'm getting at.


KATIE COURIC: So how important do you think it is in the grand scheme of things?

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: I think the most important qualities in a president in today's world are trustworthiness -- sincerity, honesty, strength of leadership. And -- and certainly that goes to a part of that. It's not the whole thing. But it goes to a part of it.

KATIE COURIC: So you think it's -- an appropriate way to judge a candidate?

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: Yeah. But I don't think it's controlling. I mean, I think that, as you point out, there have been American presidents that at least according to the -- to the stories we've all heard -- that were not faithful, that were in fact good presidents. So I don't think it controls the issue. But I think it's certain -- something reasonable for people to consider.

Posted by: JakeD | December 19, 2007 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Oh, you are referring to the three photos of the candidate? I thought you might have been referring to the photos in my link to FirstMouse above.

Posted by: JakeD | December 19, 2007 4:18 PM | Report abuse


I took some shots at these same Photos(Above) before!

I think Edwards crying about something(?), is hillarious, and almost as the symbolism of Billary holding a Dark Symbolic thing right next to Obasama in a candid way...

Then, who was it that thought Bushie resembled a "Chimp"?

C'mon WaPo, Make it harder on me!

Posted by: rat-the | December 19, 2007 4:16 PM | Report abuse


Are you dismissing any possibility that the woman in said photo is carrying John Edwards's child?

Posted by: JakeD | December 19, 2007 4:07 PM | Report abuse

LOL! THOSE photos again!

Edwards-"Ann Coulter called me a..."

Posted by: rat-the | December 19, 2007 12:58 PM | Report abuse

All that typing just to tell us Peter Slevin thinks Edwards is too shrill?

Posted by: zukermand | December 19, 2007 12:39 PM | Report abuse

This is amazing.

Corporations run this country. They control our lives, and dominate the political system: AND YET, people question whether they should be confronted.

Corporations were behind the disaster of Iraq, and are destroying America and the world. They are accountable only to profit.

They are a Frankenstein that needs to be controlled if humanity is to survive.

Posted by: river845 | December 19, 2007 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: JakeD | December 19, 2007 11:57 AM | Report abuse

One of the major untold stories of this long election season is that of John Edwards's huge, unsung reversal since he served as a Senator. How little he once assumed a take-from-the-rich-to-succor-the-poor stance has simply been overlooked by the media, it seems to me.

Posted by: FirstMouse | December 19, 2007 11:49 AM | Report abuse

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