A New Year with the Candidates in Des Moines
By Jose Antonio Vargas
DES MOINES -- Only in Des Moines, during this tight, feverish, unpredictable race, would a New Year's resolution come with a political gloss -- and be delivered by Bill Clinton.
"My New Year's resolution is to never let an opportunity go by to say that she's the best candidate," the former president said of his wife at a rally last night.
It was a rather muted New Year's Eve in this capital city, the political hotspot of the moment, full of campaign aides, volunteers and reporters. Some residents (and visitors) joked that Des Moines is really Dead Moines, with not much to speak of in terms of nightlife. But the political chattering class here was nonetheless determined to have some fun, at least for a few hours. And the Clintons, flanked on stage by former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack and his wife Christie, threw a big soiree at the Capitol Square downtown.
"It's surreal spending New Year's Eve like this," Sophia Silbergeld, a Clinton volunteer, told The Trail moments after she wrote in a text message to her parents: "I am 100 ft from Bill and Hillary."
Snacks were free, but revelers had to pay $5 for champagne and $2 for water. The crowd of a few hundred petered out soon after Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke.
Many of the candidates held relatively small parties with their staff and supporters. Sen. Joe Biden's staff partied at Star Bar, while Sen. Chris Dodd's aides celebrated at Court Avenue Brewery. Following former governor Mike Huckabee's headline-grabbing (and head-scratching) afternoon press conference, many of the bold-faced politics reporters and columnists headed straight to Wakonda Club, where the former governor's staff held court.
For others, there wasn't a single moment to waste. With only hours before the caucuses, Mitt Romney spent part of his New Year's Eve night campaigning at Hy-Vee Hall, where Guide One, a church insurance company, hosted a family-friendly, alcohol-free gathering. His wife Ann, son Craig, daughter-in-law Mary and 18-month-old grandson Parker in tow, Romney smiled for the cameras. Asked about his New Year's resolution, the former governor told The Trail: "To do my best to help our great country," then shook the hand of a young blonde woman who introduced herself as Abigail. "Abigail!" Romney said, "I love that name!"
Aides of Rep. Ron Paul treated last night like any other night.
"Safety is a top concern. I don't want anyone on the streets with all the drunk drivers," Jeff Frazee, who's in charge of 250 high school and college students who are in town to campaign for Paul across the state, told The Trail. "Campaigning with a bunch of drunks is usually not a good result either. Our party is on Jan. 3rd."
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