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Inside Precinct 211

Caucus-goes arrive at the Jackson County Iowa Democratic Precinct 2 caucus at Kalmes, a gas station, restaurant and general store in St. Donatus, Iowa. (AP Photo)

By Jose Antonio Vargas
Updated 9:08 p.m.
It's over. People are petering out. In precinct 211, Obama gets 5 delegates, Clinton 3 and Edwards 3.

Updated 9:01 p.m.
It's a discordant chant. Hillary! Hillary! Hillary! Obama! Obama! A short, stocky guy in a white sweater, goes "Joe, Joe, Joe!" -- for Joe Biden.

And when Obama grabs his 200th supporter, the Obama corner erupts.

The new numbers: Obama 200, Clinton 116, Edwards 108

Updated 8:58 p.m.
The latest count...199 for Obama, 116 for Clinton.

"Make it 200! Make it 200!" an Obama supporter yells.

Updated 8:47 p.m.
The Hillary Clinton corner, headed by Tim Laughead, Clinton's precinct captain, is quiet, relaxed. A row of elderly women with gray hair are seated in blue plastic chairs. The folks at the Barack Obama corner directly in front Clinton are all standing, raising their hand. Each precinct has to count its voters. The number to be viable: 66. There are three viable groups.

Obama has 175. Clinton has 104. Edwards has 80.

The room erupts. It's dealing time.

Updated 8:39 p.m.
WEST DES MOINES -- "Wow, there are so many people here, so many people," says Tom Laughead, surveying the growing shoulder-to-shoulder crowd inside room 508 of Valley High School.

Valley High is one of West Des Moines 17 precincts, and it is, in a word, packed. It's like parents-teachers night -- except the students too were invited to come along. The school's front parking lot is full; voters had to park on side streets, after getting here 30 minutes early. Folks open doors for elderly women walking with their canes, while young caucusgoers, many with Obama stickers on their shirts, whisk by.

In 2004, some 160 showed up to this precinct. Tonight's count, after each voter raised his or her hand? 437 people.

As Sen. Hillary Clinton's precinct campaign, Laughead, decked out in Hillary-gear (the T-shirt, the buttons, the stickers), greet caucusgoers.

"Are you here for Hillary?"

"Caucusing for Hillary?

"Hillary's corner is right over there."

It's already getting a little tense. Laughead's standing across from the Joe Biden crowd, a relatively small but energized group. Clearly, more people are gathered in the John Edwards and Barack Obama corners. A few minutes ago, John Aycock, a Biden supporter, approached Laughead. If Biden's not viable, Aycock said he'll support Clinton.

"I don't want Edwards or Obama to win," Aycock, 64, a retired sales marketer, tells Laughed.

Lots of noise and chattering in the room. It's only appropriate. Room 508, after all, is where the school band meets. And, at 7:03 p.m. CST, the fire alarm inside precinct 211 just went off.

By Washington Post editors  |  January 3, 2008; 9:01 PM ET
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