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Iowa Journal: A Very Foggy Campaign

The morning thought: Wouldn't it be nice to read a book. And have nothing else to do, no work obligations, no need to scramble for last-minute presents. Imagine if "read a book" were your only agenda item, and that the book lived up to its end of the bargain, and told a good story well.

It's not even necessary to "curl up" with the book. I would read it standing, or walking, or driving.

I have read many things while driving. Last night, rolling through the fog of Iowa, visibility close to zero, the Kubrick-creepy landscape almost featureless and without anything like a horizon, I forced myself to keep my eyes on the road (to the extent that it was visible) rather than do the normal, American thing, which is study the place names on the Rand McNally map (Fern, Stout, Finchford, Woolstock, Swaledale, Toeterville, Zion, Holstein) and read the statistics about Iowa's geography and population (it's very average, did you know? - 23rd in size, 30th in population).

Last night I had dinner at the Continental with a bunch of reporters, who knew all kinds of interesting and amazing things about the campaign that had somehow eluded my foggy brain. They're all so plugged in! So sharp! I kept saying, "I'm sorry but I don't know what you're referring to." I felt like Gomer Pyle at dinner with Einstein and Max Planck.

The race is up for grabs in both parties. [Great headline on the Cillizza blog today: Someone Has To Win the GOP Nomination.] I don't think Clinton absolutely needs to win here, or even in New Hampshire. But Edwards surely does. Frontrunners have all kinds of advantages in the long run, and they usually win these primary contests; the other rule is that the race quickly turns into a frontrunner-challenger dynamic. I assume that in a little more than three weeks it'll be Clinton vs. [Challenger] and will be quite the donnybrook through Feb. 5. The Republicans? No freakin' idea. I was thinking I detected a McCain boomlet in New Hampshire, and he got all those endorsements, but who knows.

No one really knows how significant the results here in Iowa will be. They sure love Huckabee here, but how will his message play in places like New York and California?

I heard the other day that Mitt Romney is so careful with his weight that he will pick the cheese off his pizza. Then I heard from another source that he eats pizza with a knife and fork. That's two sources, two angles: That's practically confirmation.

I just can't imagine the American people electing as president someone who does that to pizza. I'm not saying a president has to have a special knack for eating pizza - what you call "pizza talent" - but he or she has to respect the pizza, and look comfortable with it.

You want, as a voter, to be able to say, "He looks like he knows his way around a pizza."

That's one reason people like Bill Richardson: He looks like a good eater. They liked that about Bill Clinton, too.
When you ask people in Iowa what they look for in a candidate, the response is almost invariably a version of "Someone who's down to Earth. A real person. Honest. The kind of person who'll look you in the eye and tell the truth. A straight shooter."

And they don't need to add: "Someone who knows how to scarf down a slice of pizza."

Years ago I heard an anecdote about Mike Dukakis, and I'm sure I'll mangle it, but here's the gist as I dimly recall it: Coupla big union guys, beefy fellows, came to see Dukakis at his home in Brookline, thinking about endorsing him. Dukakis asked them if they wanted a beer. Sure, they said. So he gets out a beer and two glasses, and pours half the beer in one glass and half the beer in the other.

Lost the election right there.

By Joel Achenbach  |  December 21, 2007; 9:03 AM ET
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