Voting in Iowa is already well underway at the Renaissance Savery Hotel in Des Moines, where barista Nina Larson has created a "Coffee Caucus" at the Starbucks shop.
After seeing a similar idea in an Ames, Iowa, coffee shop, Larson has set out nine juice glasses labeled with each candidate's name and photo clipped from a newspaper -- including one glass for President Bush. Politically minded customers can pick a bean from the bowl on the counter and drop it into their glass of choice. There were once 10 glasses, but Carol Moseley Braun's was removed with her exit from the race this week. (Her "three or so" beans were not redistributed among other candidates.)
"It's just something fun for people to do," Larson said. She estimates serving at least a hundred customers a day, although certain coffee drinkers are more invested in the countertop race than others.
"Some people here have taken it seriously; they come in to see who's winning," said Larson, who would not reveal whom she planned to support in Monday night's caucuses. (She has to "maintain impartiality" as Coffee Caucus operator, she said.).
So far John Edwards is enjoying a runaway Coffee Caucus lead, with about 56 beans. His count is a rough one; vote tabulators were unsure how to count broken coffee bean pieces. Larson said an Edwards rally Thursday down the hall from the coffee counter might have artificially boosted his tally. Bush is a strong second with 29 beans; Howard Dean and John F. Kerry are limping behind with 17 and 13 beans, respectively.
All the other candidates have 10 beans or fewer rattling around in their glasses -- Al Sharpton and Joe Lieberman with just one lonely bean each to their names.
Larson says no repeat votes are allowed, but notes that she can't enforce the rule when she's whipping up a grande cafe latte. "I don't know what they're doing when I turn my back," she said.
The winner will be announced when Larson tapes the results to the counter Tuesday morning, alongside the newspaper horoscopes for the day.
Law enforcement officials in Marshalltown, Iowa, got worked into a lather after two Japanese journalists reporting on the caucuses were spotted at a power plant and then hurried away when approached by a security guard.
Authorities were watching out for a pair of suspicious-looking women driving a rental car with Michigan plates. The situation was clarified when authorities learned the women were shooting a "typical Iowa town" for NHK Japan Broadcasting Corp., Marshalltown Police Chief Lon Walker told Associated Press.
The women had previously spoken with the Chamber of Commerce about their project.
"The women said they were filming at the plant and apologized for causing such a stir," Walker said after speaking to the journalists by telephone.
The independent pro-Dean group Punx for Dean has introduced the "Dr. Dean Punk Paper Doll" as part of its upcoming zine, a self-published underground magazine.
The dolls include a cartoon body with Dean's head pasted on, sleeveless T-shirts, leather pants and a leather jacket, and removable Mohawks and tattoos.
And you thought the subdued sweaters the former Vermont governor wore for the first time this week were revolutionary.
"That's right, a peacenik is voting for a general. What a country!" -- From Oscar-winning director and liberal activist Michael Moore's letter of support for Wesley K. Clark, released Thursday.
Compiled from staff, wire and Web reports by Times staff researcher Susannah Rosenblatt.