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Applause, yes, but will votes follow?

Any of them could win in Iowa: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards among the Democrats; Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee among Republicans. In hundreds of campaign appearances and thousands of television ads, they have tried to build rounded images of themselves and how they would govern. But their campaigns contain several central propositions. Below are some of the primary arguments that the Iowa front-runners are making for themselves.

January 03, 2008|Maria LaGanga

DAVENPORT, IOWA — The crowds grew, the day stretched and the swipes at his rivals all but disappeared as Barack Obama powered his way across the snowy landscape to seal the deal with voters before the caucusing begins.

His message here in this last full campaign day has been shorn of nearly all detail and reduced to its essence: "We need to turn the page and write a new chapter in American history," he said Wednesday morning in a chilly school gym.

"We need to stand up and create change that we can believe in," he continued, and the cheers rose up and drowned him out.

What seems to have made the strongest connection with Iowans is the simple premise that, in an Obama administration, people would actually talk to one another.

At every stop, audiences cheered when he argued that "strong countries and strong presidents talk to their adversaries and tell them where America stands and try to resolve differences without resorting to war."

They shouted their approval when he insisted that "if you know who you are, if you know what your principles are . . . you can afford to reach across the aisle" and work with Democrats and Republicans alike. We need, he said, to "end the partisan food fight in Washington."

And they clapped hard when Obama scoffed at critics' contention that he is "too nice" to be an agent of change in the hardscrabble world of American politics.

"Now look," he said. "I've been bringing about change for a long time, and I've been nice for a long time. It's not a contradiction."

The big question, of course, cheers or not, is whether enough of Iowa actually will believe in his vision. On Wednesday, even at the Illinois senator's most raucous events, the answer was anybody's guess.

"I thought that was a real impressive speech," said Owen Rogal, 59, a college professor from Davenport. "I like his emphasis on the importance of talking to people who have different points of view and beliefs."

But Rogal also likes the competition, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware in particular.

"It's a rich field," Rogal said with a sigh. "I'm having trouble making the final commitment."

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