MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa — Hillary and Bill Clinton stopped twice for ice cream and to gladhand. Barack Obama told a 4-year-old he loves Popsicles.
So goes the quest for Hawkeye State support as the two senators — and front-runners for the Democratic presidential nod — trek across Iowa to meet people whose votes they hope to win in January.
This holiday week, Mrs. Clinton, of New York, and Mr. Obama, of Illinois, are attracting crowds larger than the typical presidential candidate in Iowa.
Most have stuck to the small backyard forums — such as the one where 2008 hopeful Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware greeted 100 voters and stayed until after dark.
“I’m Joe Biden. I’m one of the 800 candidates running for president,” he told the crowd.
But there was plenty of traditional retail politics yesterday for Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, who each had a busload of reporters in tow.
Mrs. Clinton, traveling with her husband, the former president, popped into a Dairy Queen — “DQ” in these parts — in Grinnell. She had ice cream, and he had a chicken sandwich, and the former first couple shook hands and let voters snap photographs.
Mrs. Clinton told the Des Moines Register the junk-food lunch helped the campaign refuel on the way to a rally at the University of Iowa.
Later, the Clintons stopped at Whitey’s Ice Cream in Davenport.
Mr. Obama, at his first stop in southeastern Iowa around lunchtime, made fun of himself for picking up a baby within moments of greeting the crowd.
“Normally I would take questions … but what I’d rather do is to spend time shaking everybody’s hand, kissing some babies. I already kissed one, and I’m going to kiss some more,” he said.
In Keokuk, he stopped to greet Anastasia Noon, the 4-year-old daughter of one of his volunteers. He asked about her summer activities, and if they included “just having fun” and “swimming.” Not getting much of a response, Mr. Obama asked her about “treats,” and she responded with her favorite dessert.
“I love Popsicles, too,” he told her, before she slapped his hand. A few minutes later, Anastasia leapt into his arms for a hug, and he patted the little girl’s head as her mother, volunteer Crystal Londrigan, asked him about legalization of marijuana. He said it was not likely to be part of his campaign platform.
In their stump speeches yesterday, both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton criticized President Bush’s commutation of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr.’s prison sentence. The former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney was convicted in March on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI and grand jury in an investigation into the disclosure of the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame.
Mr. Biden broke the Libby news to voters in Iowa City, and they gasped.
“What he should be doing is calling for Cheney’s resignation,” he said. “These guys think they’re above the law.”
Both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama enjoyed lighter moments yesterday, with the New Yorker’s double ice cream stops and the Illinois senator at one point choking on and then swallowing a gnat during his speech and saying it was “protein.”
At one stop, he delivered his remarks from the bed of a red pickup truck with a yellow hood.
“Wow, this is exciting,” raved Jane Watson, who works at the police station in Keokuk. She said few candidates come to this part of the state, across the Mississippi River from Illinois. Mrs. Clinton was a few hours away and generating a lot of attention.
Mr. Obama was well-received at Hawthorne Elementary School for his line: “Wall Street’s never had it so good, but the folks on Main Street are struggling every single day.” It struck a chord for these voters from Keokuk, where the unemployment rate is 7 percent and residents joke that the recently revamped Main Street is “a nice road to leave town on.”
The crowd — much smaller than the thousands who came to larger Obama rallies — mostly waited to get a chance to shake his hand and ask him about the campaign. But not everyone had the patience to wait for Mr. Obama to work his way along the rope line, guarded by the Secret Service.
“Forget it. There’s just too many people,” one woman in Keokuk said as her daughter complained she was hot and hungry.
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