Courting Iowa

In the Hawkeye State, candidates hit the diner, man the grill and answer questions--lots and lots of questions

Danny Wilcox Frazier for TIME

Senator Barack Obama grabs lunch at a campaign stop at the Maid-Rite sandwich shop in Newton, Iowa.

The Iowa caucus, the first stop on the road to a presidential nomination, says a lot about America. What it says, though, is not necessarily the first message that comes through.

That's because campaigning in the state is surrounded by such a delicious coating of Americana. Candidates speechify in town squares as skeptical grandparents listen intently and clear-eyed children squirm. Farmers sip coffee in diners as would-be Presidents just happen to amble in. It's all square dancers and hay bales and long, straight roads through amber waves of grain.

But if the backdrops are colored by Norman Rockwell, the soul of...

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