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Iowa Voters Weigh In Ahead Of State Caucuses


Voters won't pick the next president until November. But if you live in Iowa, it feels like the end is in sight. That's because, after having the candidates in their state for the last year, on Monday, it's caucus day in Iowa. NPR's Don Gonyea has been getting some thoughts from voters there about what it's like as this final intense weekend of campaigning ramps up.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: You can walk into just about any coffee shop in Iowa this time of year and there are people sitting around talking politics. It's no different here in Indianola, about 20 miles southeast of Des Moines. I am in a place called Uncommon Grounds.


GONYEA: That sound announces another customer. Regulars are greeted with a hello or you're late today.

DREW GOCKEN: Hi, princess (laughter)

GONYEA: That's Drew Gocken, a retired community college dean, placing his standard order.

GOCKEN: It's a French vanilla latte with whole milk, whipped cream. You better make that to go.

GONYEA: He's a Hillary Clinton supporter who'll be volunteering for her this weekend. He was with her in '08 when she lost to rising star Barack Obama. This year, it's Bernie Sanders threatening her in Iowa. In the end, Gocken thinks Clinton will win the nomination. As for the caucuses on Monday...

GOCKEN: It's going to be interesting. What's going to make the difference between Hillary and Bernie is the turnout.

GONYEA: It's a bipartisan group of customers in the coffee shop this a.m. Forty-five-year-old small business owner Gina Piper is a Republican who says she's not thrilled with her options. Piper leans towards Donald Trump, but that doesn't mean he's got her vote on Monday.

Do you caucus?

GINA PIPER: I have never caucused before, but I do vote.

GONYEA: Why don't you caucus?

PIPER: I don't have an answer for that. I don't know. I've just never done it.

GONYEA: Do friends pressure you to do it?

PIPER: Nope.

GONYEA: Do you feel...

PIPER: I don't have a lot of friends that caucus.

GONYEA: Really?

PIPER: Nope.

GONYEA: In many ways, that makes her a typical Iowa voter. Despite all of the attention the caucuses get, historically only about 1 in 6 registered voters actually turn out. It also speaks to a major challenge of the Trump campaign - getting those who like him but might not be regular caucus-goers to actually show up. Seated at a table nearby is another regular. Forty-one-year-old Eric Mathieu is an employee benefit specialist. He's working on his laptop. He's wearing an Iowa Hawkeyes sweatshirt. He will be caucusing Monday.

ERIC MATHIEU: I like someone that's business-minded, but I also think that having political moxie is an important aspect.

GONYEA: Mathieu likes Marco Rubio but voices frustration that the GOP field is so large. He thinks egos have kept some candidates from dropping out, even if they have very dim prospects.

MATHIEU: Somebody needs to sit down and, OK, you know what, folks? There's 11 of you. I think there's too much pride.

GONYEA: Iowa voters will play a role in thinning the field. Meantime, everybody I talked to expressed the same deeply held opinion - that there are more political ads on TV than ever, and they just want them to stop.

GOCKEN: Yeah, big time. Yeah, I mean, Tuesday we're going to wake up and go - big sigh of relief (laughter). We get to watch our TV programs again (laughter).

GONYEA: Don Gonyea, NPR News, talking with Iowa voters in the town of Indianola. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.