January 3 isn't that far away and the holiday shopping bustle in Iowa is intertwined with last-minute political endeavors as candidates hope for a good showing in the Iowa caucuses.
While some people have flatly made up their minds, I was not that surprised to find many Iowans I know still undecided. No particular candidate stood out as the best and the brightest.
The Des Moines Register, an important editorial voice in Iowa and the U.S., this weekend endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and John McCain for the Republicans. The paper said the next president must have two "essential qualities": competence, and readiness to lead.
"Americans want their government to work again" and "to do great things again," the Register said. "They'll regain trust in their government when they see a president make that happen."
The paper said that Sen. Clinton of New York is "best prepared" in the party "to confront the enormous challenges the nation faces -- from ending the Iraq war to shoring up America's middle class to confronting global climate change."
The paper had endorsed John Edwards of North Carolina in 2004. But this time around, "[we] too seldom saw the `positive, optimistic' campaign we found appealing" three years ago. "His harsh anti-corporate rhetoric would make it difficult to work with the business community to forge change," the Register said.
Clinton, the paper said, gets high marks for bipartisanship, working well with her Republican colleagues.
Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois "inspired our imaginations. But it was Clinton who inspired our confidence," the paper said.
Within the GOP, the candidates "present an intriguing mix of priorities, personalities and life stories," the Register wrote. But none of them "can offer the tested leadership, in matters foreign and domestic, of" Sen. McCain of Arizona.
Noting McCain's valiant service as a naval aviator and prisoner of war in Vietnam, the Register said he went on to build "an unconventional political career by taking stands based on principle, not party dogma, and frequently pursuing bipartisanship."
On the downside, the Register said, McCain "can be hot-tempered, a trait that's not helpful" in diplomacy. And the paper disagrees with his opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage, among other issues.
But with McCain, "Americans would know what they're getting," the paper wrote. "He doesn't parse words. And on tough calls, he usually lands on the side of goodness - of compassion for illegal immigrants, of concern for the environment for future generations."
This endorsement was probably a surprise for McCain who didn't focus much of his campaign on Iowa where ultra conservative candidates seem to have drawn more interest. It may cause him to rethink that strategy, particularly since Iowa isn't all that conservative.
However, McCain may have trouble in that many McCain 2000 folks who looked to him for inspiration feel betrayed in the sense that they expected him to be more of a thorn in the Bush Administration's side. Add that to the fact that the right-wing Republicans never liked him and McCain may be a hard sell.
As for Obama, Andrew Young, former Atlanta mayor and United Nations ambassador, said maybe in 2016 but not now. Young believes that Obama lacks sufficient experience and maturity and ascending to the presidency prematurely would be an exercise in failure.
No matter who you like, the Des Moines airport gift shop is ready for you. There are T-shirts and bumper stickers for all the candidates but only one stood out: a white T-shirt with a picture of Bill Clinton that reads: "Bill Clinton for First Lady."
Only one thing's for certain at this point. On January 4 Iowa will go back to hiberation for another three years until the 2012 presidential election draws near.