IOWA CITY – Theresa Stradala sat at a cafeteria table Monday night, chatting with other supporters of John Edwards while knitting a navy, green and white afghan.
"You can do two things at one time — I can actually learn more when I'm knitting," said Stradala, 73, a former chairwoman in the 1960s of Iowa City Precinct 9. "Plus, if I'm going to sit at home and watch on television the race unfold elsewhere, I might as well stay warm."
The caucus started about 20 minutes late, with more than 304 people showing up to attend a precinct meeting that was expected to draw just 200, said Dale Shultz, the precinct's rookie captain, who clearly had his hands full.
Plenty of people were still in line and streaming in at the 6:30 p.m. CST start time, and Shultz's staff ran out of registration forms with about another 50 people still in line.
Stradala said it was the best turnout she had ever seen.
Once everyone was seated in groups according to the candidate they supported, hands were counted for the preference, but some groups were unable to meet the 15 percent threshold.
By the third go-round, groups for Sen. John Kerry (search), Sen. John Edwards (search) and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search) remained strong. No one was left in the groups for Rep. Dick Gephardt (search), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (search) or retired Gen. Wesley Clark (search).
Through a deal arranged earlier Monday between the Edwards and Kucinich campaigns, enough Kucinich supporters joined Edwards to qualify Edwards for two additional delegates.
Despite questions about the fairness of some last-minute horse trading, Shultz said the final tally resulted in splitting the nine delegates evenly among Kerry, Dean and Edwards.
"Democrats want somebody who is going to answer for them when this presidential term expires," Stradala said. She was for Edwards because, "I hate mudslinging."
Located on the west side of this Democratic-leaning college town, Iowa City Precinct 9 offers an even mix of middle and upper-class residents and a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans.
The New Jersey-shaped precinct has about 1,000 homes, apartments and condos — most of them a short walk from Willow Creek Park and the summer's favorite hotspot, Dane's Drive-In Dairy, home of the "Dirt Sundae."
Many residents work at the nearby University of Iowa, which explains a high number of professors, nurses and postdoctorate researchers, many from southeast Asia.
It is also home to workers in the biotech, advanced manufacturing and health care industries that help make Iowa City and nearby Cedar Rapids one of the state's fastest growing regions — a stretch along Interstate 380 known as the Cedar Rapids-Iowa Technology Corridor.
There also is a significant population of Asian and eastern European immigrants, Shultz said.