Waving the political red, white & blue

Presidential politics spiced up Independence Day celebrations across Iowa on Wednesday, as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney competed for attention in the same parade and four other 2008 candidates blanketed the state.

Crowds jammed front lawns, porches and sidewalks in Clear Lake for a chance to see Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton and her husband, the former president, as well as Republican Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.

The Clintons, on the last leg of a three-day tour of the critical early-voting state of Iowa, marched several hundred yards ahead of Romney in the town’s July 4th parade. The three had a brief, cordial chat before the parade kicked off.

Area residents began staking out space along the route with blankets and chairs as early as Monday. By Tuesday afternoon, the route was full, residents said.

“This is wilder and more crowded than anything I’ve ever seen,” said Mary Petersen of nearby Fertile, Iowa, a parade veteran for years. “We usually get our fill of politicians, but never anybody this high profile.”

Clinton and Romney led a horde of 2008 presidential contenders who crisscrossed Iowa on the holiday, with Congress on break and many Americans taking long weekends off work.

Democratic Sens. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Joseph Biden of Delaware, and Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, also marched in July 4th parades elsewhere in Iowa. Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois attended three Independence Day celebrations across the state.

Iowa kicks off the voting in a fast-starting 2008 race in less than seven months, with big fields of contenders in both parties hoping a win here can help propel them to the nomination.

While Clinton leads the Democratic presidential field in national polls, she trails rival John Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential nominee, in Iowa. Romney trails former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in national Republican polls, but leads state polls in Iowa.

PRO-CLINTON CROWD

The Clear Lake crowd was decidedly pro-Clinton, however, roaring as the former president and senator neared. Hillary Clinton signs and stickers dominated the route.

“I love Hillary,” said Dee Kahler, a hairdresser from Britt, Iowa, who grabbed both Clintons in hugs as they came by. Her daughter had driven from Minnesota with her grandchildren to see the couple.

The Clintons, marching near the front with former Gov. Tom Vilsack, weaved back and forth across the parade route to plunge into the crowd and shake hands. “Thank you for coming, happy Fourth of July,” the New York senator said repeatedly.

Romney, trailed by his son Josh’s “Mitt Mobile” camper, also worked both sides of the street. He occasionally broke into a run to catch up or fall back to his supporters and was clearly happy to spot some Boston Red Sox baseball fans along the way.

“I’ve got to shake hands with you guys,” he told two young boys wearing Red Sox hats.

As it rolled through Clear Lake, the “Mitt Mobile” blared the 1966 Boston rock classic by the Standells, “Dirty Water,” and its chorus: “I love that dirty water. Oh Boston, you’re my home.”

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