From NBC/NJ's Carrie Dann
WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- Welcome to Westridge Elementary School in West Des Moines, Iowa. The noisy halls of Westridge are currently abuzz with the opening acts of not one but three caucuses -- two Democratic precincts (#214, in the school library and #315, in the cafeteria) and one Republican precinct (#214, in the gymnasium) are convening here tonight.
The hallways here are crowded with voters, many of whom have flattened the new registration paperwork up against the tile walls to fill it out. New registers -- and there are many of them -- are peppering the precinct captains with questions about how to register and where to go.
Of six Democrats I've talked to so far, four are first time caucus-goers. In fact, the precinct captain just came in to announce that he needed more pens -- the influx of newbies filling out paperwork are making writing utensils come in short supply.
As far as organization within the caucus site, Team Hillary is out in force, with an elaborate string of signage to indicate their corner at one site and an array of Hillary photos that mark their territory at the other. Biden volunteers were the first of the bunch to arrive and set up.
A Dodd volunteer just showed up. Until then, there was a single man (a firefighter himself) standing with a single yellow Dodd sign. I figured he was the precinct captain; turns out that he's a first-time caucus goer too. "I think I'm the only guy here for Dodd," he told me dejectedly.
One of the many first-timers I talked to is Joan Lynch Luckett, who came with her 18 year old daughter Devin. Joan's inaugural caucus vote will be for Edwards, who she says she liked in 2004. When I asked her why start caucusing now, she replied "My friends around the country kept telling me 'Give us options.'" She says that one of Iowa's responsibilities is to firewall a national frontrunner who would steamroll to victory without the scrutiny of a small state.
As for Joan's daughter Devin? She says she's not sure yet if she'll follow mom and caucus for Edwards, or whether she'll go with the other candidate that she likes -- Barack Obama.
We're called to order.