The Iowa caucuses have become a magnet for presidential wannabes, media and a bevy of, shall we say, some very interesting caucus characters.
Show up to any campaign rally and they quickly make themselves known, standing out in an Iowa crowd.
At a campaign rally for Republican Mitt Romney, in West Des Moines, Iowa, Wednesday night, one such character, Linda Riley, and her dog, George — who was dressed for the event in a doggie tuxedo — busily promoted Riley's Web site, MyPoliticalPet.com.
Caucus Goes to the Dogs
"Our Web site is a Web site that combines politics with pets," Riley explained. "If you have a pet, come to our Web site, upload your pet's photo and tell us if they would vote Democrat or Republican."
Riley said she's certain her dog, George, named after President Washington, is an independent.
"George's personality is a little stubborn, a little gun shy, somewhat protective," she said, "so we'll wait to see who the two candidates are and he'll vote just like everyone else."
Point out, gently, that pets can't actually vote, and Riley will quickly explain how you missed the point. She said her Web site helps people express their political leanings and think about the issues through the eyes of their pets.
"You can't really walk up and ask them how they're voting, or how they feel about a certain issue," she said, "but they can express, well my dog would never start a war. Or my dog would never have an abortion, or my cat would never do that to a bird. So it's just a way to get more people involved and hopefully brought together on a lot of issues."
Riley said her goal is to get pet owners more politically involved, and if the Web site takes off, she hopes the advertising revenue will pay for more animal shelters around the country.
Other characters show up in Iowa at caucus time not to promote a cause, but to support a candidate.
At a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Tuesday night for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee that featured actor Chuck Norris, John Brewer of Louisville, Ky., pulled up in a 40-foot purple-and-gold bus he calls "The Huckabeast."
"We drove 600 miles on donations only," Brewer said. "Not only does Mike have a lot of support here, he has a lot of support out in the rest of America so we're trying to do all we can for him."
Brewer said he sold his wedding ring on the Internet to raise money to make the trek to Iowa.
"It didn't sell for more than $150, but the idea was to inspire people because we believe in Mike that much," he said.
Pig and Cow Ride in Convertible
Other characters in town for the Iowa caucuses draw as much attention to themselves as possible.
In frigid, below-freezing weather, PETA campaign coordinator Ashley Byrne has been driving around Des Moines, Iowa, this week in a convertible, wearing a T-shirt that reads, "I (heart) PETA," with people dressed as a pig and a cow riding in the back seats, carrying a sign that reads "Stop Global Warming: Tax Meat."
"We tax alcohol, alcohol, gasoline, luxury vehicles and other products that are harmful to the environment and harmful to people's health," Byrne said.
"By putting a tax on meat, people would reduce their meat consumption, that would reduce health-care costs for Americans and it would also have a positive impact on global warming."
And so it goes on the campaign trial this year, which is proving once again, that when presidential candidates come to town, the circus is surely not far behind.