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Inside Politics

Express Line dispatch: On the bus in Iowa

"Crossfire" co-hosts Paul Begala, left, and Tucker Carlson chat with candidate Carol Moseley Braun.

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From Paul Begala:

(CNN) -- I love Iowa.

I know that makes me weird, but so be it. I came to Iowa in 1988, as a speechwriter for Dick Gephardt. As soon as I arrived in Des Moines, I fell desperately ill and wound up in the hospital. Mary Campos, a woman who'd never laid eyes on me, took me into her home, made me soup, and nursed me back to health. That's Iowa.

Yes, it's cold. Yes, the caucuses are arcane. But there's something invigorating about being back here. Kind of like going to your high school reunion and finding out that everyone grew up to be the Cunninghams from "Happy Days."

Folks here are used to being treated by the media the way a hamster is treated by a preschool class -- those who like the little critter still tend to patronize him, and those who don't like him don't know the first thing about him. People endure the media invasion with good humor and good manners. And, yes, they do take their role in the selection of the president very seriously.

We parked the CNN Election Express across the street from the State Capitol, in the parking lot of the State Supreme Court building, attracting a high class of onlookers. One woman came up to me to shake my hand during a commercial break, telling me she'd just finished arguing a case before the Supreme Court. If something like that were to happen in Washington, you'd be looking around for security. Here, we're all family.

In these final days before the caucuses, Iowa Democrats live in a parallel universe. While Wolf Blitzer is reporting to us on the Bush Administration launching an investigation of apostate truth-teller Paul O'Neill, the campaigns here are more interested in Byzantine conspiracy theories about the upcoming voting: has Carol Moseley-Braun cut a secret deal to help Howard Dean by attacking his opponents, or is she just making principled distinctions on issues? Is Dean's campaign manager freaking out and berating reporters, or is he sagely pushing back against them the way the Bushies did in 2000? Did Tom Harkin endorse Dean out of principle, or did he privately confide to Gephardt supporters that Dick would be a better President but Howard has a better chance to win? Is John Edwards riding a surge of support after the Des Moines Register's endorsement, or is it just wishful thinking? And while we're all focused on Iowa, is Wesely Clark setting up an ambush up in New Hampshire?

Tucker and I will get to the bottom of it, and we intend to do it by in-depth, old-fashioned shoe leather reporting -- beginning tonight over huge slabs of beef and giant pitchers of beer. We promise to keep you posted, even if it requires every last dime of CNN's enormous expense account.

From Bob Franken:

Posted: 4:14 PM EST

I can't help it: I can't get Willie Nelson's song "On the Road Again" out of my head. For years it's been the unofficial anthem of those in the politics game ... but now it has taken on more meaning than ever.

We're "back to the future," and the latest advance in CNN's coverage is a bus.

It's not just any bus, though; it's a gizmo-filled state-of-the-art portable studio. Now when we cover the race, we can do it in much more sophisticated ways and get to the real political story in ways that we never could.

From Judy Woodruff:

Posted: 1:15 PM EST

CNN's Election Express rolled down Route 80 in Iowa early Monday morning with some very special cargo: A presidential candidate. The "Express" picked up Rep. Dick Gephardt from a hotel so he could join me for the first "moving" interview inside the CNN bus.

The state-of-the-art mobile television studio on the "Express" allowed Gephardt to make it on time to Atlantic, Iowa, for a campaign event -- and still give a revealing interview. Gephardt told me he thinks he can still win the Democratic nomination, even though several major endorsements went to rival Howard Dean this past week.

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