PELLA, Iowa — So a guy walks into a bar in this small Iowa town, interrupts the folks watching the Outback Bowl, and asks for their vote.
That was the story of Iowa presidential politics on New Year's Day. The guy was New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the place Woody's Sports Bar.
And the scene was repeated in different ways throughout the state, whose voters will caucus Thursday and kick off voting for the 2008 presidential nominations.
Candidates found friendly audiences who didn't mind having their football-watching and holiday relaxing interrupted. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney visited a string of homes throughout the state; in West Des Moines, he stood in front of the TV in the home of Andrew and Ann Warren and made his case.
Delaware Sen. Joe Biden took over the Raccoon River Brewery Company in downtown Des Moines, and few patrons seemed to mind that he made it hard to see or hear the Capital One Bowl.
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama started his day in a Des Moines high school gym reminding supporters to knock on doors and keep making phone calls.
And in New Hampshire, which holds the nation's first secret-ballot primary Jan. 8, Arizona Sen. John McCain said campaigning on a holiday was just great, despite the downpour of snowflakes.
"It's fun, the people are very friendly as long as you're polite to them," McCain said as he shook hands and posed for pictures at the Tilt'n diner in Tilton, N.H.
New Hampshire State Rep. Dennis Reed, a McCain supporter, said he was happy to see the senator at the diner, but also confessed to a slight case of holiday candidate fatigue.
"I sure hope we don't have to go through this again, this front-loading primary stuff," he said. "To me, it took away from the holidays. On TV, we're inundated with commercials. The department stores probably felt a little shunned, having their ads compete with the campaign ads."
The mood was different in Iowa.
Dr. Jamie Lawler, a Des Moines ophthalmologist, was standing in the Warrens' den watching Michigan play Florida in the Capital One bowl, knowing that Romney would soon be invading the premises.
But that was fine. "I'd like to keep watching; I'd like to see Lloyd Carr (outgoing Michigan coach) win his last one," Lawler said. "But I haven't decided who I'm going to vote for yet." So he welcomed Romney's visit.
Polls suggest that as many as one-fourth of likely caucus-goers have not made a definite choice, so the candidates' pitches were gentle, almost pleas to come out Thursday night.
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton campaigned in Ames, with daughter Chelsea and mom Dorothy Rodham.
Clinton joked that her husband told her there were several bowl games Tuesday, "including Arkansas," so she thanked everyone for coming to see her. Arkansas played Missouri in the Cotton Bowl.
The idea of intense presidential campaigning on New Year's Day is largely unprecedented, since Iowa's caucuses have never been held so early.
Candidates generally kept things civil, though Romney launched a new ad attacking McCain. The ad quotes the National Review as saying "McCain is not as conservative as Romney."
But that tone was the exception. As the Outback Bowl kicked off the day's games in late morning, Richardson walked into Woody's, where about 20 people huddled around the bar's seven TV sets.
Richardson stood in front of a pool table and gave a brief pitch about health care, Iraq, the usual stuff. Then he paused. "By the way," he asked, "Who's playing? And who I should be for here?"
Someone hollered "Wisconsin." "Okay," Richardson fired back, "I'm for Wisconsin."
Then he asked who was undecided, and promised he would sit down with each-there were about half a dozen.
Tom Vanzee, a water-treatment operator, sat at the bar, ordered a 16 ounce Bloody Mary and took in the scene. "I have no problem with all this," he said. "He could be our next president."
Others felt similarly.
"We take our politics seriously," said Lu Ann Pedrick, a company product coordinator. Barb Butler, a retired college administrator, enjoyed hearing Richardson talk about his record as a diplomatic negotiator.
About an hour up Highway 163 in Des Moines, Biden got a warm reaction. Bill McCarthy, chief deputy sheriff, didn't mind spending part of his holiday with him. "This is once every four years," he said. "And it's a big thing for the state of Iowa."
What Biden and the other candidates found were swarms of people still trying to make up their minds.
"I don't think Hillary Clinton is electable. She's just too polarizing," said Brian McCormac, a Des Moines attorney at the Biden rally. "I'm looking for electability."
The people gathered at the Romney house party had similar views.
Jen Wallace, a teacher, liked both Romney and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, but is not pleased that "Giuliani didn't really come here." So she came to see if Romney could close the deal.
Dan Foster, a West Des Moines technology manager, looked seriously at former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, but now was a Romney fan. "After the last debate he seemed more articulate," Foster said.
They all agreed that with two days to go before the caucuses, New Year's Day proved to be a leisurely way to help decide.
Then there was the other reason no one seemed to mind the intrusion: "I'm an Iowa fan," said Ryan Jacobson, an Ankeny college administrator, "and they're not playing in a bowl game."
(William Douglas contributed from New Hampshire.)