CLEAR LAKE, Iowa -- Fourth of July virtually everywhere is about fireworks, flags, firetrucks, and floats. In Iowa yesterday, people eyeing the White House also were in the mix.
Senator Hillary Clinton of New York walked hand in hand with her husband, Bill, in a sunny, postcard-perfect holiday parade in this north-central lakeside town.
Iowa is among the earliest presidential delegate-selection states, and some 10,000 people were expected here. Many White House aspirants have crossed these highways, visited the farms, and broken bread in the coffee shops, in the earliest-ever jockeying for the parties' presidential nominations.
Veterans led yesterday's parade, which included a float featuring a woman dressed as a gold Statue of Liberty. Hillary Clinton followed closely, causing a long wait between floats. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney also marched -- farther back.
In Waterloo, Iowa, Clinton took President Bush to task, saying he has run the nation into debt, forcing it to borrow from other countries and from social programs to fund the war in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois , who also was campaigning in Iowa, said he likes and respects former president Clinton but thinks the American people want fresh ideas in the current race for the White House.
"What we're more interested in is in looking forward, not looking backward," he said in an interview. "I think the American people feel the same way. They are looking for a way to break out of the harsh partisanship and the old arguments and solve problems."
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, forsook the campaign trail here, going instead to Iraq where he congratulated new citizens in Baghdad and spoke of the hardships endured fighting in an unpopular war. McCain, who has backed the war, has watched his presidential campaign suffer as public support for the conflict has waned.
"You know that you who have endured the dangers and deprivations of war so that the worst thing would not befall us, so that America might be secure in our freedom," McCain said. "As you know, the war in which you have fought has divided the American people. But it has divided no American in their admiration for you. "
At the Iowa parade, Romney supporters were dressed mostly in white and carrying banners and signs. They shouted "Let's Go Mitt" as they marched in front of a posh tour bus with the candidates' name splashed across the sides.
Romney, wearing a white polo shirt and khakis, was joined by one of his sons on the parade route. His son, Josh, is traveling to every county in the state. He stopped and waved and said hello with people lining the parade route, which was miles long.
There was a float in the parade for Representative Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado, who also is seeking the GOP presidential nod. It was towed by a red truck and featured a large array of American flags.
Firetrucks carrying a group of cheerleaders rallied the crowd with shouts of "Let's get fired up" between the candidates, and the high school band marched through. Three fighter jets flew in formation overhead.
People dressed in red-white-and-blue lined the streets for blocks along the parade route, waving flags. And some held up political signs and wore stickers. Parties were underway at many of the homes along the parade route.
Lyle Mackey, 72, of Mason City, attended the parade with his wife and found a nice spot in the shade to watch the Clintons.
"We're delighted to have them here," said Mackey, who was sporting a Hillary sticker. "It shows a side of Hillary that most people don't know. To see her in person, out among the people walking and waving and so forth, it just gives an up-close friendly approach."
Alyson Vorland, playing clarinet with the Clear Lake High School band, said, "It gets the town on the map and our already big parade around here."
The savvy 14-year-old said she knows that the candidates are looking for votes.
"The people here are both really front-runners for the presidency and they're here looking for publicity," she said. "It's really neat that they chose our town . . . especially on such a great holiday like the Fourth of July."
John Ehlers, 17, of Austin, Texas, who traveled to visit family in Iowa, said he hasn't paid much attention to the candidates, but will catch up when he gets closer to his 18th birthday.
"It's kind of an interesting thing. I've always come up here for the Fourth, but never really thought of it as much of a political hot spot until [I heard] what the family was saying about former presidents coming here," he said.