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You could learn a lot about grassroots politics in Iowa by following John Stone around for a week or two.

He was as comfortable listening to concerns of area hog farmers as we was when he was entertaining the likes of John Kerry or Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail.

And oh, the stories he could tell -- and loved to tell.

Like the one about presidential candidate Kerry on Dec. 22, 2003 -- and Stone could always tell you the exact date of things.

As friend Randy Black said, "He had a mind that was a file cabinet of trivia. He remembered everything."

On Dec. 22, 2003, local Democrats planned a big rally for Kerry at the Rose Bowl in Mason City. The old bowling alley also had a restaurant and bar and was a familiar setting for Democratic events.

Stone said it was a bitter cold night, and yet, through his advance work and a little prodding, about 300 people showed up.

Kerry was due there at 9:30, after appearances in Davenport, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Charles City. Political junkies know that when a candidate is making his fifth stop of the day, he's going to be late. If he stays at each of his four other stops 15 minutes longer than scheduled, he's going to be an hour late to his last stop.

10 p.m. came, and still no Kerry. Stone and others did their best to hold the crowd. 10:30 came, and still no Kerry. Stone was about ready to break into a song and dance.

Finally at 11, Kerry arrived, gave a rousing speech and even took the time to bowl with some supporters.

In recounting the story years later, Stone said, "He left a little before 1 a.m, and I told people that guy is going to win the caucuses -- and he did."

One of his favorite stories about the 2004 elections occurred on the day of the caucus. Teresa Heinz Kerry, the candidate's wife, often campaigned in Iowa, with and without her husband.

She popped into the Democratic headquarters to say hello at about the time that Stone was talking with Jack Ryan, a Kerry volunteer from Boston. They were discussing various precincts in the county that might be trouble spots. Mrs. Kerry listened but did not interrupt them.

Weeks later, according to Stone, Ryan ran into Mrs. Kerry at a fundraiser in Arizona. Recognizing him, she said, "Say, how did we do in Swaledale?" Stone always chortled when he told that story.

Democrats in Iowa have a peculiar way of choosing their candidate on caucus night. Competing candidates must receive 15 percent approval in their caucus or they are eliminated -- "not viable."

Supporters of the remaining candidates then try to woo the support of those who backed the "non viable" ones. Then another vote is taken, the non-viable ones are weeded out, and the process continues until only the viable candidates remain and the order of finish is established.

Stone supervised caucuses for many years, and, in describing the process, he would tell his one-word directive to the participants when it was time for another vote: "Realign," he would say with gusto.

On election nights, he was often the first person at the courthouse to await the results and enjoyed the banter with the media and supporters of various candidates as they arrived.

Stone knew that in elections, you win some, you lose some and you harbor no ill feelings.

Those who knew him well can hear his voice clearly, saying "Onward and upward."


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