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Wavering In Iowa: Portraits Of Undecided Voters

As NPR's Becky Lettenberger and I take to the road in Iowa this week, we are collecting the words and images of Iowa Republicans still uncertain who they will vote for in next Tuesday's state GOP presidential caucuses.

Here's the first look at what we saw and heard Tuesday in two cities that hug the Mississippi River on the state's eastern border, Dubuque and Davenport.

We spoke with voters after a Newt Gingrich appearance in Dubuque during a Rotary Club meeting at a local country club.

Patrick Brehm, 49, is a dairy farmer from Peosta, and Christian Smith, 66, is a retired attorney from Dubuque. The men met at the Gingrich event.

"I like Bachmann, but her time has passed. Perry made too much of a fool of himself. Will [Rick] Santorum get a ticket out of Iowa? My family has four votes coming for someone. Newt has done a lot of stupid things but that's because he's done a lot of things. I'm flexible," Brehm said.

"Newt is a teacher. I'd have no trouble supporting him if he gets the nomination. We need to move how people think," said Smith.

Shery Chapman, who's "over 65," is a part-time registered nurse from Dubuque.

"I heard a lot of maturity, a lot of solid thought," Chapman said of Gingrich. "But it's hard. I've also been looking at Mitt Romney, but sometimes he seems too intense and it takes away from his authenticity." She said she's not bothered by Gingrich's three marriages (two of her children are divorced) or by his lucrative post-Congress consulting career. "It as an opportunity and he went with it," she said. "I guess I'll decide on [Jan.] the 2nd."

Wally Brown, 75, is the retired owner of a chemical company in Dubuque and member of the Iowa GOP central committee.

"We're between Romney and Gingrich," Brown said. "With Gingrich, no matter what the question is, he has the history and the knowledge." About Romney, Brown says he "likes that he's a business man and has business experience." And he acknowledged: "There's not much left to hear. This is about getting with myself alone and coming up with a decision."

We met other voters before a Mitt Romney campaign event in Davenport.

Allan Elias, 69, of Davenport, retired from the Alcoa aluminum company.

"I want to know what he's going to do with the economy, to try to get jobs back again, and about Medicare and Social Security," he said. Elias said he is "just listening," and that "one week Newt Gingrich was good, then Perry." Sometimes, he said, "you wish you could put them all together and make them one." The most likely to defeat Obama? "Mitt, Newt and Perry." About Romney's religion? "Each person to his own wishes," Elias said, "we each want to get to the same place." (His wife, Nancy, he joked, is "in love" with Romney.)

Heidi Vahrenwald, 64, of Bettendorf, is a retired registered nurse.

"First of all," Vahrenwald stipulated, "the caucuses are too early." She hasn't found one person who meets all her requirements: pro-business, anti-Obama health care reform (she remains concerned about Romney's Massachusetts plan that served as a White House model), anti-war but a strong military. And she's crossed many off her list. "I don't think Michele Bachmann will be able to win because she's a woman or Gingrich because of his history," she said. "I love listening to him, I just don't trust him. And I like the idea of Rick Santorum, but not his presentation." Ron Paul? "No."

Clarence Modglin, of Davenport, is a retired high school and junior college auto repair teacher.

"I read the Wall Street Journal, and I know enough about Newt not to support him," said Modglin, who is considering Romney and Santorum. "He is the definition of hypocrite." Why is he leaning toward Romney? Santorum has little running room outside of Iowa and, Modglin said, "I don't want to waste my vote."

Bob Baldes, 67, is a retired school administrator from Davenport.

"There are some negatives about some other candidates, but I'm most hopeful that Romney has experience with the economy and experience and personality to work with the other side. We desperately need someone to do that," said Baldes. He says that some are "concerned about" Romney's Mormon religion, but "that is absolutely no factor for me."

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