Clay Masters

Clay Masters is a reporter for Iowa Public Radio and formerly for Harvest Public Media. His stories have appeared on NPR

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz is stepping up his game in Iowa.

The first term Texas senator has picked up influential endorsements there and is drawing bigger crowds.

At the stage of the race when many caucus-goers are still deciding who to support in the first in the nation presidential caucus, Cruz is making a big play for Iowa evangelical voters, who helped Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012 win the Iowa Republican caucuses.

For decades, many presidential candidates campaigning in Iowa have made sure to offer their loud support for ethanol — the fuel made from corn.

Ethanol is an important industry in Iowa. The state is the top producer of ethanol in the nation, accounting for 28 percent of national production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

But this election cycle, ethanol is not the campaign force it once was.

Take the contrast between George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign and the current campaign of his brother, Jeb Bush.

The state's largest water utility is suing county boards for polluting rivers the city uses for drinking water. At the heart of the fight is whether or not farmers should be forced to comply with federal water quality standards.

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A little over a year ago, singer-songwriter Jason Molina died at 39 due to complications from alcohol addiction.

Guitarist and songwriter David Dondero is a transient. He's lived all over the country, from Alaska to Texas. When he's not touring, he finds work — most recently as a carpenter in California. But it never lasts. Music always finds its way back into his life.

At the Central Iowa Shelter and Services in Des Moines, Iowa, health insurance navigator Andrea Pearce stood in a crowded dining hall on a recent day, shouting instructions on how residents can sign up for Medicaid.

"If you do not have insurance and you want to enroll and you have an e-mail address where you know the password," she said, "come to the computer lab we will guide you through the application."

Iowa City librarian Jason Paulios pulls out his smartphone, enters his library-card number and begins downloading an album by local metal band Blizzard at Sea.

"So it's extracting now," he says, eyes on the screen. "It's at about 90 percent."

The download takes about five minutes to complete. Paulios says it's a great way to check out local music: You could be waiting for a concert to start, download an album by the band you're about to see and then listen to it on the way home.

William Tyler takes the stage at the Trumpet Blossom Café, a vegan restaurant and bar in Iowa City. Surrounded by effects pedals for his guitar, he wears jeans and black cowboy boots, and his fingernails are about an inch long.

Big Harp guitarist and lead singer Chris Senseney pulls his minivan into a gas station off Interstate 80 near the small town of Walnut, Iowa. His wife, and the band's bassist, Stefanie Drootin-Senseney jostles through children's books and toys scattered on the floor. Their kids do what kids do on long car trips: sing.

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