January 17, 2004



The tightening race in Iowa has turned the once-confident Howard Dean into an uncertain candidate. He's changed his wardrobe (adding sweaters), revised his stump speech (it's shorter, sweeter) and started dodging the traveling press (which has been questioning his front-runner strategy). [...]

The shifting political landscape in Iowa also has led to a bizarre game of hide-and-seek between the former Vermont governor and the several dozen journalists following him 24/7.

Dean - whose recent ill-considered comments about Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden have gotten him into trouble - is sticking to scripted campaign appearances and he's been keeping opportunities for questions to a minimum.

The situation led to a bizarre moment this week that Dean sat in his plane for nearly half an hour rather than come down the steps and answer questions from reporters waiting for him on the frozen New Hampshire tarmac.

Hard to believe that in a caucus system that relies so heavily on organization that all these late shifts in the polls really matter that much. Is someone who makes up or changes their mind this weekend going to go caucus for hours on Monday night?

Dean losing edge in Iowa over attacks (Steven Thomma and Tom Fitzgerald, Jan. 17, 2004, Knight Ridder)

[I]nterviews with dozens of Iowa Democrats suggested that Dean already might be suffering backlash. His attacks on President Bush and his Democratic rivals all but drowned out any message of what he wants to do on issues such as health care.

"He's just anti-Bush. You have to have a plan,'' said Zach Gilson, a lawyer from Urbandale.

"A lot of people I work with were for Dean and now they're not,'' said Jill Tidman, a teacher from Urbandale.

Betty Taylor of Iowa Falls said Dean was ``wearing himself out. He doesn't have the personality, the charisma.''

Several Iowans said they were reassessing whether Dean could beat the president, their top priority.

"He's blunt, which I find refreshing,'' said Lois Rose, an English teacher at Creston High School in Creston. But she said she feared that Dean's opposition to the war in Iraq and his secularism would hurt him with pro-military, religious voters. "I'm worried about the Southern vote.''

The Many Chasing The Few: e Caucus-Goers Tracked by Campaigns (Dvid Maraniss, January 17, 2004, Washington Post)
This year, while the Iowa caucuses are provoking more national political excitement than they have in decades, a reverse variation of the old Churchillian saying nonetheless holds true across the Hawkeye state, including Dubuque, which has become a key battleground in eastern Iowa: Rarely have so many worked so hard to persuade so few.

About 57,686 people live in this city along the Mississippi and its rural environs, an intensely political region full of grass-roots activists who have a sophisticated understanding of the caucus process. But according to lists compiled by campaign organizers, only 3,957 citizens have been identified as likely to attend the Democratic caucuses at Dubuque County's 48 precincts Monday night. The projected totals range from 291 caucus-goers at the Blessed Virgin Mary order's Roberta Kuhn Center in the upper-middle class neighborhood of southwest Dubuque to perhaps 16 showing up at Worthington Memorial Hall out in the farmlands.

With polls showing four contenders bunched closely and with more volunteers are arriving by the hour to bolster their candidates, the ratio of political volunteers to probable voters has almost reached parity in some Dubuque precincts, and the search to find possible first-time caucus-goers has become all-consuming.

-4 at the Top; 3 Days to Go: Race in Iowa Tightens For Democratic Rivals (Jim VandeHei and John F. Harris, January 17, 2004, Washington Post)
Iowa Democrats are predicting near-record turnout, perhaps 125,000 Democrats, or twice as many who voted in 2000. With the candidates spending record-setting amounts on television ads and get-out-the-vote efforts, it is not clear who stands to benefit most from the new faces, though the Des Moines Register noted Friday morning that registration in Johnson County, home to the University of Iowa, is up 300 percent over the past six months compared with four years ago. This could be good news for Dean, a favorite of college-age students, who has brought about 3,500 out-of-state volunteers to Iowa to get those voters to the polls.

But strategists from several campaigns said Dean is losing support by the day, based on daily tracking polls. Dean on Friday called it a four-way tie in a "very fluid race," but said he believes his organization will carry him over the top Monday night.

"This is all down to the last 72 hours," Dean told reporters as his bus rolled through central Iowa. "This is all about who gets their voters out."

Dean acknowledged he has been bruised by opponents' criticism and sharper media scrutiny after he took an early lead here. He said that he sometimes gets upset, but that he has developed "a thicker skin" and regards recent rough going as "part of the process" through which every serious candidate goes. He recalled that Gary Hart, a former presidential candidate, had warned him early in his bid that "there's no such thing as a wimp who gets to be president."

Dean usually wears a tie and shirt with the sleeves rolled up, but he softened his appearance a bit as he canvassed a half-dozen small towns with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) by his side. Aides insisted there was no calculation in the new look, and that the candidate was merely cold.

Then, in his news conference, Dean said Harkin had urged him to put on a sweater, so Dean borrowed one from a campaign aide. "When in Iowa, do as Iowans do," Dean said.

-Going Deep With Iowa's Meta-Voters (MATT BAI, January 18, 2004, NY Times Magazine)
On Monday, Democrats in Iowa will have their say on who should be the Democratic candidate for president, and Gephardt needs to win Iowa to have any real shot at the nomination. On the eve of the caucuses, however, the results in Iowa rest in the hands of an unusually large bloc of undecided voters -- who, judging from the poll Reilly just completed, know next to nothing about the candidates. Gephardt's campaign is running low on money, and so this may be Reilly's last chance to conduct focus groups. He has very little time to get inside the heads of these so-called undecideds, to figure out, in the parlance of politics, how to ''close the deal.''

It would be an easier assignment were it not for the recent rise of the pop-culture punditocracy. It used to be that only the pros in Washington spoke of politics in purely tactical terms, as if they were analysts on ''Monday Night Football'' -- which is why pollsters like Reilly liked talking to ''real people'' about the issues in their lives. But as any pollster will tell you, those distinctions are graying; now every voter with cable TV and an Internet connection speaks the language of the Washington consultant. As the Des Moines focus-group discussion wears on, it begins to sound more and more like a segment of ''Crossfire.''

''I'm just not sure he's been on the national stage long enough, that he has enough experience,'' the businessman says of Dean. ''The last six or eight weeks, the press has really been picking at him, and he needs to start responding to these discrepancies, to these misstatements.''

In two consecutive focus groups, Reilly asks about issues that he thinks separate Gephardt from Dean, like health care and trade, but the groups keep bringing the conversation back to tactics and process. They talk about what ''the average person'' would think, as if they themselves fell into some other category. They talk about ''swing states'' and ''527's,'' which are the independent advocacy groups that have sparked controversy recently in the capital. (The ''527'' refers to the section of the tax code that covers them.) The businessman says that Dean seems vulnerable on ''gay issues.''

At one point, a participant dismisses John Edwards's candidacy because ''he isn't polling well.'' This draws knowing nods from other voters seated around the table. Inside the control room, Levine raises an eyebrow at me, as if to say, ''You see what we're up against?'': the voters are telling a pollster that their chief impression of a candidate is that he doesn't poll well.

Afterward, Reilly seems amused. ''The culture of political analysis has completely overtaken the culture of ideas,'' Reilly says. ''It's people talking about electability and name recognition and favorability. A guy talking about a 527!'' He laughs. ''That's a new one.''

Iowa foes split over strategy (Peter Savodnik, 1/14/04, The Hill)
As the days tick down to Monday’s Iowa caucuses, there is a sharp contrast between the tactics of the two leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination.

While Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) lures hordes of House members and their staff into the state, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is instead gathering his nationwide network of citizen-supporters. -The Iowa Effect: The caucuses make and unmake candidates — and this time is no different. Can Dean beat Gephardt — and the expectations too? (KAREN TUMULTY, 1/11/04, TIME)

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 17, 2004 8:45 AM

The forecasts call for temperatures around 10 degrees at cacus time Monday, but there's no snow or ice in the forecast. I would guess that's good for Dean's opponents, who are less likely to risk driving through blinding snow or on glass-like roads to back their candidate, but probably are willing to put an extra sweater on to cast a vote for Gephardt, Edwards or Kerry.

Posted by: at January 17, 2004 10:43 AM