SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-Mass.
Sat. Jan. 17: The battle for Iowa is also turning into a battle for the candidate and the traveling press corps to stay awake and healthy.
Kerry's stretch run to Monday's caucuses continued Friday with a packed schedule throughout northeastern Iowa, beginning in Waverly just before 8 a.m. and ending in Maquoketa after 10 p.m.
The morning featured town hall meetings in Waverly and New Hampton and the afternoon kicked off with another town-hall at Luther College in Decorah, with several hundred in attendance. Prior to his speech, Kerry played a pick-up football game with some of the students and expressed jubilation after throwing a touchdown.
Later, it was on to Guttenberg, a town that features a large population of bald eagles that live on the banks of the Mississippi. After checking out some of the eagles through binoculars, Kerry began another town-hall meeting - reacting to President Bush's recess appointment of Charles Pickering to be a federal judge.
The Pickering appointment seemed to set of a spark in Kerry that lasted the rest of the day. In response to a question about the Iraq war vote, Kerry aimed right at two of his opponents in the presidential race. "When Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt were down in the Rose Garden with the president, signing off on some deal, they pulled the rug out from the rest of us in the United States Senate who were fighting for a different resolution," Kerry said.
On the heels of Kerry's shot, the Howard Dean campaign criticized Kerry's comments from 1996 that the USDA should be eliminated. "Sounds like other campaigns are worried about our momentum," Kerry spokesman David Wade responded. Shortly afterward, the Kerry team released a statement from Iowa Agriculture Secretary Patty Judge - who endorsed Kerry last week - in his defense.
At Clarke College in Dubuque, Kerry was greeted by several hundred - as well as his stepson, Chris Heinz. Heinz is visiting colleges around the Hawkeye State in an RV, in what the campaign is calling "Road Trippin' for John Kerry." Joining him in the RV, and at Clarke, was actor Scott Wolf - best known for his role on "Party of Five," who said he liked Kerry after seeing him on C-SPAN (so much for that Hollywood lifestyle!). Also on for the ride was Kelly Scott from MTV's "Real World," and there were special visits from Bruce Springsteen dummer Max Weinberg and Blink 182 guitarist Tom DeLonge.
Also spotted at Clarke: historian Douglas Brinkley, who has just published a book about Kerry's time in Vietnam.
Kerry became much punchier at the event at Maquoketa Middle School: "I'm a fighter. That's why this campaign is alive and moving in Iowa. Because I know how to fight."
In addition, during Q&A, Kerry passed over the first person he called on when he realized the questioner was a Kucinich supporter. "Let's give some undecided voters a chance," Kerry said, though he did wind up calling on the guy at the end.
The event took place in the school's cafeteria with Kerry surrounded by signs. Campaign signs, school motivational signs that may have some underlying meaning on Monday ("Attitude - the difference between winners and losers") and a sign advertising the school's lunch menu - though if Kerry had seen the "pancake and sausage on a stick" listed as Wednesday's breakfast, he may have launched into his school nutrition bit.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK, U.S. Army (retired)
Sat. Jan. 17: Today the press corps was relegated to a different plane from retired Gen. Wesley Clark. Sure the charter had wide, leather seats and catered food, but it wasn't the general's plane. Staffers said it was because they couldn't find a plane big enough for the candidate, his staff, and the growing press on such short notice.
Despite the hefty price tag to fly round-trip from Manchester, N.H., to Florence, S.C., for a quick event at a local high school, we all schlepped to the "Palmetto State" because we were assured Clark would ride back with us on the Gulf Stream.
As we were leaving the school equity event to head back to the airport, Blackberry pagers began vibrating and news was breaking. Drudge Report, the popular Internet news site, published pieces of testimony delivered by Gen. Clark in September of 2002, further muddling Clark's already murky stance on the war.
The email quoted General Clark as saying:
Forwarded from the Lieberman campaign, reporters read the story on the way to the plane, and it seems the Clark staffers did as well - when boarding we were informed that Clark would not be on our flight after all.
Traveling press secretary Jamal Simmons explained to reporters that the General had to work on his air travel safety message - to be delivered upon arrival at the Manchester airport - but the timing seemed a bit too coincidental for many on board.
Once on the ground, Clark took a half-hour to emerge and deliver his prepared remarks on air travel. After answering a couple questions on the intended topic, Clark was asked about the report.
"First of all, what it is, is old style politics. This is stuff that's been dug up by the Republican National Committee," retorted Clark, clearly expecting the questions. He suggested the Republicans "finally figured out I'm George Bush's greatest threat."
In a 30-minute press conference, Clark staunchly maintained that his message has been consistently anti-war, saying his statements were taken out of a much larger context. "Was he troublesome? Sure. Was he a threat eventually? Sure. Was the clock ticking in the two year, five year, ten year time period? Sure. Did we have to do this? No," said a defiant Clark.
Clark's argument rests on the preemptive strike doctrine that says it's only legal to attack in order to avoid an imminent threat. He says the Bush administration, on the other hand, attacked Iraq preventively, or offensively. "It's a doctrine that the U.S. has always rejected and we have argued vehemently against in international affairs," he explained.
The Clark campaign quickly e-mailed reporters what they called a "relevant portion" of the September testimony. "I want to underscore that I think the United States should not categorize this action as preemptive," the transcript reads, "and that doctrine has nothing whatsoever to do with this problem."
Technically, General Clark's story seems to check out (while he perceived Hussein to be a threat, he did not classify the situation as preemptive). It remains an extremely complicated matter. Clark estimated he has either written or spoken "hundreds of thousands of words" on the issue, giving rivals many slings and arrows with which to attack him.
But the bigger problem may lie in reassuring voters that he is not a flip-flopping General. "I don't know, you know, how we're going to make this clear to the American people," Clark said. "But I welcome these questions continuing to be asked by the Republican National Committee, because I think they keep this dialogue alive," he said with at least some degree of sincerity.
In other news, Clark rode on the bus with the media today from the hotel to a "Conversation with Clark" event. As usual, he talked about a wide range of issues.
Clark said some pretty strong stuff about Russia (he made similar comments on January 1 at a house party). Basically, he said that Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot be trusted, and that, "he wears a cross but he's not Christian, I promise you, Russia is not an ally."
New Hampshire crowds continue to grow and enthusiastically support Clark. He is getting more and more standing ovations.
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN, D-Conn.
Fri. Jan. 16: It's cold in Berlin. Minus 41 degrees cold, in fact. And while the frigid weather didn't stop Joe Lieberman from trekking north to the White Mountains of New Hampshire earlier this week to seek votes, it did take its toll on voters, staffers and journalists alike. Because at the end of the day we're all human. Literally.
"All exposed flesh will freeze within 15 minutes of exposure," flashed the weather advisory. But you didn't need a news flash to figure that one out. All you had to do was look down at our hands to see the frostbite.
During the day it was sunny in Berlin – deceptively sunny, and not even too windy. But any hands that were exposed – as those operating DV cameras often are - were red, numb and wouldn't bend by the time the shoot was over.
And it wasn't just us. Voter crowds were small up North. Most cars wouldn't start in the morning and some preferred to stay indoors and hibernate.
And it wasn't just the humans. A Diet Coke bottle left in the press van overnight was a frozen piece of brown ice in the morning. The glass windows in the van kept icing up. One reporter used his Miami Herald ID card to scrape away the ice so that he could see the beautiful, sylvan countryside beyond. It was a losing battle, though; just as quickly as he scraped, the ice would resurface.
Ah, the humanity? Ah, the elements.
REP. DICK GEPHARDT, D-Mo.
Fri. Jan. 16: Dick Gephardt had some company Thursday morning. His son Matt was in Mason City campaigning with him. The young man who inspired his dad's vision on health care was there to shake hands and tell stories about how the entire Gephardt family is spreading out and campaigning all over Iowa.
In Britt, Iowa, Dick Gephardt said he wasn't surprised by the new poll numbers showing it's a real four-candidate horse race. He talked about his new ad that's running in Iowa, which criticizes Dean but is not a true response to a Dean attack ad criticizing Gephardt's stance on the war and the $87 billion. The Gephardt ad criticizes Dean's history of supporting cuts on Medicare and Social Security. Gephardt said of Dean: "He started this and we are going to respond. We are going to highlight our differences."
At a rally in Marshalltown, Teamster's president James P. Hoffa addressed a crowd of 400 rowdy labor members. "He's gonna kick their ass," said Hoffa of Gephardt taking on the Bush administration. It seemed like a new Gephardt who showed up at the rally: impassioned and fired up. He got chocked up in front of the crowd when talking about how his son would have died had he not had health insurance. The labor crowd here looked strong, organized and motivated. Their organizational effort will be key to getting out the vote on Caucus night.
While the polls are showing a competitive four-person race, one reassuring sign for the Gephardt campaign is (according to internal polling and verified through other sources) that Gephardt gets the highest second-choice votes among supporters of Kerry, Kucinich and Edwards. Dean came in fourth when supporters from those campaigns were asked who their second choice would be. This may prove important come Caucus night if some candidates in certain precincts have viability issues.
FORMER VERMONT GOV. HOWARD DEAN
Thurs. Jan. 15: It's Day 2 of the Howard Dean bus tour across Iowa. The day, as is often the case in Iowa, began with Dean flipping pancakes for a couple hundred would-be caucus goers. Then, to spice things up a little, Carol Moseley Braun dropped out of the race and endorsed Dean.
But that's not all of what Dean's press people want you to know.
Sarah Leonard, Dean's Iowa communications director wanted to make sure everyone on the press bus had heard the governor's new line. Yes, thank you - got it. Campaign manager Joe Trippi already made sure we knew.
Because Howard Dean has a new line.
It's clever, at least in the sense that it will get play. First, Dean reminds the audience of Bill Clinton's 1992 classic, "It's the economy stupid." Then, after the wind up, he tells 'em, "This time, it's the people, stupid."
BAM! Howard Dean has a new line. Pass the word, if you could, please.
"We're leading our piece with it," one network producer said. Other producers and print reporters started calling it in to their desks. Trippi went so far as to thank one producer for running it.
Because yes, Howard Dean has a new line. A perfectly crafted, decently delivered, television oriented ... line. Because of the reference to the 1992 reigning sound bite champion, Dean's new line is sure to get some sort of trial run. After all, thanks to the governor's staff, the national press corps now knows all about it - twice. (Just in case any of had missed it during the event).
Yes, the news shows will run it, the newspapers will print it and the cable nets will probably debate it.
Because Howard Dean has a new line. And according to Trippi, Dean came up with the line himself.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, D-N.C.
Tues. Jan. 13: If Sunday's endorsement of Sen. John Edwards by the Des Moines Register wasn't enough good news, Edwards appeared Monday on the FRONT page of The New York Times. This, coupled with the overall increase in attention he's been getting in recent days, is all great news for the North Carolina senator, who is banking on a strong finish in Iowa. While several weeks ago this may have seemed implausible, with just one week to go before the caucuses, it may not be so farfetched. In fact, a poll released by Zogby Monday has Kerry at 16 and Edwards at 12 (note: poll was taken over three days, Fri.-Sun., but Zogby says he wouldn't expect any effect from the DMR endorsement to show until tomorrow). A strong finish in Iowa is important, if not critical, if Edwards is to move forward with his campaign.
After participating in the Brown/Black Forum debate Sunday night, Edwards began his day talking about rural America. He says he will bridge the divide between the small towns and farms of rural American and the group of insiders who get what they want. "Small farmers are the heart and soul of this country," says Edwards. He delivered his message in the form of a speech (versus a more informal type of stump), which is something that he's been getting noticeably better at lately. Usually he takes Q and A after speaking, but at his first event he did not. That's something that bothered one undecided voter. "I am choosing between Edwards and Gephardt, but I'm leaning towards Gephardt because he took Q and A after his speech." It seems that everything counts, and at this point in the game Edwards can't afford to miss a beat.
A message that's becoming part of Edwards' stump is his ability to beat George W. Bush. The Democrats will obviously want to pick a candidate they feel can defeat Bush, and Edwards thinks he can do just that. "You're looking at the candidate that can go head to head with George Bush in the North, the Northwest, and talking like this [he points to his mouth as he refers to his Southern drawl] in the South." He adds, "The South is my backyard, not George Bush's backyard."
The crowds are getting bigger, but it's hard to tell if it's because they're coming to see Edwards, or because the caucuses are just around the corner. Either way, Edwards needs to win over these undecided voters, and so far it seems like he's doing a good job. "I'm leaning towards Edwards," says Sherry Lester of Sioux City. He's easy to understand and I like what he says about helping to keep jobs in this country." As for the DMR endorsement, Lester says she was really pleased about it and was disappointed by some of the other candidate's endorsements – like Harkin and Gore supporting Dean. "He also exudes energy," says Lester of Edwards, "and he reminds me of Kennedy," an opinion voiced several voters.
Edwards will be in Des Moines on Tuesday morning, and then jet off to New Hampshire for two events. After that, it's all Iowa all the time.