FORMER VERMONT GOV. HOWARD DEAN
Sun. Jan. 18: After an appearance with former President Jimmy Carter earlier today in Plains, Ga., Howard Dean boarded his plane to head back to Iowa for the final (this time, really final) push to the Iowa caucuses.
On the overflow press plane, word started spreading about a "special guest" appearing at the next two Dean events. Speculation began instantly: Streisand? Gore? Clinton? James Taylor?
Who could it possibly be? Certainly not just another small town doctor from Vermont.
Actually, yes. Dr. Judith Steinberg, Howard Dean's wife.
Dean's wife, not on the campaign trail since the former governor's official announcement for president, is asked about often, but rarely seen or heard from publicly. Today, she flew on a small jet from Burlington, Vt. to Moline, Ill., to meet her husband the day before the Iowa caucuses.
The couple met aboard Dean's Gulf Stream II charter before walking off board together for a much-anticipated photo op. Dr. Dean waved; Dr. Steinberg smiled.
The press – well, some of us anyway – marveled at how the support of a candidate's own wife had somehow become newsworthy. And yet it was.
SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-Mass.
Sun. Jan. 18: A long-winded John Kerry received a surprise on Saturday: he met the man whose life he saved in Vietnam 35 years ago.
After two events where Kerry spoke to several hundred people at town hall meetings in Clinton and Davenport (the Davenport event lasted two hours, with Kerry taking 90 minutes of questions, forcing the senator to cancel an appearance in Dubuque), he hopped on the bus to Des Moines for an event where he thought he was just receiving the endorsement of a local African-American activist. — But on the ride, Kerry's aides explained to him that Jim Rassmann, a green beret who Kerry pulled out of a Vietnam river while under fire, would be there to meet him for the first time since March 13, 1969. — Kerry received the Bronze Star for saving Rassmann.
Shortly after the news broke, Kerry spoke to reporters on the bus although at one point he was almost speechless. — "It's, uh, you know, it's really, it's out of the blue, this sort of, uh, wonderful, but, uh, you know, what's the word I'm looking for, I mean it's exciting, it's, it's interesting. — It's, it's, it's exciting to see the guy. ... I never anticipated seeing this fella." —
Kerry seemed genuinely affected by this news and, in fact, before arriving in Des Moines, the campaign bus pulled over for Kerry to get some air and loosen up by tossing a football around with his staff and the traveling press.
In Des Moines, no fewer than 25 television cameras and scores of famous political journalists descended on the scene to check out the candidate who is experiencing a self-described "surge." — When the two met, emotions flowed with Rassmann's eyes welling up with tears. — Later, Rassmann described the day in '69. — "John didn't have to, but he came to the front under fire," he said. "And pulled me over. Had he not, there's no question in my mind that I probably would've fallen back into the river. He could've been shot and killed at any time, and so could I. So I figure I probably owe this man my life."
Interestingly, Rassmann, who is volunteering for Kerry, admitted he's a registered Republican.
After the Des Moines event, Kerry was greeted by around 800 people at an Iowa City mall for a rally. — Joining him on stage were his wife, Teresa, former Sen. Gary Hart, and Rassmann as well as some Iowa officials who've endorsed Kerry.
The last event of the night was a town hall meeting at Coe College in Cedar Rapids. — 300 or so listened to an 8-minute stump speech from Kerry (he kept his remarks short to take as many questions as possible) and wound up peppering Kerry with questions for over an hour. —
Kerry, who's constantly worried about losing his voice and regularly drinks a mixture of honey, lemon and ginger to soothe his throat, said he felt like his voice was holding up after 14 hours of talking to voters.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, D-N.C.
Sun. Jan. 18: Can you say "packed like sardines?"
At a Saturday morning pep rally, supporters, staffers and members of the media were literally packed like sardines into the campaign headquarters of Sen. John Edwards. Edwards, who arrived casually late (like he usually does), spoke for a few minutes while people chanted "It's our time now," "Iowa for Edwards," "1-2-3-4 who you gonna caucus for – John ... Edwards." Most of his supporters were wearing t-shirts that said "John Edwards Believes in You," and they were enthusiastically swinging their Edwards banners in the air. Unless you were standing up on a platform or situated in one location, it was nearly impossible to maneuver around the crowds, especially if you were a cameraman or still photographer.
It was even more chaotic outside after the event. There were several network and local crews and correspondents swarming around Edwards, firing questions at him. If you weren't standing right in front of him, you could barely hear what he was saying.
All of this attention is certainly new to the Edwards campaign. For several months, frontrunner Howard Dean was constantly in the media spotlight. But these days, it seems like the "John" phenomena is kicking into high gear. That would be both John Kerry of Massachusetts, who has been moving to the top of the pack in recent polls, and John Edwards, who has been gaining strong and steady momentum. Analysts are calling this a four-way race, and with 15-20% of Iowa voters undecided, Edwards is hoping that his message of "hope and optimism" will bring them to his team on caucus night.
In fact, today his campaign unveiled a new ad called "Now." It's a montage of various Edwards events, with no sound. According to press secretary Jennifer Palmieri, "We think it's one of the best political ads ever done, especially at capturing the soul of the candidate and the campaign." Palmieri said that it shows the inclusiveness of the campaign and how much Edwards has learned during his time in Iowa.
The campaign is also getting a little more creative. Yesterday, they fired off confetti guns at the end of one of their events. And today, they told reporters to wait by an entrance that was a garage door. Edwards was waiting on the other side and when the door opened a huge banner that said "John Edwards for President - His Time is Now" came up. Edwards then made his way through a crowd of zealous and enthusiastic supporters.
Besides the excitement of recent days, with caucus night just 48 hours away, the Edwards campaign is hoping that their grass roots efforts of the past several months will pay off. Their get out the vote effort is called "Iowan to Iowan," a strategy in which Iowans reach out to other Iowans. While Dick Gephardt has the support of the labor unions, Kerry has the support of the vets and Dean has plenty of money, this is the Edwards' attempt at voter outreach. "The seeds were planted a while ago, and now we're seeing this mini-explosion," says Palmieri. She compares it to Edwards' 1998 North Carolina Senate run where he was the underdog, but in the last two weeks of the campaign, he won over 80 percent of undecided voters and went on to win his first Senate seat. They plan to reach out to as many Iowans as they can, right up until the final hours.
A solid foundation has been laid for a strong showing on caucus night - only time will tell how much outside pressure the base can withstand.
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.