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Campaign Roadblog, 1/13/04

Campaign Roadblog

CBS News reporters are out on the road covering the 2004 presidential race. They'll be sharing their observations, impressions and anecdotes from the campaign trail in our daily Roadblog.

John Edwards

U.S. Senator, North Carolina

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.

--Alison Schwartz

John Kerry

U.S. Senator, Massachusetts

Tues. Jan 13: Monday, Kerry received a much-coveted endorsement from Vilsack; not Gov. Tom Vilsack, who has said he will stay neutral, but his wife, Christie Vilsack. She announced her "surprise" endorsement on the steps of the Capitol in Des Moines in front of Kerry, Friday's endorser Attorney General Tom Miller and 27 state legislators who have already endorsed Kerry.

Granted, Ms. Vilsack, a former educator who has a penchant for bonnets, is no Tom Vilsack, but Kerry supporters point out that she and Miller both endorsed Al Gore in 2000 and helped him avoid a potential upset in Iowa by Bill Bradley.

Ms. Vilsack then hit the road with Kerry, appearing with him at town-hall meetings throughout the state. All the events – in Williamsburg, Fort Madison, Burlington and Muscatine – were well attended with crowds of 100-175 at each.

After the Williamsburg meeting, the bus diverted to the Vilsack home in Mt. Pleasant, where around 30 locals greeted Mrs. Vilsack and Sen. Kerry. Vilsack explained that her husband had signed off on her decision to support Kerry. "The last thing he said to me before I left was that 'I'm really proud of you,'" she told reporters. "I think he respects me for my decision and I respect him for his. ... He'll have to decide next week what he's going to do. I know he's very frustrated sitting on the sidelines. And he's a little jealous that I'm in the fray."

After Kerry and Mrs. Vilsack had a little coffee, Kerry was baited by the traveling press into a mid-afternoon snowball fight. Kerry formed two snowballs while eyeing The New York Times reporter the whole way. He nimbly dodged snowballs from reporters from the Times, ABC and CBS as if he was 16 years old, not 60. Kerry then honed in on the Times reporter and charged at him.

Kerry's high energy level was fleeting throughout the day as he battled a nasty cold. Listening to his stump speeches throughout the day, it was obvious his illness had sapped some of his energy.

--Steve Chaggaris

Dick Gephardt

U.S. Representative, Missouri

Mon. Jan. 12: Gephardt campaign manager Steve Murphy, in a conference call with reporters on Sunday, again warned about outsiders (non-Iowans) infiltrating the caucuses. He said while there are no restrictions on who can come to caucus, there are restriction on who can vote. He is also worried that entrance polling may have validity problems because of the way that numbers are reported from the precincts.

Murphy also tried to do damage control on a statement by Gephardt at the end of a speech in Norwalk that "I have to win in Iowa to win the nomination and take on George Bush." He usually dances around this question. Murphy said it was a moot point because Gephardt is going to win in Iowa; it will be a bigger blow to Dean to lose than Gephardt because Dean is the frontrunner.

Asked why Gephardt is stagnant in the polls, Murphy said you cannot poll for a caucus when voter turnout is so important; no one is really moving in the polls and everyone is kind of stuck with a large undecided still there.

--Ben Ferguson

Joe Lieberman

U.S. Senator, Connecticut

Mon. Jan. 12: The Black and Brown debate in Des Moines on Sunday was a weird debate. However, all the candidates seemed very much in character: Howard Dean got most of the attacks/attention and tried to run things; John Kerry was in the shadows and came off as presidential and aloof; Joe Lieberman, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton were fighting for some playing time.

At one point, Lieberman said, "I was beginning to hope someone would attack me," and Sharpton was heard telling moderator Lester Holt during one of the early breaks, Iif I don't get more talking time soon, I am outta here." Johnny Boy Edwards remained ever optimistic and hopeful for the future, while Dennis Kucinich still hammered to get our troops out of Iraq.

Sharpton did dig in to Dean, though, on the issue of the lack of color in Dean's Vermont government. This could prove a harbinger for February 3rd states, when the South/ African-American vote comes out, especially in South Carolina.

In the end, perhaps the real winner of the debate was Wes Clark. He was up in New Hampshire and above the fray.

Later in the spin room, Lieberman spun his non-question about having all the Democratic candidates sign a letter to President Bush urging him to implement the bipartisan election reform law passed last year. I couldn't quite figure out of this was a media/debate ploy by Lieberman for some attention or if it simply pointed to his not yet being over the 2000 election. Either way he got some teasing for his long-windedness from John Kerry, who said, "I was going to ask Joe Lieberman a question, but given his long question, I was afraid his answer might be ... longer than Britney Spears' marriage."

--Tali Aronsky

Wesley Clark

Retired U.S. Army General

Fri. Jan. 9: Clark met his entire press corps, which seems to be growing by the hour, at the L.L. Bean factory outlet store in Concord, N.H., Thursday morning. While waiting for the general to arrive, Clark senior adviser Chris Lehane bought a hunter's hat, the kind with the earflaps, and director of press advance Sunny Gettinger purchased a red down jacket.

Although Clark met some shoppers and asked for their support along the way, the purpose of the visit wasn't retail politics on the trail. Clark needed a new sweater. Yesterday, at his Peterborough town hall meeting, he wore a tan argyle sweater that looked suspiciously like his brother-in-law Gene Caulfield's argyle sweater. Turns out it was one and the same.

Upon questioning from reporters, Clark was forced to explain. "I took the sweater off the back of my brother in law," he said under pressure. "I was cold. He had a nice, warm sport coat on and I had this thin coat. We had a mix-up, so I needed a sweater."

After holding up different options to his concerned staff (one brown sweater got cast aside when Clark said, "That's a warm looking sweater, but I need something with a little more, you know, style") he decided on a forest green crew neck. It was an extra-large, tall, but it was the right color and, most importantly, it was wool, not cotton. The entourage followed Clark to the men's changing room, where we eagerly awaited the fashion show. Clark came out wearing a baggy green sweater, looked at the cameras and said, "This is so unfair."

Since Mrs. Clark was not there, Clark called on his argyle sweater-owning brother in law for his opinion. "It's too big," was Caulfield's verdict. Thankfully, a staffer found the same sweater in a large. Clark emerged from the changing room for the second time, modeling the sweater for the press as photographers snapped photos. Clark bought the sweater ($19 and change) and wore it out of the store.

--Bonney Kapp

Howard Dean

Former Governor, Vermont

Fri. Jan 9: Blackberries, pagers, and cell phones began buzzing just moments after Dean took the stage Friday in the Portsmouth, N.H., Music Hall. Staffers and reporters alike discovered that Sen. Tom Harkin, who holds the most coveted endorsement in Iowa, planned to announce his support for Gov. Dean.

Harkin's announcement, which came at about 4 p.m. EST, brings much-needed relief to the Dean campaign which has been reeling of late because of recently discovered comments by Dean four years ago on a Canadian broadcast in which he disparaged the caucus process.

The comments received massive attention, particularly in the all-important "first in the nation" state of Iowa. Harkin's endorsement will help shift the media's attention and give Dean a boost just ten days before caucus night. When asked about the timing of the campaign's endorsement announcements, one senior Dean staffer conceded it was part strategy and part luck.

In other Dean news... Three days ago, Dean for America campaign manager Joe Trippi told reporters aboard the Iowa press bus that the governor's opponents' tactics were leaning toward dirty politics. Trippi said that committed Dean supporters in Iowa were receiving up to 18 "robocalls" a day from the combined efforts of the Gephardt and Kerry campaigns.

Dean supporters, Trippi said, were getting to the point of pulling their phones out of the wall, which of course meant they couldn't receive calls from the Dean campaign to organize for caucus night. Trippi told reporters he could provide them with a list of ten people who had received such calls.

Seventy-two hours later, the Dean campaign in Iowa has not produced a single name of a supporter in the state who will substantiate Trippi's claims. Both the Gephardt and Kerry campaigns deny the allegations.

Staff at Dean's Iowa headquarters cited an extremely busy schedule as the only reason why no names had been produced to back up Trippi's claims.

Meanwhile, relations between Dean's campaign staff and the press are growing increasingly strained. Today, Dean had an exchange with a reporter from the Boston Globe in New Hampshire.

Dean (as per Globe reporter): "I'll be happy to talk but not right now."

Boston Globe: "So you promise you'll talk to us?"

Dean: "No, I don't make any promises."

After Dean's campaign event, cameras and print reporters swarmed the candidate eager to ask about his remarks about the caucus system. Dean muttered a few quick answers but avoided fully addressing the gathered press by going into a private room. Press and staff almost immediately started trading barbs.

Before leaving the event room, Dean said, "We're happy to talk with you. This is not exactly the right place to do it."

--Eric Salzman

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