Candidates Fighting To The Finish In Iowa

Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. greets residents at a campaign stop at the Denison Fire Department in Denison, Iowa, Thursday, Dec. 27, 2007. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
This story was written by political reporter Brian Montopoli.

As a light snow fell outside, Hillary Clinton stood in an overflowing Iowa elementary school gymnasium on Friday and made a case for why she should be the Democratic nominee for president.

"Some people think you get change by demanding it, some people think you get change by hoping for it," she said, in a shot at her two main rivals, Barack Obama and John Edwards. "I think you get change by working really, really hard for it every single day."

With the January 3rd caucuses less than a week away and no clear frontrunner having emerged in either party, virtually all of the major candidates - along with a fair share of campaign workers and media - will be working really, really hard every single day between now and Thursday. Among the presidential hopefuls campaigning in Iowa are Clinton, Edwards, Obama, Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Fred Thompson. Some are cramming up to five events per day into their schedules in an effort to woo undecided voters.

And a win isn't necessarily what they're looking for. The real goal in the state, according to Huckabee's Iowa campaign manager Eric Woolson, is to exceed expectations.

"It's not winning, it's having the media decide you're the winner, you're the surprise," says Woolson. "In March, when [Huckabee] was at less than 1 percent, I was saying to people we need to finish in the top three, and everyone laughed because we were in 9th place. Now when I say the same thing everybody laughs at me because we're expected to win."

Huckabee sits atop polls of likely GOP caucus-goers in the state, followed closely by Romney, who has been running ads critical of the former Arkansas governor's positions in an effort to close the gap. The former Massachusetts governor has held more than 200 events with voters in Iowa, according to Romney regional spokesperson Sarah Pompei.

"We've made no secret of our strategy to do well in the early states," she says.

Huckabee has moved much of his staff to Iowa, and he has benefited from the backing of home-schooling and pastors organizations in a state where 40 percent of likely GOP caucus-goers are evangelicals. Romney has stressed his position on illegal immigration in his Iowa advertisements and appearances, an issue that tops the list of concerns of the state's likely GOP caucus-goers.

Ron Paul, Giuliani, Thompson and McCain are all hoping for a finish in third place or better in the state, which would give them momentum heading into the New Hampshire primary on January 8th.

"Third or better would catapult us - it would start the revolution, as we say," says Jeff Jared, Paul's special projects coordinator in Iowa.

Clinton's campaign, meanwhile, is downplaying its candidate's chances in the state, where polls show the former first lady in a virtual tie with Edwards and Obama.

"Senator Clinton has said that Iowa is going to be her toughest state," says Mark Daley, Clinton's Iowa communications director. "She has never participated or campaigned here before and she isn't from a neighboring state."

Edwards' Iowa spokesman, Dan Leistikow, says the campaign is satisfied with where the Iowa race stands now. Some commentators have suggested that Edwards has focused on disproportionately on Iowa, but Leistikow argues otherwise.

"We've spent the exact same number of days here as Obama and just a few more than Clinton," he says. "And they have put three times as much into television ads."

Obama's Iowa communications director, Josh Earnest, also sought to counter what he says is a misconception - that his candidate is dependent on college students returning from their winter breaks to help him to victory.

"The polls are not polling college students," says Earnest, who argues that any boost the Obama campaign gets from college students will simply be a bonus. "There's no secret. This is about fundamentals. If you have the organization, and the volunteers, and the message, you're going to have a robust turnout operation."

At the Clinton event in Story City, Iowan Mary Harris said she had come to see whom she might support if her favored candidate, Joe Biden, is not viable at her caucus. At a Democratic caucus, a candidate needs to earn 15 percent support; if he does not, his supporters must choose another candidate. Second-choice preferences can be crucial in Iowa, a state with less than 3 million people and a 2004 caucus turnout of less than 6 percent of eligible voters.

"If I have to have a second choice on caucus night, I'm still undecided," says Harris. 40 percent of likely caucus-goers say they have yet to even settle on a first choice.

"It's close on both sides," says Arthur Sanders, the chair of the department of politics at Drake University in Des Moines. "There isn't any real way of knowing whose organizations are going to be most effective, and the January 3rd date presents problems that nobody has had to deal with before."

Among those problems are a nationally televised college football game, college students in the middle of their vacations, and the proximity to the New Year's holiday.

"You want about 48 hours where you can mobilize your people, but that's New Year's Day," says Sanders. "Everything's compressed. At the time you should be beginning your really hard push, you've got to delay things. Nobody knows what kind of impact that will have."
By Brian Montopoli