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Clinton Advisor: "A Lot of Catch-Up To Do" in Iowa

From CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Jim Axelrod, who's covering the Clinton campaign:

SHENANDOAH, IOWA -- At her campaign stop in Shenandoah, Iowa tonight, Hillary Clinton promised her campaign "was going to do everything we can to get people to the caucuses because I'm inspired by Iowans wanting to be part of the process."

Inspiration is a lovely thought, but there's a much more practical reason.

A senior Clinton advisor tells me that about half of Hillary Clinton's female supporters have never taken part in Iowa's caucuses before -- a much larger figure than that for either Obama or Edwards supporters. In other words, the key to success in Iowa may well rest upon the campaign's ability to turn out these first time caucusers. Maybe that's why the advisor said, "if there's not an ice storm shutting down Iowa, then somewhere in the state, there is caucus training going on." The thinking is if they are too intimidated by it, they may elect to stay home rather than head out on a freezing January night just to be embarrassed by not understanding what they're even doing there.

You can tell it's the final stretch. Candidates are not only beginning to frame their final arguments to Iowans, but they are shifting their tone as well. It's well known that Iowans don't like negative campaigning. Ask Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt who were running #1 and #2 in Iowa until they started beating up each other near the end. Who was the big benficiary? John Kerry, that's who. You could tell Hillary Clinton is well aware of that history.

She wants to draw distinctions between her and her opponents, especially Barack Obama -- positioning herself as the most experienced candidate in the race -- but doesn't want to appear nasty, especially with the New Hampshire campaign co-chair stepping down after raising questions about Obama's electability due to his admitted drug use. ("Experience" is also a tricky sell right now -- because Obama is having success with a message that he will produce "change." By definition, "change" is a departure from those who've been running things, from those with "experience.")

In her debate today, and at her appearance tonight, she never referred to either Obama or John Edwards by name -- to maintain a civil tone -- but she did draw the distinction. "You can talk about change as a lot of people do, but you don't get change by demanding it, you don't get change by hoping for it. You get change by working for it." In that way, she attempted to wrap together her "experience" as making her an even more effective agent of "change."

Expect to see more of this tone starting Sunday in Iowa, when she embarks on a five-day tour, when she and her surrogates will attempt to reach all 99 counties in Iowa. The theme: "Working for change. Working for you." The Clinton campaign knows it has not done its best work so far in Iowa. They hope to hit the "reset" button starting Sunday. In the words of the senior advisor: "We've got a lot of catch-up to do."

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.