Democratic presidential rivals blitzed Iowa on Saturday on the final weekend of a close and costly caucus campaign, summoning ghosts of Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy as they vied for victory in the first contest of 2004.
"I'm in full combat mode," said Howard Dean, delivering a self-appraisal that applied no less to Dick Gephardt, John Kerry and John Edwards in the late hours of the race.
All four were "crisscrossing Iowa at a breakneck pace," according to CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts.
They all buttressed personal campaigning with a late round of upbeat television commercials. Those, in turn, were supplemented by a blizzard of direct mail, some of it bearing the type of attacks that characterized the campaign's late stages.
Gephardt's campaign mass-mailed a flyer throughout the farm-intensive state alleging that Kerry "voted against the most important ethanol legislation of the '90s." Kerry mailed thousands of pieces of mail saying Dean and Gephardt wanted to "raise middle-class taxes."
Edwards, 51, sought to project a youthful, above-the-fray image, waving alongside his two preschool children from the window of his campaign bus. The North Carolina senator also unveiled a final commercial that relied on silent images and instrumental music to drive voters to his side. The message was unspoken, scrolling across the screen.
"To all those who stood up, listened and spoke out. Made us laugh, question, think and believe a positive vision of hope and new ideas can change America. Your time is now," it said.
Correspondent Pitts says Edwards is "perhaps the biggest surprise in these final days. ... His populist message has resonated with Iowans."
The Monday night caucuses will set the party on a path to selecting a challenger for President Bush this fall.
That made Mr. Bush a spectator with an unusually personal interest in the outcome, and he was maneuvering for advantage already.
Tuesday night's State of the Union message assured him of massive media coverage, in time to quickly dim any glow that the Democratic caucus winner receives.
GOP aides said Mr. Bush would use his speech to argue that he has made Americans more prosperous and secure, citing the rising stock market, the growing economy and Saddam Hussein's capture.
Whichever Democrat challenges him will have a contrary argument to make — the worst job-creation record since Herbert Hoover, record deficits and a death toll of at least 500 in Iraq.
Before any of them could concentrate on Mr. Bush, however, there was Iowa, kickoff contest in the battle for the nomination. Statewide polls suggested a tight finish Monday night, when caucus-goers gather in 1,993 precincts in every corner of the state.
CBS News notes that the Iowa caucus is very difficult to poll. It's hard to determine which voters will actually show up, and many political observers believe the candidate with the best get-out-the-vote operation has a considerable advantage - a factor that doesn't show up in polls.
All four of the major rivals made multiple stops during the day.
Gephardt had seven as he struggled to avoid a loss that aides said could spell the end of his political career.
Dean, Edwards and Kerry referred to the ghost of Democratic presidents past.
Edwards offered himself as a successor to Franklin Roosevelt, who won creation of Social Security, and John Kennedy, whom he said helped win civil rights legislation. "This campaign is not based on the politics of cynicism. It is based on the politics of hope, of what's possible," he said.
Kerry sounded a similar theme. "When you go to the caucuses, carry with you the history of a party that offers hope and leadership. We ask that you go to that caucus holding in mind Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John Kennedy," he said.
Correspondent Pitts said Kerry has seen his momentum surge recently. And he had a moving reunion Saturday: "The old swift boat commander was reunited with a fellow sailor, whose life he saved in Viet Nam some 25-years ago."
Campaign aides said the two men hadn't spoken in 35 years, and the former lieutenant contacted the campaign in the past few days.
Kerry Saturday accused his rivals of smearing his record on agriculture issues and sought to stress his foreign policy credentials.
"We need a nominee of this party and this country needs a leader who understands this complex world," he said in Clinton, where a crowd estimated at 300 turned out.
For his part, Dean said more Americans need health care, reminding his audience that Truman made that a key point in winning the 1948 campaign.
The former Vermont governor, the longshot-turned-frontrunner, sought to cement his claim as the non-Washington candidate willing to stand up to Bush. Exhorting supporters in Council Bluffs to turn out on Monday, he said: "We need your help. Don't complain about George Bush if you don't go to caucus to support Howard Dean at 6:30 on Monday."
Gephardt's stops were designed to maximize the turnout of union members and supporters who form the backbone of his campaign. "What we're trying to do is get the message out about jobs worth fighting for," he said in Cedar Rapids, the first stop of the day.
Union volunteers from as far away as Delaware trekked to the state to help. A group of machinists brought a semi-trailer with a sign that identified it as "George Bush's Wall of Shame."