CBS News Reporter Steve Chaggaris is traveling with the Kerry campaign.
In the midst of a three-day swing across Iowa last week, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry was asked what his New Year's resolution was. Not surprisingly, he responded by saying, "To win." And with his campaign's near-term strategy focused exclusively on Iowa and New Hampshire, Kerry may finally be seeing some positive signs after a few rough months chasing Howard Dean.
The Massachusetts senator spent the first part of the week crisscrossing the Hawkeye State, holding 15 campaign events, most of them town-hall style meetings where he would give a 20-30 minute stump speech followed by a 30-to-60 minute question-and-answer session with Democratic voters.
Of note was the sheer number of undecided Democrats who Kerry interacted with over the course of those three days. There were many events, some in small Iowa locales such as Carroll, Jefferson, Waverly and Algona, which attracted upwards of 100 people, not all of them Kerry supporters. All in all, the candidate spoke to over 1,000 potential caucus goers in one-on-one settings over the 72-hour period.
In his stump speech, Kerry has sharpened his attacks on President Bush. "This administration is running the most arrogant, inept, reckless, ideological foreign policy in the modern history of this country," he says in almost every speech.
In addition, although he rarely focuses on Howard Dean during the stump speech portion of his events, Kerry steps up his criticism during the question-and-answer sessions, hammering away at Dean's foreign policy experience. "Why would you hire someone who has absolutely zero military, national security and international relations experience?" Kerry says about the former Vermont governor. "We need a nominee who has the ability to stand up to George Bush and go toe to toe and face to face."
The Kerry strategy is to post a strong second in Iowa behind Dean or Dick Gephardt on Jan. 19 (most polls there show him in a solid third, though one internal poll has him in second) and then transfer that momentum to New Hampshire, where he trails Dean by 18 and 30 percent, depending on the poll.
Kerry's upcoming schedule reflects the do-well-in-Iowa-then-bounce-to-New Hampshire strategy, as he'll spend six days in Iowa and three in New Hampshire from Jan. 2 through Jan 10.
The question remains, however, whether this strategy is sound. The focus on Iowa and New Hampshire has left Kerry's support in the post-New Hampshire primary states perilously thin. Polls in such Feb. 3 states as South Carolina - a state Kerry hasn't visited since September - Arizona and New Mexico all show him in single digits. In fact, Kerry's focus on Iowa is so narrow at this point that he recently transferred staff from South Carolina to help out in Iowa.
In addition, Kerry's fund-raising has been extremely sluggish in the last six months of 2003, prompting him to take out a $6.4 million mortgage on his half of the Boston home he shares with multimillionaire wife Teresa. The campaign announced last week that in addition to the $6.4 million loan, Kerry had raised $2.5 million from supporters in the last quarter of 2003; that's $12 million less than Dean raised in the same period. With Kerry television ads blanketing Iowa and New Hampshire, it remains to be seen whether he will have enough cash to compete after Jan. 27.
Kerry and his campaign fund-raisers hope that solid showings in Iowa and New Hampshire will invigorate contributors who have held back, perhaps because of the lack of a post-New Hampshire strategy.
"Once this race whittles down, I'm quite confident those dynamics change," Kerry said.