Senators John Kerry and John Edwards, overshadowed for weeks by the high-profile battle between Howard Dean and Rep. Richard Gephardt for victory in the Iowa caucuses, were pressing hard Wednesday for strong finishes in the Jan. 19 vote.
Kerry was kicking off a multi-stop campaign day with a speech that aides say will outline his closing arguments for support in Monday's caucuses.
In a copy of the speech obtained by The Associated Press, Kerry attacks the Bush administration's "economy of privilege." Kerry also takes a swipe at rivals Dean and Gephardt for wanting to raise taxes on middle-class Americans — a reference to those candidates' call for reversing President Bush's tax cuts.
North Carolina's Edwards scheduled numerous campaign stops as he seeks to continue the momentum that polls say he is enjoying.
The frontrunners are taking notice of Kerry and Edwards' big push: Dean is airing a new anti-war ad in Iowa that targets not only Gephardt, but Kerry and Edwards as well.
Dean — already endorsed by former vice president Al Gore and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin — was also calling in more Democratic star power.
He will meet with former President Jimmy Carter in Georgia this Sunday, the day before Iowa's caucuses. No endorsement is expected.
Gephardt has just one Iowa stop before traveling to Michigan to campaign. The Iowa vote is considered crucial for Gephardt's chances, but aides say he must spend time outside the state to lay the groundwork for later primary fights.
Edwards is eyeing those later battles. His strategy calls for a stronger-than-expected finish in Iowa's caucuses, a respectable showing in New Hampshire's primary, then a big stand in South Carolina, one of seven states holding primaries the following week.
In the tight, four-way race that may be determined by which campaign best recruits political novices, the leading candidates are using different tactics and motivations to expand the universe of caucus-goers.
Virtually all surveys have shown a large number of undecided voters, with an even larger group willing to change their mind in the closing days, lending a sense of uncertainty to the race.
Dean's campaign has 2,000 Iowans lobbying neighbors and friends on the candidate's behalf. They fare best with voters angry over the war against Iraq.
Gephardt's team has 600 out-of-state union activists knocking on doors of labor workers. They raise fears about lost jobs and health insurance to get active and retired union members interested in the race.
Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, is still running on his war record: according to CBS News Reporter Steve Chaggaris, he announced plans for 10,000 veterans to head to the caucuses on his behalf.
Kerry is also promising to stand up for hard-working people against an "economy of special privilege."
"To me this is a matter of principle," the Massachusetts senator said in the remarks prepared for delivery Wednesday. "Democrats should stand up for everyday Americans who work hard, hope for the future and face extraordinary challenges everyday."
At issue are differences among the Democratic rivals over tax cuts Bush pushed through Congress. Virtually all the Democrats argue that portions of the tax cut — particularly for the wealthy — should be eliminated, with the money being used for programs like expanding health care.
Dean and Gephardt go further, arguing for ending all the tax cuts, including portions that mainly benefit middle-class taxpayers such as a child care tax credit. Dean argues that it's urgent to begin balancing the federal budget and he seeks a health care expansion, all financed by repealing the tax cuts. Gephardt also calls for eliminating the tax cut, and using the money to pay for his universal health care plan.
Meanwhile, 12 Republicans will stump for Mr. Bush in Iowa next week even though the president faces no opposition. The GOP team include House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Elsewhere, Wesley Clark — who is not competing in the kickoff Iowa caucuses — is closing the once-commanding lead that Dean had in New Hampshire. Private polling by two campaigns in New Hampshire showed that Dean's lead has shrunk to single digits from a first-of-the-year high of about 25 percentage points, according to officials familiar with the polls.
Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, at numerous campaign stops in New Hampshire this week, has praised Sen. John McCain and former President Clinton, aligning himself with their moderate political beliefs and reliving their victories.
The latest leg of Lieberman's struggling campaign aims to recapture the surprising momentum Clinton built when he became the "Comeback Kid" in New Hampshire in 1992, and then went to score second-place in the primary and eventually win the presidency.