Published: Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Candidates urge supporters to get to caucuses
Thursday's caucuses are the first votes of the presidential
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) Uplifting appeals largely replaced stinging insults Tuesday as Democratic and Republican candidates did the only thing left to do in Iowa races that are too close to call encourage supporters to vote for them.
"The polls look good, but understand this the polls are not enough. The only thing that counts is whether or not you show up to caucus," Democrat Barack Obama told a fired-up crowd of young and old packed into a high school gymnasium.
Amid murmurs of "Amen!" at a pizza parlor in Sergeant Bluff, Republican Mike Huckabee urged hundreds: "Don't go alone. Take people with you. Fill up your car. Rent a van. Hijack your church's bus, whatever you've got to do to get people to the caucus who are going to vote for me."
Candidates made the pitch repeatedly as they canvassed the state for Thursday's caucuses, the first votes of the presidential nominating process. At least 130,000 Democrats and 80,000 Republicans are expected to participate in 1,781 neighborhood meetings at schools, fire stations and community centers across Iowa on what is forecast to be a clear but cold night.
New polls show both races competitive, the outcomes extraordinarily unpredictable.
Among Democrats, Obama, an Illinois senator, is fighting with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York for the lead as former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina gives them strong chase. Two former governors, Huckabee of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, are vying for first on the Republican side.
Given the tightness, turning out voters will be critical.
Thus, hordes of volunteers made thousands of get-out-the-vote phone calls Tuesday, the campaigns rolled out uplifting television ads and the candidates made their pitches on the first day of 2008. The efforts were intended to maximize media exposure and voter outreach.
There were signs that Democratic voters are more energized than Republicans.
Democrat Joe Biden, who ranks in the low single digits in polls, attracted 500 people to a noontime event at a Des Moines brewery a bigger crowd than any Republican candidate usually gets.
Obama's campaign drew at or over capacity crowds. When he asked for a show of hands, many people said they'd never been to a caucus. In a boost for Obama, Democrat Dennis Kucinich asked his supporters to support Obama if he doesn't meet the cutoff point for voting in the caucuses.
As they campaigned in Iowa, all but one candidate, Romney, shunned the negativity that spiked in recent weeks.
Obama, Clinton and Edwards played nice. Huckabee made good on a promise to clean up his act, the day after he held a news conference to say he wouldn't run a critical ad against Romney but then showed it to a room full of reporters and cameramen.
"It does remind you a bit of a person who stands up and says 'I'm not going to call my opponent any names, but here are the names I'd call him if I were going to call him names,"' Romney told reporters in Johnston.
With two days left in the campaign, Romney continued his ads against Huckabee. He also assailed Huckabee's defense of his own failure to read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran last month.
"President Bush didn't read it for four years; I don't know why I should read it in four hours," Huckabee said in an interview published Monday in the Mason City Globe Gazette.
Obama's family was enthusiastic, buoyed by a Des Moines Register poll that showed him in the lead. His wife, Michelle, talked about "when Barack is the next president of the United States" and he referred to her "the next first lady of the United States."
"We stand on the brink of doing something very, very special here in Iowa," Obama said.
His chief rival, Clinton, campaigned with her 88-year old mother, Dorothy Rodham, and daughter, Chelsea, in tow as she worked to solidify her already strong support among female voters. Her husband, former President Clinton, campaigned separately, joking at one event that he was missing out on a day of football games and was being "the quintessential indolent American male on New Year's Day."
His faux grumbling aside, Clinton's campaign seized on a CNN poll that had her in the lead as aides picked apart the methodology of the Register survey.
"I don't know about you, but I am feeling great!" she said at her first event in Ames. Working hard to grab the momentum, Clinton joked about the extremes to which she would go to win support, recalling a campaign appearance among farmers and ranchers in an arena that normally is the site of cattle auctions.
"If you want to look inside my mouth to figure out whether you want to vote for me, that's fine, too," Clinton quipped. "Whatever it takes."
Edwards also brought his wife and two young children along for the final push, a "marathon for the middle class" during which he will continue to hammer away at pocketbook issues on an overnight drive to energize backers and deliver them to the caucuses.
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