January 15, 2004
Edwards, Kerry see new hope in Iowa
Poll gives Edwards, Kerry late Iowa lift
By GEORGE E. CONDON JR.
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
DES MOINES, Iowa – Late surges by Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards less than a week before the Iowa caucuses raise the prospect that the first Democratic presidential contest of 2004 may be more than a two-man fight.
Kerry and Edwards had been locked in a battle for third while Howard Dean and Rep. Richard Gephardt fought it out for first place.
But in the days since Dean was put on the defensive in Sunday's debate, the former Vermont governor's grip on the top slot has slipped. And Gephardt of Missouri has seemed to be stuck at the same level of support.
The race's excitement in recent days has been with Kerry of Massachusetts and Edwards of North Carolina and it is showing up in the polls.
A new survey conducted by nonpartisan pollster John Zogby for MSNBC and Reuters had Dean at 24 percent, Gephardt at 21 – both of them down from the previous day. At their heels were Kerry, now tied with Gephardt at 21, and Edwards at 15.
Five more candidates were in single digits, with 13 percent undecided. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut are not competing in Iowa and are instead currently focusing on the New Hampshire primary and other states' primaries and caucuses.
The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 4.5 percent.
"There's major movement every day in Iowa," Zogby said. "This is fascinating. Kerry is just clearly coming on strong. And Edwards has been moving as well."
Even if the trend continues, the advantage remains with Dean and Gephardt because both have strong organizations and labor support essential in a caucus state. Kerry, with some labor backing, also has a respectable organization while Edwards has some important endorsements but not as strong an organization.
The poll numbers, which are similar to what the campaigns' private polls show, led to fresh enthusiasm yesterday in the Kerry and Edwards camps and new attacks from the Dean and Gephardt campaigns.
But even amid the enthusiasm, Kerry's strategist tried to lower expectations, insisting that he would be happy to beat out Edwards for third place.
"There are three tickets out of Iowa – first, second and third," said Stephanie Cutter, Kerry's spokeswoman. "We clearly have momentum . . . and anything can happen. But we are still shooting for one of those three tickets."
Similarly, Edwards would be happy with third place. The "winner" between Kerry and Edwards lives to fight on while the loser likely will see his candidacy badly and perhaps fatally wounded.
A strong showing by Kerry in Iowa, Zogby said, would almost certainly revive his chances in the Jan. 27 New Hampshire primary on his home turf of New England. A third-place finish here would help keep Edwards afloat until the week after New Hampshire when South Carolina provides the first test in his native South.
Both are doing their best to merit a second look from voters, showing signs here of hitting their stride after a year of stumbles and low poll numbers. Before this week, Kerry's highest rating in an Iowa poll was 15 percent in early November; Edwards' high point was 5 percent, also in November. But the crowds the two senators are drawing this week are dwarfing anything they have seen before.
Edwards' surge coincides with Sunday's surprise endorsement by the state's largest newspaper, The Des Moines Register.
"Almost every event we had had three or four times the number of people we expected," Edwards said Tuesday. "You couldn't get in the room. It is extraordinary what is happening."
Not all those in the audience, of course, were quite ready to cast their lot with the boyish-looking 50-year-old senator. But he's making some people consider it.
"Before I came, I worried his youth may be a problem," said Radine Riley, 82, a retired grocery worker. "But I don't anymore. I like his values; I like his vitality; I like his sincerity. I think he's got the qualifications to be president."
Edwards is completing the sale with many voters by refusing to attack any other candidate and turning his lack of political experience – one term in the Senate – into a positive by portraying himself as not part of "the mess in Washington" and someone with "real world" experience fighting for working people as a trial lawyer.
Kerry woos his crowds with a different pitch. He stresses his long experience in Washington, but also targets veterans by discussing his two tours of duty with the Navy in Vietnam. His crowds are dotted with baseball caps noting service aboard specific ships or service in Korea, Vietnam or World War II.
Applause always follows when Kerry tweaks President Bush for landing on an aircraft carrier May 1 off San Diego, stating, "Mr. President, I know something about aircraft carriers for real."
And, without mentioning Dean, Kerry suggests the front-runner can't be elected in November. He tells Iowans that when they go to the caucuses, "don't go there to just send a message. Send a president of the United States."
Matt Olsen, 50, a middle school teacher in Dubuque, chose Kerry over Dean, saying, "Kerry has been tested in Vietnam and Washington. Dean was just a Vermont governor and he hasn't been tested."
Even Edwards acknowledges that Kerry has an advantage over him at the Iowa caucuses because Kerry has a better organization and is not bound by federal spending caps because he is not accepting federal funds.
"Edwards has had some big performances and an important endorsement," said Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic strategist who has worked for Kerry in the past. "Kerry's performances have improved and he's had some important endorsements. But I think Kerry has more on the ground than Edwards and he's got momentum."
Both campaigns said their top priorities are to maintain their momentum and get their supporters out Monday night.
"We're just going to do what we've been doing; keep our heads down and keep working," said Cutter, the Kerry spokeswoman. "Things are so fluid right now nobody can take anything for granted."