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Democrats Furiously Campaign in Iowa - 2004-01-17


The Democratic presidential candidates are engaged in a furious last-minute search for votes in the midwest state of Iowa, two days before the first major test of the 2004 campaign for the White House.

With public opinion polls indicating the race among the four top Democrats here is too close to call, the candidates are doing all they can to urge their supporters to attend the caucuses on Monday night.

Polls suggest the two candidates who have been gaining in recent days are Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and North Carolina Senator John Edwards.

Senator Edwards took time out from his across the state bus campaign Saturday to rally volunteers at his headquarters in downtown Des Moines.

"We are going to lift up this country," he said. "We are going to make America proud again. You and I together, we are going to bring the change to America that it so desperately needs. And the reason we are going to be able to do this, I can't do it by myself, but we can do it together, and I believe that you and the American people deserve a president who believes in you. Join me in this campaign, join me in this cause, join me in this movement to change America. Thank you all. Work, work, organize, organize!"

Local resident Scott Sundstrom was in the audience. He says he supports John Edwards because he thinks the North Carolina senator has the best chance of any of the eight Democratic candidates of defeating President Bush in November.

"A lot of the Democratic candidates have fairly similar positions, so I really think it is who has the best chance in the election, and I think Edwards has a lot of the political skills, and he has got the southern background, which I think has been helpful for Democratic candidates," said Scott Sundstrom. "So, it looks like he may be the best guy for the nomination."

The surges by Senators Edwards and Kerry have come at the expense of the two candidates who had been leading the pack in Iowa for the past few months - Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean.

Both of them continue to rally supporters as well, as Mr. Dean did at a small college in southeastern Iowa.

"The biggest lie that people like me tell people like you at election time is that, if you vote for me, I am going to solve all of your problems," he said. "The truth is, the power to change this country is in your hands for two hours at 6:30 on Monday night."

With the race so tight, political analysts say, the candidates who are best able to get their supporters out to the caucuses on Monday will prevail.

Stuart Rothenberg publishes an independent political newsletter in Washington. He is in Iowa this week observing the campaigns, and says the Dean and Gephardt organizations should not be underestimated.

"It is about manpower, and at the end of the day, Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean still have more people in Iowa, on the ground, working to turn people out," he said. "That is still an advantage they have. They had it two weeks ago, two months ago and they still have it."

The Iowa caucuses are the first important test of the 2004 presidential campaign in the battle for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. President Bush is unopposed in the Republican Party, so his re-nomination is little more than a formality.