The Democratic presidential candidates are focused on a furious last day of campaigning in Iowa before Monday's first important test of the 2004 primary season, the Iowa presidential caucuses. The polls indicate the race is too close to call among four of the eight Democratic contenders who are vying to challenge President Bush in November.
A new poll by the Des Moines Register newspaper indicates a tight race among the Democrats, with late surges by Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and North Carolina Senator John Edwards.
The other two candidates in contention are longtime Democratic front-runner and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean and Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt.
Two other candidates, retired General Wesley Clark and Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, are focusing on later contests. The Democratic field is rounded out by Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and civil rights activist Al Sharpton, who are trailing far behind.
No candidate has gained more ground here this past week than Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. "I am not talking about my opponents, I am talking about the target. The target is George Bush and Democrats want the most effective candidate to run against and beat George Bush. I am that candidate," he said on ABC's This Week program.
The other candidate on the rise here is North Carolina Senator John Edwards. He urged on his supporters at a rally in Davenport, Iowa, "I need you. I need you at the caucuses. I cannot change this country alone. But you and I can do it together."
Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean is counting on a strong local organization to turnout his Iowa supporters on Monday. Mr. Dean attended church Sunday with Jimmy Carter in the former president's home state of Georgia. Afterward, Mr. Carter praised Howard Dean's opposition to the Iraq war, though his warm words fell short of an official endorsement.
But the meeting came at an opportune time for Mr. Dean, whose lead in the polls has been slipping of late. "I particularly want to thank President Jimmy Carter. One, for getting me into politics and two, for providing a moral example for all Americans. Because what we need is to restore the honor and the dignity and the morality in the White House in foreign leadership and domestic leadership so that ordinary Americans can have their country back," he said.
Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt may have the most to lose in Iowa if he has a poor showing in the Monday vote. Congressman Gephardt spent much of Sunday rallying trade union supporters. "You have the power to go out of this room today and to find the number of people that we need who will actually show up at that caucus so that we get more votes than our opponents and we win," he said.
Virtually all the attention here is on the Democratic race for president. Republicans will also turn out in local meetings on Monday to support President Bush. The president has no Republican opposition and is assured of re-nomination.
National Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie says the president is in strong shape for re-election no matter who his Democratic opponent is. "The Republican Party is as united today as I have seen it since Ronald Reagan. And we are going to [win over] a whole lot more Democrats than they are going to be able to pick off Republicans," he said on ABC television.
After the Iowa vote Monday, the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination shifts to New Hampshire and its primary on January 27.