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Inside Politics

Iowa a crucial test for Gephardt

Congressman seeking to blunt Dean's momentum

From Sasha Johnson
CNN Political Unit

Dick Gephardt talks with CNN's Judy Woodruff Monday on the Election Express in Iowa.
Dick Gephardt talks with CNN's Judy Woodruff Monday on the Election Express in Iowa.

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DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) -- Facing a tight race with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt sees next week's Iowa caucuses as a critical test of his campaign.

"I've got to win Iowa to win the nomination to take on George Bush," the Missouri Democrat said Sunday in Norwalk.

Gephardt is counting on union support and organization to get Iowans to the caucuses January 19. ('s interactive Election Calendar)

Polls have showed him running a close second to Dean.

A senior campaign aide for Gephardt called the Iowa race a "jump ball."

Trying to differentiate himself from his Democratic rivals, the congressman told a Des Moines audience Sunday he doesn't just "talk the talk" when it comes to issues such as the economy, trade, education and health care.

"I've got a plan to fix No Child Left Behind, " Gephardt told about 100 mostly union supporters gathered in a hotel ballroom, appropriating and then editing the slogan for President Bush's education plan. "We've got to leave Bush behind."

The tight Dean-Gephardt battle, combined with a crowded Democratic field, have prompted the congressman's campaign and others to predict a high turnout. (Candidates jockey for momentum)

Some observers have predicted as many as 120,000 Iowans will participate in the caucuses.

Dean's campaign is banking on a series of high-profile endorsements to persuade undecided voters to join its camp.

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and former Vice President Al Gore campaigned Saturday with Dean in Dubuque. (Harkin endorses Dean, Gore endorses Dean)

Harkin plans to spend the next week touting Dean's message across the state.

Harkin's endorsement was seen as a blow to Gephardt, a longtime friend of the senator's and fellow union supporter.

Harkin called the endorsement difficult because he said he was forced to "disappoint friends."

Harkin press secretary Allison Dobson said Dean's ability to attract new members into the party was a major factor in the decision.

Gephardt campaign officials said their polling over the last two days shows no bounce for Dean following the Harkin's endorsement Friday.

Gephardt is also counting on the support of other politicians.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-South Carolina, traveled Sunday to Iowa to campaign on Gephardt's behalf.

In Des Moines, Clyburn called his fellow congressman "the embodiment of old traditional values and bold new ideas."

Clyburn's support is seen as crucial to Gephardt's efforts in South Carolina, which holds its primary February 3.

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