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Inside Politics

All eyes on Iowa voters

By Bill Schneider
CNN Political Unit

Dean in Iowa
Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean speaks during a campaign stop January 11, in Waterloo, Iowa.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- You've got to hand it to Iowa voters. They sure know how to keep this race interesting.

So we will hand it to them -- the Political Play of the Week.

Winter in Iowa is a good time to make final decisions.

"A year ago, I was supporting John Kerry, and I paid no attention whatsoever to Dean," said author Larry Baker. "He came to Iowa several times. Finally met him and talked to him. Didn't think he had a chance. But the more he was here and the more I got into him, the more I understood this connection he was beginning to build with voters like me."

What does one presidential hopeful say about Iowa voters?

"Iowans are tough judges," Dick Gephardt said on CNN's "American Morning" on Friday.

You can say that again.

Do they think Dick Gephardt can win? No, says this guy.

"I think his time has come and gone," proclaims retired professor Bob Engel. "I really don't think he can win this election."

Yes, says another guy.

"I think where Democrats are weak is [with] white male voters without college education. Guns and God. Dick Gephardt will win that," said Teamster Mike Eivins.

Pretty sophisticated political analysis there.

Iowa voters have a talent for confounding the polls. Just when you thought the shape of this race was clear -- Dean versus Gephardt -- the voters suddenly say, "Hold on there. Other candidates deserve a shot.''

"I love the process here," Kerry said Friday. "I think Iowans are just so independent that the polls don't matter."

They certainly matter to the press.

"The press corps has one agenda. They want a battle royal for the Democratic nomination that goes on for several months. The nightmare for the campaign press corps is that this is all over by the end of January," explained Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute.

The press doesn't want to shut this process down -- and neither do Iowa voters. They're playing hard to get.

Anyone can win this thing. Iowa voters are rethinking the options. That's their right, as the first-in-the nation contest. It's also the Political Play of the Week.

As someone who's asked to make predictions all the time, let me make the following assertion: Anyone who knows what's going to happen in Iowa on Monday night is grossly misinformed


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