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Inside Politics

Democrats blitz Iowa on eve of caucuses

Polls suggest race too close to call

Howard Dean and his wife, Judy, arrive Sunday in Davenport, Iowa.
Howard Dean and his wife, Judy, arrive Sunday in Davenport, Iowa.

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CNN's Bruce Morton on the eve of the Iowa caucuses.
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DEMOCRATIC PRIMARIES

Delegates at stake in Iowa: 45

Delegates needed to win Democratic national presidential nomination: 2,161

Events ahead of July 25-31 national convention: 56 (36 primaries, 20 caucuses)

Biggest primary day: March 2 (1,151 delegates at stake)

Second-biggest primary day: February 3 (269 delegates at stake)

Compiled by Robert Yoon and Mark Rodeffer
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DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) -- Months of campaigning and weeks of 'round-the-clock efforts in Iowa all came down to a final push, as four Democrats fought for any edge that might make one of them the victor in Monday's caucuses.

Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards, Rep. Dick Gephardt and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean -- neck-and-neck for the presidential nomination in state polls -- reached out to voters in all corners of the Midwestern state, each portraying himself as the one to reverse President Bush's foreign policy and economic program.

With many Iowans saying they're still undecided and the state's unique voting system, any of the four candidates could emerge the victor. (On the Scene: CNN's Bob Franken in Iowa; Judy Woodruff: The stubborn undecideds)

"I'm here to mark the beginning of the end of the Bush presidency," Kerry told a packed crowd of cheering supporters in Waterloo, his voice hoarse from a relentless campaign schedule.

Kerry lambasted the Bush administration's domestic policies and complained, "George Bush has run the most arrogant, inept, reckless and ideological foreign policy in the modern history of this country."

He said he agreed with former President Clinton that the 2002 midterm elections showed "strong and wrong beats weak and right. I bring to our party the ability to be strong and right at the same time. And that's what we need to do in order to win."

In a rousing introduction, Kerry's fellow senator from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy, said, "In a year and two days from now a president will raise his hand to be inaugurated as the next president of the United States. And I want someone that is going to raise [his] hand, preserve and protect and defend the Constitution of the United States like John Kerry will."

A Des Moines Register poll released Sunday showed Kerry a narrow front-runner at 26 percent of likely caucus participants, with Edwards right behind at 23 percent, followed by Dean at 20 percent and Gephardt at 18 percent.

On ABC's "This Week," Kerry said people should choose him over Edwards, who has served one term in the Senate, because "we are in a dangerous world. This is not the time for on-the-job training or guessing about where a president might go on national security."

With a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, the poll showed a four-way race that was too close to call. All of the candidates, including Kerry, were playing down the significance of those figures. (Iowa's contentious caucuses)

Polls are not necessarily good indicators of how the caucuses might turn out because of the nature of the events. The outcome in Iowa will likely depend on which candidate is most successful in turning out his base of support. (CNN.com's interactive caucuses explainer: How they work)

Two of the eight Democratic candidates -- retired Gen. Wesley Clark of Arkansas and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut -- decided to bypass the Iowa event, concentrating their efforts instead on New Hampshire and its January 27 primary. (McGovern endorses Clark, CNN.com's interactive Election Calendar)

Bids to beat Bush

Edwards, meeting with potential caucus-goers in Davenport, said, "If you're looking for the candidate who can do the best job of sniping at and attacking other Democrats, that's not me. I believe this election is much bigger than that. It's about the future of America, lifting up the American people, making them proud to be Americans again."

"It would be worth his weight in gold if George Bush would spend one day of his presidency doing what I've been doing every single day, out there listening to voters."

He added: "Every one of you, if I could reach out and grab you by the shirt and take you there, I would, because I need you at the caucuses. I cannot change this country alone, but you and I can do it together."

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack attributed Kerry's and Edwards' recent surges to "those who are focused on security and those who are focused on hope and optimism."

"Senator Kerry's message makes people feel secure. Senator Edwards' message makes them feel hopeful and optimistic," he told CNN's "Late Edition." "Meanwhile, Representative Gephardt and Governor Dean were engaged in a very fierce battle with ads, basically going after each other, and that may have turned a few people off."

Edwards, from North Carolina, said he has the best shot of challenging an "out of touch" President Bush in the South.

Although former Vice President Al Gore failed to carry a single Southern state in his race against Bush in 2000, Edwards said his 1998 election to the Senate shows he can win in the increasingly Republican-leaning region.

"These places where Bush did pretty well in 2000 are places that have lost thousands and thousands of jobs, and I think people are going to hold him accountable," he told CBS' "Face the Nation."

Edwards said he can beat Bush on the "values" front, insisting Bush's stances do not reflect a belief in "hard work and opportunity for all."

Monday evening, Iowa Democrats will meet in nearly 2,000 precinct caucuses to voice their presidential preferences. It is the first major contest of the 2004 Democratic presidential race. (CNN.com's interactive caucuses explainer: How they work)

After Iowa and New Hampshire on January 27, seven other states hold primary elections February 3. (CNN.com's interactive Election Calendar)

John Edwards greets a crowd of supporters Sunday at the Scott County YMCA in Davenport, Iowa.
John Edwards greets a crowd of supporters Sunday at the Scott County YMCA in Davenport, Iowa.

Despite the Des Moines Register poll showing him slipping in a state he once said he had to win, Gephardt expressed confidence that he will emerge victorious Monday. (Analysis: CNN's Jeff Greenfield on Dick Gephardt then and now)

"These numbers are bouncing around. This is a volatile race," Gephardt said on "Late Edition." "Everybody's in the fight, and I really believe I'm going to win it."

Gephardt appeared Sunday morning before a group of union activists, one of his most stalwart constituencies.

Introduced by James P. Hoffa, head of the International Union of Teamsters, Gephardt told a cheering crowd, "It's time we had a president in the White House again who's had the same life experience as most Americans and will understand what people go through."

Gephardt said he is the only candidate who voted against NAFTA and a free-trade agreement with China, and he added enthusiastically, "Forget about me, I'm unimportant in this. I'm an instrument -- I'm doing this because of what we can do together.

"I don't care about being president. I don't need the job, I don't need the title. But America needs a leader who comes from the experience of the American people and can do this stuff. So let's go forward, let's bring everybody to vote. Let's take charge of our country. Take your country back."

Separately, in an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," Gephardt took on Dean.

Dick Gephardt talks to an audience of steelworkers and others Sunday in Des Moines, Iowa.
Dick Gephardt talks to an audience of steelworkers and others Sunday in Des Moines, Iowa.

"I think he's been all over the lot on some of these issues," he said, citing trade, Medicare and the war in Iraq. "I don't much like the campaign he's running or his people are running."

Dean, once seen as the front-runner in the state, left Iowa to make a brief appearance with former President Jimmy Carter in Plains, Georgia.

Carter is not endorsing any candidate.

"I have made an announcement in advance that I'm not going to endorse any particular candidate," said Carter, who opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. "But I have been particularly grateful at the courageous and outspoken posture and position that Gov. Dean has taken from the very beginning."

Dean said he wanted to follow in Carter's footsteps.

"I came to speak with President Carter over a year and a half ago, because he did what I hope to do in Iowa tomorrow night," Dean said. "I really appreciate the lesson you have given, the path you have blazed."

Asked on ABC's "This Week" why Iowans should support him, Dean said there are three reasons.

"The first is I can win," he said, adding that his campaign has "an enormous base behind us that really wants to change the country. ... I think the other guys are going to have a tough time because they can't build that."

"Second is my record," he said. "I'm a governor. Everybody else is a senator or congressman. They talk about health insurance, we've done it for most people. They talk about balanced budgets, I balance budgets for a living."

John Kerry poses for photos with supporters at a rally Sunday in Waterloo, Iowa.
John Kerry poses for photos with supporters at a rally Sunday in Waterloo, Iowa.

Finally, he said, "This may be the most important. ... I'm willing to stand up for what I believe. I opposed the [Iraq] war when 70 percent of the American public didn't agree with me because it's the right thing to do. ... I signed the civil unions bill."

Dean said he will support whoever wins the nomination, "but none of them can engender the enthusiasm and the ability to raise money. ... None of them have the record that I have of actually being in the chair, making the tough decisions and standing up for what you believe and paying a price."

All four candidates acknowledged the closeness of the race and said their campaigns will do everything possible to get every supporter to the nearly 2,000 precinct caucuses Monday.

"It's about issues, people and people's concerns," said Kerry. "I've got 36 hours left."

Because President Bush is unopposed for the Republican nomination, the GOP is skipping precinct caucuses this year.

Other developments

• Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination picked up an endorsement Sunday from former Sen. George McGovern, the Democratic nominee in 1972. "I am here to endorse with all my heart and strength General Wes Clark," the three-term senator from South Dakota told about 500 people gathered at a pancake breakfast at Keene Middle School. McGovern said it was "important" for Democrats to "recover" the White House from President Bush, a Republican. (Full story)

• Despite an improving economy and President Bush's strong poll numbers, Republicans expect a tight race this fall, the chairman of the Republican National Committee said Sunday. "We're preparing for a very close contest. We expect something to be more like 2000 than 1984 or 1972," Ed Gillespie said in an interview on ABC's "This Week." (Full story)

• Bypassing the Senate confirmation process, President Bush used a recess appointment to grant U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering a spot on the federal appeals bench. The president's move Friday stokes a long-simmering feud with Senate Democrats over judicial nominations, including a two-year struggle involving Pickering. (Full story)

• A group of House Democrats blasted the Bush administration's homeland security efforts Friday, saying that more than two years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, security gaps leave the United States vulnerable to terrorists. "Gaps in our homeland security continue to exist, and the Bush administration is not moving fast enough, and is not taking strong enough action, to effectively close them," the group's report reads. (Full story)


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