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The Morning Grind / DayAhead

Momentum trumps organization in Iowa?

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit

Comeback kids: Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards finished strong in Iowa after initially lagging in the polls.
Comeback kids: Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards finished strong in Iowa after initially lagging in the polls.

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DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) -- Well, so much for "organization," the so-called mother's milk of caucus politics. Something called "momentum" had its say last night, powering the Johns (Sens. Kerry and Edwards) into New Hampshire.

Organization always matters, of course, and so congratulations should go to Kerry's Michael Whouley and Edwards' Jen O'Malley, who ran field for Tim Johnson's successful 2002 Senate race in South Dakota and brought much of that team to Iowa for the senator from North Carolina.

"Jen was the enforcer," says Steve Hildebrand, a top Democratic strategist who's running Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's re-election bid and is backing retired Gen. Wesley Clark.

"It was a very serious field operation with no room for error. They knew they needed to come third. They came in a huge second."

The organization of Iowa's only confirmed loser, Dick Gephardt, fell far short of expectations. Post-game sniping from Gephardt backers started shortly after sundown.

"In the past couple days, it was clear we [unions] had become the entire operation," a top Gephardt labor strategist told the Grind on Monday night shortly before confirmation of the Missouri congressman's disappointing fourth-place finish. "There just wasn't any enthusiasm for Dick."

And so a new race begins Tuesday in a smaller, colder state. Gephardt apparently is out. He is expected to formally announce his withdrawal, and likely retirement from politics, at 2 p.m. ET Tuesday in St. Louis, Missouri.

But the contest has gained Clark and Sen. Joe Lieberman, who's clearly hoping that his endorsement from The Manchester Union-Leader will do for him what The Des Moines Register's backing did for Edwards in Iowa.

It remains to be seen how Clark's gamble to skip Iowa will pay off. The latest Granite State poll, conducted before Monday's caucuses, showed him leading Kerry by one point, but we can only imagine the general will end up trying to catch "Comeback" Kerry over the next seven days.

One plan of attack: Clark aides plan to force Kerry to release his tax and lobbying records, as he pledged to do Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

"Sen. Kerry, you promised to deliver the records," Clark campaign chairman Eli Segal said in a statement Monday. "When are they going to be delivered? The people of New Hampshire want to know."

That probably won't happen Tuesday, however, as Kerry aides seemed more focused on celebrating than responding to Clark.

Kerry aides printed several hundred navy blue T-shirts that they gave to the traveling press corps Tuesday morning on their plane. The T-shirts say, "John Kerry campaign traveling press corps," in red and white across the chest. On the back there's a picture of an airplane taking off with the words, "I got a ticket out of Iowa with John Kerry."

Finally, we thought we'd share a brief list of winners and losers from the Iowa caucuses. (The list avoids obvious references to campaign aides, who are either celebrating or ... not celebrating).

Winners: The Des Moines Register, John Mellencamp (actually, anyone with the name John), February 3 primary states, Michigan and U.S. Rep. John Dingell, Iowa's high-tech Democratic Party (who thought there would be a winner at 8:30 p.m. CT?), sugar-coated campaigning, veterans and firefighters, the No Child Left Behind Act, "Bring it On!" and Dennis Kucinich (secretary of peace in an Edwards' presidency?).

Losers: The Internet, sweaters, anti-war activists (exit polls show 34 percent voted for Kerry), big labor (Gerry McEntee of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees should've stuck with his first instincts), negative TV ads, anger (who the hell told Dean to scream like that Monday night?) and President Bush's State of the Union address. And, of course, the Gore-Bradley-Harkin-Braun-Carter-Reiner-Sheen wing of the Democratic Party.

On to Manchester ...


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