john edwards closing the gap in iowa

Our friend Robert is still in Iowa, working for the Edwards campaign. He just sent the following update.

In addition to the visits from movie stars, we have had a lot of people coming in from other parts of the country to volunteer. The campaign is doing what it can to find housing for these people, but space is pretty limited. Staff and local supporters are offering up their spare bedrooms, dens, basements and living room floors in some cases. It’s a difficult thing to manage, as things are picking up rapidly in the race here.

Like the Edwards campaign, the Hillary and Obama campaigns are also obviously picking up steam and speed. A lot of the staff people from each of the campaigns are looking increasingly stressed, tired, and frantic. Everybody seems to still be holding things together at this point though. None of the campaigns appear to be coming apart…yet.

I don’t believe the suggestions in the press that Obama is making strides in this state. Though his campaign engages in a lot of high visibility and spends lavishly, actual support for him seems pretty weak and shallow here. To be fair, Obama is at several disadvantages through no fault of his own or of his campaign. The obvious one is the fact that Iowa simply has a relatively small percentages of urban and black populations. Also, on the day of the caucuses, college students, another group with which Obama enjoys strong support, will be home for the holidays, effectively diluting their preferences amongst their rural and suburban hometown neighbors. Another factor is delegate allocation. Obama’s strongest numbers are in precincts which have fewer delegates allocated to them, because delegates have been allocated to precincts based on democratic turnout in the previous election. Though this is not a huge factor, it still may make a difference for Obama of a few dozen delegates statewide. With all these circumstances working against him, a first or second place finish in Iowa would be a stunning triumph if he were to somehow manage it. I’d give him less than 1 on 10 chance of winning here, and probably less than a 1 in 5 chance of placing better than third.

Hillary’s campaign may be experiencing some slippage recently, but her campaign organization is pretty solid and most of her support is very loyal. It helps too that she is well funded. I wouldn’t expect her to ever fall below a 2nd place finish. If the caucuses were today, I’d say she’d have better than a 40% chance of winning it.

Edwards does have a very real shot at winning this thing in Iowa. His campaign structure is the best, and his support is probably the most loyal amongst the top tier candidates. He has a set of advantages which put him in a good position to start with. He campaigned in this state all through 2003 and 2004, when he established a rapport with a large segment of the population here. He came in second in the 2004 caucuses and has held much of that support to this day. He’s also picked up a lot of the Kerry support from four years ago, being a logical step over in many people’s minds. He’s even drawn quite a bit of support from more independent Republicans who see no viable challenger to the status quo amongst their party’s candidates.

In the time I’ve spent with the Edwards campaign here, I have become worried about a few things. For one, they have very limited financial resources. The good thing about that is that they are spending very miserly. However, I can see where that mentality is leading to developing problems in the longer run. Another thing which I’m a little worried about is the lack of experience of many of the area field organizers. They tend to be pretty young, and not as systematic and focused as they might otherwise be. At higher levels of the campaign I am concerned that there are few people who have much experience with the uglier things that happen in a race which is as important and competitive as this one is.

Even with the problems, I think the Edwards campaign has enough to pull off a win here. It won’t be an overwhelming one, or even a very comfortable one if these problems persist, but it is still very do-able. In my opinion, if the caucuses were suddenly held today by surprise, Edwards would win. However, that’s not the situation of course. We have over two weeks to the caucuses. Many powerful and well-funded interests out there stand to lose a great deal if a guy like Edwards were to get into the White House. They’re not going to sit back and just watch from the sidelines as that situation potentially develops. I am fully expecting a serious attempt to torpedo the Edwards campaign immediately before or closely after the Iowa caucus. I am hoping they are anticipating it as best they can.

There are many ways in which people can help the campaign. At this point, money is the campaign’s most pressing and immediate need. I can assure you they are spending it very wisely, strategically and efficiently. Currently, financial donations to the campaign mainly go to radio and TV ads here and in New Hampshire.

People can also help by writing letters to editors and forwarding them to the campaign at iowa@johnedwards.com. We need to try to counter the lack of press coverage which Edwards is receiving due to his corporate-critical message. I also want to encourage Michiganders who support any of the candidates to get out and vote “uncommitted” in the Michigan Primary. If we send a delegation of uncommitted votes to the national convention, we are likely to get our voting rights granted back to us there by the national committee.

If you were thinking about taking a fun New Years vacation to some exotic location, why not make it to beautiful Des Moines, or Cedar Rapids, or Waterloo? You have to admit, it would certainly make for a memorable New Year’s vacation. The campaign could certainly use the volunteer help. Just don’t be upset if you end up doing data entry for most of your stay.

And, for those of you that don’t trust Robert’s interpretation, the folks at “Newsweek” also seem to think that he’s got a shot. Here’s a clip from their current issue’s cover story:

…For months, Edwards has been rounding up support in the state’s rural precincts where the front runners have paid less attention. While Obama and Clinton have drawn crowds in the thousands in places like Des Moines and Ames, Edwards has been winning over people in tiny towns like Sac City (population: 2,189). Even if he loses to Obama and Clinton in the state’s bigger cities, he hopes he can still win by wrapping up smaller, far-flung precincts that other candidates have ignored. “The bulk of our support is in small and medium counties,” says Jennifer O’Malley, Edwards’s Iowa state director. O’Malley says Edwards has visited all 99 counties in the state; the campaign has so far trained captains covering 90 percent of all 1,781 precincts. Rural voters are sometimes reluctant to caucus, so the campaign has been enlisting respected community leaders to encourage first-timers to get past their apathy or fear…

I don’t know that I could sell Clementine and Linette on the idea of driving to Iowa for the holidays, working a few 16-hour days, and sleeping in pile of unwashed and wide-eyed populists on the floor of someone’s collapsing barn, but the idea of helping Edwards win Iowa sounds pretty damned tempting. Maybe I’ll pack them up in the car on Christmas morning and not tell them where we’re heading. And, in the meantime, maybe I’ll make another contribution online.

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7 Comments

  1. mark
    Posted December 20, 2007 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the great post, Robert. I know you’re busy, but please keep your updates coming.

    I just checked Google and it’s a 7 hour drive from Ypsi to Iowa City.

    Map

  2. Ol' E Cross
    Posted December 20, 2007 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Yup. Thanks Robert. I look forward to these stories from Iowa all most as much Mark’s posts about his physical torments.

  3. DanIzzo
    Posted December 20, 2007 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    I’m in. I’m throwing more money at Edwards.

  4. Posted December 20, 2007 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    I live in Des Moines and Ames ten years before moving to Ypsi. If you need to know where the good places to eat are at there, just let me know.

  5. Robert
    Posted December 24, 2007 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Internal polls show us now in the lead here in Iowa, and the underhanded attacks have commenced. Supporters are contacting the campaign with recordings of phone calls they received from people who refused to honestly identify themselves when asked. They are conducting push polls which attempt to falsely characterize several of the Democratic candidates including Edwards and Obama. You may have also seen the BS “love child” story the National Enquirer just so happened to put out last Wednesday. Also, there is some indication now that the Edwards donation website is being meddled with.

  6. Robert
    Posted December 28, 2007 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    I have traveled around to many more parts of Iowa now, and I have a lot of very positive news to report regarding Edwards’ prospects here.

    First off, the Edwards Campaign is really kicking into high gear now, and I am happy to report that I see no serious “cracks” in the organization or in our base of support here. Where I was a little worried a while back about the level of experience among the Edwards staff, I can report now that the situation with that is improving by the minute, as much more seasoned folks are arriving from DC and Chapel Hill.

    The situation “outside” is good too. I feel very confident that Edwards is going to win in the rural areas of the west and north by significant margins. You can definitely get that sense pretty soon after spending a little time out there. A number of prominent politicians in those areas have expressed this off the record a well.

    I think our biggest challenges are going to be in the areas around Ames and Iowa City, where candidate preferences seem to be almost random, and Edwards just doesn’t seem to be “out-there” enough for many potential caucusers (Ron Paul is going to do well in these areas on the Republican side). Obama is strong in these areas, and Hillary seems to have a very solid base of support in those communities too. Fortunately for us, the manipulations of the caucus/primary order have placed the Iowa Caucus on a day when these big university towns are semi-ghost towns, and their impact on the statewide results will be significantly reduced as a result.

    Another great thing I can report is that Edwards seems to be enjoying very low negatives compared to the other candidates. Hillary’s negatives seem to be the highest and many people cite her as the reason they are voting for someone else. Of course most of this is really unfounded and unfair to her, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a very real problem for her. Obama’s negatives aren’t quite so high, but they are definitely a factor for him as well. Edwards’ negatives are so low that he is managing to maintain a considerable lead in terms of caucusers second choice. This could be a determining factor in a significant number of precincts, as to who grabs those loose delegates.

    The most positive thing I’ve been seeing and hearing over the period of the last few days is the apparent growing awareness among the likely caucus goers that a southerner would have a significant advantage in the general election. Many late deciders seem to be making their decisions on this fact. Even a few Hillary and Obama supporters have been switching over and citing it as their reason for doing so. It’s a very positive development for Edwards, and one I would have not predicted a few weeks ago.

    The good news for Edwards supporters in Michigan (and IN, IL, and WI) is that they don’t have to drive hours deep into Iowa to get to a place where they are most needed. I say this because I believe the cities right along the eastern edge of the state, on the Mississippi River, are the “battleground” areas. One example, Davenport, is only a two and a half hour drive beyond Chicago. Burlington, Muscatine and Dubuque are three more which are just across the river from Illinois.
    If we can hold our own in the battlegrounds along the Mississippi, I think we’ll have this thing won.

  7. mark
    Posted December 28, 2007 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Robert. I’ll move this to the front page.

    Keep up the good work. We’re counting on you.

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