- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 15, 2004

DES MOINES, Iowa — Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, a year ago as close as the Democratic presidential nomination race had to a front-runner, is now narrowly back on top of the eight candidates, at least in Iowa, according to the latest polling.

The Zogby-Reuters-MSNBC poll released yesterday showed Mr. Kerry with 21.6 percent support among likely caucusgoers. That led former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, both of whom have 20.9 percent, and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who had 17.1 percent support.

The poll of 502 persons, taken Monday through Wednesday and with a 4.5 percentage-point margin of error, also found that more than 10 percent of caucusgoers are still undecided — about half what it had been in recent weeks, but still a big number with just four days until the first binding contest for the Democratic nomination.

But for Mr. Kerry, the poll results have been like oxygen, persuading ordinary Iowans to take another look at him. At a campaign event Wednesday at the Des Moines Playhouse, he walked the risers, passed the microphone around and at one point told the audience of 250 self-proclaimed undecided voters that “I feel like Phil Donohue here.”

His confidence gaining, Mr. Kerry said the night wouldn’t end until he had convinced them to support him in Monday’s caucuses.

“I don’t want anybody out of here without a commitment,” the Massachusetts senator said after the second time he shooed away an aide who had tried to get him to wrap up the event.

Roger Severson, 57, came to Wednesday’s forum undecided but leaning toward Mr. Kerry, and left a committed Kerry supporter.

He said he had been impressed with Mr. Kerry starting last year, based on how the senator had performed on the Sunday political talk shows in particular. But Mr. Kerry’s campaign had seemed to falter, so much so that the candidate fired his campaign manager.

“He was really going nowhere — he was down fourth or fifth or sixth,” Mr. Severson said. “But here in the last couple weeks he’s been coming on strong.”

Besides Mr. Kerry, Mr. Edwards also has picked up some support among those voters, and have apparently eroded Mr. Dean’s and Mr. Gephardt’s support as well.

“We have hundreds of people calling every day, signing up for the campaign — something that was not happening a couple weeks ago,” Mr. Edwards said at a rally in Des Moines yesterday as he kicked off five straight days of campaigning.

Former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun dropped out of the race yesterday and endorsed Mr. Dean.

Her exit leaves eight candidates overall, and just six competing in Iowa. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Wesley Clark, a former Army general, have chosen to begin their quest in New Hampshire’s Jan. 27 primary, where polls show Mr. Clark narrowing Mr. Dean’s lead.

Long-time observers cautioned not to put too much weight in the Iowa polls, because they aren’t a good barometer for who will actually turn out at the caucuses.

“I think they give you sort of a general overall look, but you’ve got to take them in line with the fact that the whole key to Iowa is mobilization,” said Gerald W. McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which endorsed Mr. Dean.

And Joe Trippi, Mr. Dean’s campaign manager, said that’s what they are focusing on now: “We’re in that period now where it’s organize, organize, organize.”

For Mr. Kerry, the poll appears to be a significant rejuvenation for a campaign that had spent months fumbling.

Jim Cornick, 60, a retired publisher of a farm magazine, was a Republican until a month ago. Now he’s a Kerry volunteer, and said that in his phone calls he’s finding momentum both away from Mr. Dean and toward Mr. Kerry.

“I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone talking to undecideds, and the peculiar thing about Dean is they either like him or they dislike him,” Mr. Cornick said. “None of the other candidates have this — they dislike [Mr. Dean]. That comes through on the phone.”

He also said Sen. Tom Harkin’s endorsement last week may actually be hurting Mr. Dean among Iowa’s famously independent-minded Democrats, particularly coming as late as it did.

“Iowa Democrats are very angry he did it the way he did,” Mr. Cornick said.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat who has endorsed Mr. Kerry, said the candidate’s momentum has been growing, but is just now beginning to show in the polls.

“He’s sort of gotten his step, his pace, as a candidate,” Mr. Miller said.

He said there are more undecided delegates this late in the process than any other time he can remember, and that’s leaving the door open to several of the candidates.

The attorney general said Mr. Kerry is in good shape because he and Mr. Dean have the two best organizations in the state. That includes support from a host of other high-profile Democrats, including Gov. Tom Vilsack’s wife, Christie.

Mr. Dean is counting on his own organization — which includes an army of volunteers as well as help from key unions including AFSCME — to pull him past his rivals Monday.

Mr. McEntee said Mr. Dean’s organization is good because it has capitalized on the energy Mr. Dean has created among some Democrats. That, he said, is the sort of intangible factor that may push Mr. Dean’s supporters out the door to go caucus Monday night.

He also said he is seeing the same enthusiasm among his 30,000 AFSCME members in Iowa — far more than in 2000, when they supported Vice President Al Gore in the caucuses.

“We were here in 2000 for Gore, we had only half of the staff we have now — we have 157 field staff on the ground,” he said. “And we’ve found not nearly the excitement and enthusiasm in 2000 as we have felt in 2004, so we think it’ll be a very exciting night.”

“We think it’ll be the largest caucuses they ever had in Iowa, and we think Dean will win. It will be close, which means you’ve got to get your supporters out,” he said.

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