- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 28, 2004

What Iowa gave, Iowa can take away — this is why Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry made stops on opposite sides of this state yesterday to catch both the noon and evening news programs.

Even as former President Bill Clinton rallies Jewish voters in Florida and the Democratic base in the West, Mr. Kerry is here among the white Midwesterners who gave him a caucus victory in January, putting him on the road to the Democratic nomination.

Iowa is just one of the Midwestern and Great Lakes states where this year’s election likely will be won or lost. Among the closely contested states there in 2000, Mr. Gore took Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, while Mr. Bush won Ohio.

Still, Kerry campaign senior strategists told reporters yesterday that they think they have firm control of Iowa and Wisconsin. Tad Devine and Doug Sosnik did acknowledge that they had let a lead in Wisconsin slip away, but think that they have gotten it back in their column in recent weeks.

Although polls in key states continue to narrowly favor President Bush, the two men said they expect that if the election were held today, Mr. Kerry would win.

Mr. Devine said he expected the number of votes cast in the election to surpass the 2000 election’s record of 105 million.

If, as he suspects, as many as 118 million ballots are cast, he expects Mr. Kerry to win. If, however, only about 110 million people vote, “it will benefit the president,” he said.

“I think it’s going to be 118 million people,” he said. “I’ve never seen the level of intensity we see in this election.”

Democrats in Sioux City, where Mr. Kerry had his first event yesterday, said 95 percent of eligible Iowans are now registered to vote. And before last night’s rally in Cedar Rapids, thousands of supporters pulled out their cell phones and each called a different voter in a mass phone bank that organizers said was the largest ever.

But Republicans are just as motivated. In the hallway before Mr. Kerry’s rally at North High School in Sioux City, there were dozens of students with Bush T-shirts or bumper stickers attached to their clothes.

Vice President Dick Cheney will be in town today.

Rep. Steve King, a Republican whose district is in western Iowa, said Democrats have lost ground because Mr. Bush has put so much time into the state and because Republicans have built a solid operation.

“In western Iowa, he’s come in here and given the string a jerk and the tops are spinning, and they’re spinning at a pretty high energy right now,” Mr. King said.

He said he expects Mr. Bush to win more votes in western Iowa than last time, particularly because last year, agriculture had its best year since 1979 and is in the midst of another strong year now.

But he said here, like elsewhere, national security is winning supporters for Mr. Bush and prompting voters to ask who the terrorists want to win.

“I think the subliminal question in their minds is, ‘What would Osama bin Laden do?’ ” he said. “I think they put up a vote for Bush because they know there’s only one path that can end up in a final victory in the war on terror.”

Mr. Kerry jokes about how much time he spent in Iowa before the caucuses, telling supporters that he was used to measuring time by the height of the corn.

In Cedar Rapids last night, Mr. Kerry said he recently watched the movie “Field of Dreams,” the movie about an Iowa farmer who puts up a baseball field in his cornfield.

“I felt like Shoeless Joe Jackson coming out of the corn and saying, ‘Is this heaven?’ For me, Iowa’s been heaven, and I want to thank you for that,” he said.

In the broader national picture, Mr. Devine and Mr. Sosnik said they were confident in the current positions of the electoral map for Mr. Kerry, saying Mr. Bush himself is playing defense in key states.

They pointed to Florida and Ohio, which Mr. Bush won in 2000, as examples of the president’s defensive posture, because both campaigns are spending so much of their time and resources there.

At the same time, the Kerry strategists dismissed any concerns about tightening poll numbers in Hawaii, New Jersey or Michigan, which they expect to win handily, as Mr. Gore did.

The low point of the campaign so far, both men agreed, was during the month leading up to the Republican convention, when Mr. Kerry was conserving money and the Bush campaign was emptying its primary-month accounts on advertisements that portrayed Mr. Kerry as a wind-surfing, flip-flopping elitist.

The high point, the strategists agreed, was when their candidate walked out on stage for the first debate and showed that he wasn’t the caricature the Bush campaign had portrayed.

“In 90 minutes, I think he undid $100 million in negative ads,” Mr. Devine said.

He also said the Kerry team is running a more positive ad campaign than Mr. Bush and speaking directly to the people.

“John Kerry is speaking directly to voters, [looking into the] camera,” he said. “These voters are looking to hear from the candidates.

“The president’s campaign for weeks now has been almost wholly negative in terms of television advertising,” he said. “The only time he actually appears in the ad is when he’s forced to disclaim it by law.”

Kerry spokesman Mike McCurry told reporters traveling on Mr. Kerry’s plane that he thinks Mr. Bush’s campaign has maxed out its support with below 50 percent, often a bad omen for an incumbent.

“We believe they are stuck at 47 [percent] or 48 percent of the vote,” he said. “They don’t have a formula to get above that, and so they’re trying to figure out where can they go to pick off some more votes. We think we’ve already moved to a better place for that, and we have a better, stronger platform from which to make that argument.”

• Stephen Dinan contributed to this article while traveling with the Kerry campaign in Iowa and Minnesota. Charles Hurt reported from Washington.

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