Members Take Case to Iowa

Posted January 9, 2004 at 6:13pm

One week out from the balloting that will make or break his presidential campaign, Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) is bringing a cavalcade of Congressional supporters including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) to Iowa in a final push before the state’s Jan. 19 caucuses.

But, unwilling to cede the institutional mantle to Gephardt, both of his main rivals in the Hawkeye State — former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry — are also mobilizing their Member-backers in the days leading up to the caucuses.

“The fact that Members who have served with Dick Gephardt for years and years are recommending someone else does speak to voters,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), the leader of the Dean forces in Congress.

The Bush-Cheney ’04 team, meanwhile, fearful that the caucuses and the resulting media attention will focus almost entirely on Democratic themes, is dispatching a dozen surrogates to the Hawkeye State on Jan. 19, led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie. Frist will also campaign for Bush in New Hampshire Thursday and Friday.

With polls showing Dean and Gephardt running neck and neck and Kerry roughly 5 points behind, all three are engaged in last-minute pushes.

“All of the candidates are bringing in all sorts of surrogates,” said Steve Elmendorf, a senior adviser to Gephardt’s campaign. He noted that with the caucus outcome so heavily tied to organizational strength, “someone who has a personal relationship with you can make a difference.”

While the stakes are high for all three candidates, Gephardt clearly has the most to lose next Monday, and he suffered a blow Friday when Dean received the endorsement of Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, whose aides expect him to stump for Dean every day until the caucus.

Based largely on his victory in the 1988 Iowa caucuses, discussions of Gephardt’s prospects in this presidential race have long begun and ended with a victory in Iowa.

Much like in 1988, the Gephardt campaign is hoping that his Member backing helps to vouch for his accomplishments both in the House and as leader of the party.

“Members are important political figures who validate and can talk about the leadership Dick provided them,” Elmendorf explained.

Pelosi, an early though not tremendously active Gephardt supporter, campaigned on his behalf in Davenport, Des Moines and Sioux City last Friday.

“It is wonderful to be in Iowa today to see the excitement around [Gephardt’s] campaign,” Pelosi said on Friday. “I will continue to do everything I can to help him win.”

Hoyer will be in western Iowa on Thursday and Friday for Gephardt, meeting with labor groups and making calls to undecided voters.

“Having served with Mr. Gephardt in the House for over 20 years, he thinks Mr. Gephardt is the best candidate for the job and he is going to talk to Iowans about why that is,” said Hoyer spokeswoman Stacey Farnen.

A number of other Members will make the trip this week including Rep. David Obey (Wis.), the ranking member on the Appropriations Committee, and former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Patrick Kennedy (R.I.). Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman James Clyburn (S.C.) will be in Detroit and Iowa this week. Michigan holds its primary Feb. 7.

Reps. Robert Andrews (N.J.), Jerry Costello (Ill.), Adam Schiff (Calif.), Ted Strickland (Ohio) and William Lacy Clay (Mo.), one of the national co-chairmen of the Gephardt effort, will spend several days in Iowa in the coming week.

The Members will take part in volunteer rallies, door-to-door campaigning, phone banking and press outreach, said Elmendorf. Some Members, including Hoyer, have even brought some of their own staff to help.

Both Dean and Kerry are trotting out their own House and Senate allies to talk to Iowa voters.

Former Vice President Al Gore was scheduled to be in Iowa for Dean this past weekend after endorsing the frontrunner last month.

In addition, Reps. Xavier Becerra (Calif.) and Maurice Hinchey (N.Y.) were in the state for Dean last week and Reps. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Tim Ryan (Ohio), Bob Filner (Calif.) and Jim McDermott (Wash.) have appeared in the state in recent days to boost the former governor.

Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.), the highest-ranking Latino ever in the House and the only Member of leadership supporting Dean, campaigned with him in Waterloo on Dec. 27 and is expected to hit the campaign trail in New Mexico and Arizona, both of which vote Feb. 3.

Vermont Independent Sen. Jim Jeffords and former Connecticut Sen. Lowell Weicker, also an independent, have already stumped in New Hampshire for Dean, and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (Ill.) has done the same in South Carolina.

“[Dean] is the only candidate with a national campaign,” Lofgren said.

Over the past several months, Dean has rapidly closed the gap with Gephardt in terms of Congressional endorsements.

Gephardt has 34 backers; Dean boasts 33. Even Gephardt loyalists admit that the former Vermont governor is likely to surpass their candidate on what began as his home turf before Jan. 19. Kerry has 20 House Members and two Senators on board.

Several of the Massachusetts Senator’s most high-profile backers — including Sen. Edward Kennedy (Mass.) — will be making stops in Iowa for Kerry in the coming week, according to campaign officials.

Former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland and New York Rep. Gregory Meeks are also scheduled to travel to the state to campaign on Kerry’s behalf before the caucuses.

With Dean and Gephardt so close in polls, Dean spokesman Jay Carson said part of the job for Dean’s Member supporters is to show voters that Gephardt is not the unanimous choice of his peers.

“No one can speak better to the need for new leadership more than the Members who served with Dick Gephardt,” Carson said.

Lofgren added that the backing Dean has from Members — especially leadership figures like Menendez — show voters that Dean is increasingly being embraced by the Democratic establishment. “It puts to a lie that people who are in the know don’t want Dean to be our nominee,” Lofgren said.

Republicans will be engaged in a rhetorical counteroffensive of their own over the coming week in Iowa, and then the following week in New Hampshire.

The GOP dozen, organized by President Bush’s campaign, will be on hand for print, radio and television interviews, and hopes to gain seats at various TV roundtables on the night of the caucuses, trying to provide a conservative counterweight to what will otherwise be a Democratic-dominated evening of news.

Some of the surrogates will have natural roles to offer insights and attacks on specific Democratic candidates, with Frist and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) having served in the Senate with Democrats Kerry, John Edwards (N.C.) and Joe Lieberman (Conn.). House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was at the other side of the leadership table for eight years of Gephardt’s tenure as House Minority Leader.

In New Hampshire, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is taking the high-profile role of attack dog for Bush, a twist that the media is sure to hype, given McCain’s trouncing of Bush in the Granite State in the 2000 primary.

McCain and Bush, and particularly their staffs, have had a very tense relationship since Bush knocked McCain out of the race four years ago, making the Arizonan’s role as Bush surrogate even more intriguing.

But McCain has been one of the strongest Congressional supporters of the war in Iraq, making him a natural to take the fight to Dean. Bush-Cheney will also have a few governors on hand in New Hampshire to critique Dean’s record in Vermont: New York’s George Pataki and Massachusetts’ Mitt Romney, as well former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, who is serving as campaign chairman for Bush-Cheney.

Other Bush surrogates in Iowa include former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, conservative activist Ralph Reed, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio); big-time lobbyist and former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.); Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman; and former Cheney counsel Mary Matalin and Racicot.