Dean Campaigns Across Iowa
Shaun Heasley  /  Getty Images file
Dean attends a house party earlier this week in Des Moines, Iowa. The Democratic front-runner's campaign is flooding the state with thousands of volunteers in a bid to win decisively in the first big event of the 2004 presidential race.
By Campaign Embed
msnbc.com
updated 1/2/2004 12:07:51 PM ET 2004-01-02T17:07:51

With the Iowa caucuses now less than 20 days away and their candidate feeling the heat from his rivals, Howard Dean's campaign staff has turned once again to their most valuable resource and most potent weapon in the fight for the Democratic nomination: volunteers. The campaign is in the process of unleashing as many as 3,500 supporters from all 50 states and beyond on the Hawkeye State’s voters.

Coming from as far away as Japan, where four U.S. citizens have committed to travel to Des Moines on behalf of the Dean campaign, these volunteers will be bused from town to town in 147 vans, utilize 325 cell phones and relax in the luxury of 13 winterized Girl Scout Camps. And all their activities will be coordinated from a nerve center located in Sen. Bob Graham’s former campaign headquarters.

In all, three waves of volunteers will make their way to Iowa before the voting begins Jan. 19. In addition to their cell phones, they’ll be armed with maps, voter lists and red hats identifying them as Dean campaign volunteers. Their activities will be coordinated by a half-dozen paid Dean staffers. Together with at least 75 paid field coordinators, they will go find Iowa’s undecided voters with the goal of luring them to support the former Vermont governor.

Says Sarah Leonard, Dean’s Iowa spokesperson, "The governor is our best tool. He is our best persuader. If we can get people who are undecided in front of him, the better our chances of persuading them."

More help from Vermont
For her part, Leonard too will be getting some help. Trisha Enright, the campaign’s communications director, has relocated to Des Moines in anticipation of an increasingly tough campaign and Paul Blank, a deputy campaign manager from Dean’s Burlington, Vt., headquarters, has joined her to facilitate better interaction between the campaign’s many offices and leaders. Notes Leonard, "We realize that these guys are going to be throwing everything they have at us over the next few days."

While the campaign wouldn’t reveal how much the volunteer effort or staff additions are costing, it’s the return on that investment that the Dean campaign is banking on. Most analysts agree that more than 120,000 Iowans will turn out on caucus night this year and that in order to win, a campaign will likely need to woo at least 30,0000 of them. A few thousand volunteers distributing campaign literature and talking to the undecideds can go a long way toward achieving that goal.

That reality isn’t lost on other campaigns. Bill Burton, a spokesman for Dick Gephardt, predicts that "Howard Dean will need all the people and money he can muster" in order to win Iowa and points to the Missouri congressman’s 21 labor union endorsements as evidence that there "isn’t a campaign in the state [of Iowa] that can match [Gephardt’s] organizational strength." True or not, Burton’s statement serves as a good indicator of how much is at stake and foreshadows just how fierce this nominating battle is likely to become.

From Oregon to Iowa
It is that reality that drew Meg Tims to Iowa. She is a Dean supporter who attends house parties and rallies, contributes money to the campaign and faithfully wears a large Dean campaign button on her lapel. Tims is from Oregon, a state where the May primary will likely come long after the Democratic nomination is decided. Undeterred, Tims has purchased a plane ticket to Des Moines, where on Jan. 16 she’ll join in the final wave of the Dean campaign there.

Asked if she had ever done anything like this before, she laughs, "Oh no, no, no, [but] I want Dr. Dean to win. I want to do everything I can to contribute to his campaign." And so, for the first time, she is off to Iowa.

With some luck, she might bump into an Iowan who’s received a letter from Paul Marthers. Also from Portland, Oregon, Marthers has written more than 260 letters, all of them personal, to Iowa’s undecided voters. And like Tims, Marthers is part of a larger effort, one that has resulted in more than 115,000 letters being sent to undecided Iowa and New Hampshire residents, all in effort to tilt them to Dean and get them to listen to his message.

It’s an organizational effort that Tim Kraft, Jimmy Carter’s Iowa campaign manager and a man long considered one of the "fathers of the Iowa Caucus," calls "amazing and unbelievable" and a big reason he signed on to help the Dean campaign this fall. Of course, how amazing and unbelievable it really is won’t be known for another three weeks, when according to the latest polls, Dean, Gephardt, or Kerry should emerge as a big winner.

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