4 main candidates
AP (Gephardt, Edwards, Dean), Reuters (Kerry)
Polls suggest any of the four Democratic frontrunners could emerge from the Iowa caucuses with a plurality.
By Tom Curry National Affairs writer
updated 1/19/2004 10:08:08 AM ET 2004-01-19T15:08:08

Fighting for every last supporter before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses on Monday night, Democratic presidential contenders flew back and forth across the state as two new polls showed Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry with a slight lead.

Kerry appeared Sunday at a boisterous rally at an elementary school auditorium in blue-collar Waterloo with his fellow Massachusetts senator, Edward Kennedy, serving as a rousing cheerleader. It was one of the largest and most excited crowds Kerry has seen in his Iowa campaigning.

“In the final hours of this caucus, people, having listened to the candidates on the issues, want to know: what kind of heart is in this man?” Kennedy told the crowd.

Kennedy cited Kerry’s military exploits in Vietnam War and his rescue of Jim Rassmann, whose life Kerry saved when he pulled him out of the water during combat.

Rassmann came from Oregon to Iowa to campaign for Kerry, because, Kennedy said, he “wanted to testify to the heroism, and the Americanism, the bravery and the tenacity… of our candidate John Kerry.”

A new poll Sunday by the state’s leading newspaper, the Des Moines Register, showed that Kerry has the support of 26 percent of likely caucus participants, with North Carolina Sen. John Edwards getting 23 percent.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has slipped to third place, with 20 percent; the four days of interviews by the Register pollsters last week showed Dean falling steadily. In the Thursday and Friday sample, Dean had only 17 percent support. Dean also has the highest unfavorable rating of any of the four top contenders in the Register poll, with 35 percent of those interviewed having an unfavorable impression of him.

Kerry ekes out slight lead
According to a MSNBC/Reuters/Zogby poll released on Monday , Kerry led Dean 25 percent to 22 percent in the three-day tracking survey, with Edwards at 21 percent and Rep. Dick Gephardt at 18 percent in the tightest Iowa caucus campaign in history.

Asked to forecast the outcome, Dubuque state Rep. Pam Jochum, a Kerry supporter, told MSNBC.com the race was far too volatile to call. “It is so fluid right now, it has been right through this whole season, but even more so right now. You’re seeing people moving from camp to camp,” Jochum said.

Dean took part of his Sunday off from Iowa campaigning, making an appearance with former President Jimmy Carter in Plains, Ga.

Carter praised Dean for his “courageous and outspoken” stands — in particular his steadfast opposition to the Iraq war — but the 39th president stopped short of an endorsement on the eve of the Iowa caucuses.

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The two men joined worshippers at the 131-member Marantha Baptist Church in Plains, Carter’s home town, where Carter teaches Sunday school most weeks, and afterward the former president introduced Dean as “my friend, our visitor and a fellow Christian.”

Gratitude, but no endorsement
Carter thanked Dean for opposing the war, which the Georgian called “unnecessary and unjust,” and expressed his appreciation for the work Dean did on Carter’s losing bid for re-election in 1980, although it only involved licking envelopes and answering telephones.

“I made an announcement in advance that I’m not going to endorse any particular candidate, but I have been particularly grateful at the courageous and outspoken posture and position that Governor Dean has taken from the very beginning,” Carter said during their eight-minute appearance together after the Sunday services.

Dean then returned to Iowa to receive support from someone who has avoided the campaign trail to date — his wife, Judy. Known professionally as Judith Steinberg, the physician has eschewed daily campaigning.

But late Sunday, she appeared at two campaign stops, which included her first speech in the yearlong campaign — five sentences repeated at the start of rallies in Davenport and Cedar Rapids.

“For those who may be wondering, my name is Judy Dean,” she began. “I wanted to come here today and to say thank you to the people of Iowa for being so kind and gracious to my husband, Howard Dean.”

Kicking off the election
Kerry, Edwards and Gephardt continued their frenetic pace of campaigning in Iowa on Sunday.

Poised for a potential upset victory here is Edwards, who many Iowa Democrats appear to be considering as their second-choice option.

Iowa Democrats gather in 1,993 precincts across the state on Monday night at 6:30 p.m. to begin the caucuses. In a particular precinct if a candidate does not meet a threshold of 15 percent, his supporters either go home, try to form an uncommitted slate or switch their support to another candidate.

In precincts where one of the other contenders is below 15 percent, Edwards may well pick up delegates.

In a passionate populist speech to 500 Democrats in Dubuque on Saturday afternoon, Edwards denounced special interests in Washington.

“This democracy doesn’t belong to that crowd of insiders – it belongs to you,” he declared. “I tell you what we ought to do with these Washington lobbyists: cut them off at the knees.”

At the opposite side of the state in western Iowa, Dean told a crowd in Council Bluffs, that Edwards, Kerry and Gephardt were “all good people” but had supported the Iraq war.

On the state’s 50,000-watt radio station, WHO, Dean was also running ads touting his opposition to the war.

“There are times in a nation’s history when one man of courage standing up makes all the difference,” the ad says. “When George Bush sent America on a misguided path to war, Howard Dean stood up and said the president was wrong.”

Speaking from Iowa on NBC's "Meet the Press," Gephardt maintained an upbeat assessment of his chances. "I'm going to win in Iowa," he said to moderator Tim Russert. "My message out here is striking a chord. ... We are going to win. We are going to come out of here with a victory, and we're going to take it to New Hampshire."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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