Camps coax undecided voters at crucial caucus

Seth Freedland

DES MOINES, Iowa — On the day before the Iowa caucuses, only eight points separated a quartet of candidates trying to garner support from undecided voters, according to a local poll here — and that’s without the margin of error.

A poll by the Des Moines Register released Sunday shows former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri and U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts in a statistical dead heat.

Candidates’ headquarters found thousands of volunteers working the phones Sunday, and rallies throughout Des Moines saw candidates making impassioned pleas for support.

Howard Dean

Even though a strong windchill dropped temperatures in Des Moines to -17 degrees, the biggest collection of winter hats is inside the Des Moines headquarters of Dean.

All college student campaign volunteers receive snug, woolen, orange beanies with “Iowa Perfect Storm” printed on the front. The upstairs press area resembles a fraternity house, with old couches, pizza boxes and cans of Red Bull lining the windows.

Lawrence Robinson, a senior from Claremont-McKenna College in California, said Dean’s passion will help him attract support.

“A lot of politicking goes on, and the more you care, the more it helps,” he said.

John Edwards

In an overflowing auditorium at Drake University, hundreds of supporters, including many parents, chanted “Go John, Go” as the candidate walked onto a small platform.

When Edwards roared, “I am so ready for this fight,” a crowd in the back waved placards that read, “We are so ready for this fight!”

Polk County Sheriff Dennis Anderson said Edwards was “in line with mainstream, common people.”

“I’ve looked him in the eye,” said Anderson, who will be a precinct captain in a caucus tonight. “I’m ready to fight for him in that room.”

Richard Gephardt

The Des Moines headquarters of Gephardt, Communication ’62, buzzed with a furious intensity. In fact, Deputy Press Secretary Kathleen Strand said, “This time is too important” to allow volunteers to talk to the media.

“Right now everyone is so busy calling and getting out the vote,” said Strand, 24. “There are a ton of voters who are still undecided, and this is the last push.”

She marveled at the volunteers’ dedication.

“Some don’t even want to stop,” Strand said. “We have to make them eat.”

John Kerry

Volunteer Hannah Halpenny cannot vote in tonight’s caucus.

But that didn’t stop the 17-year-old Washington state resident from flying to Iowa on Tuesday to help Kerry’s campaign.

“It’s unreal how much I feel like a telemarketer,” Halpenny said. “It’s tough — sometimes I have to sit for a few minutes before going on.”

As television camera crews darted from desk to desk in the Kerry headquarters, Halpenny and dozens of volunteers –mostly war veterans, like the candidate — plodded through telephone listings.

Despite being “totally exhausted,” Gretchen Adelson, a senior from the University of California-Berkeley, said working for Kerry is worth it.

“He’s the all-around best candidate,” said Adelson, 21. “He could be elected and be ready to be president tomorrow.”