Election 2008

Candidates Clear Out of Iowa

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With one day to go before Christmas, the population of Iowa has shrunk. The presidential candidates have left the state — all except for Democrat Chris Dodd, the senator from Connecticut who moved his family into Iowa for the caucuses. NPR's Ina Jaffe reports on Dodd's efforts, as well as those of fellow Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who campaigned in the Hawkeye State on Sunday.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

It has all but come to a halt, only for the holiday of course, but the familiar rhythm of 15 or so presidential candidates crisscrossing Iowa and New Hampshire is on hold. There are only 10 days until the Iowa caucuses, 15 to the New Hampshire primary, and we're going to check in on a few of the campaigns in this segment.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both spent time yesterday in Iowa speaking to potential caucus goers. They're in a tight race according to the polls, but they did not schedule events for today. And for one non-frontrunner, campaigning went right up to Christmas Eve.

More now from NPR's Ina Jaffe.

Senator CHRISTOPHER DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): How are you guys doing?

INA JAFFE: Today, Senator Chris Dodd did what a lot of people are doing - he wrapped gifts. These gifts, however, are for soldiers stationed overseas, and he was joined in the task by about 30 of his supporters in the western Iowa town of Carroll.

Sen. DODD: We're good. We got our boxes ready and do some wrapping with these folks.

JAFFE: Unlike some of the candidates, Dodd doesn't have to leave the state to go home for Christmas. The five-term senator from Connecticut moved his wife and two young children to Iowa to more conveniently woo caucus goers here. Yet he languishes in single digits in the polls, and he told the gathering that time grows short.

Sen. DODD: So it's a big deal that you're going to be asked to make a decision out here and who gets to go forward, who gets the ticket out of Iowa. And while these gatherings that we're having this morning on Christmas Eve are going to pretty much end over the next eight or 10 days.

JAFFE: The situation is no less urgent for the front-runners. In a high school gym in the town of Greenfield yesterday, Barack Obama wanted to see exactly how far he was from making the sale.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): How many people are still undecided about who they're going to caucus for? Be honest. All right. A few people we need to work on here.

JAFFE: As many as a third of the 250 people who occupied the rows of folding chairs put up their hands. They heard Obama stump speech, everything from national security to education to eliminating lead paint from toys imported from China. Sprinkled throughout, however, were shots at Hillary Clinton, often thinly veiled, like this reference to her vote to authorize the war in Iraq.

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. OBAMA: I want - I don't want to wake up four years from now and find out that we put more American lives at risk in a misguided war because our president didn't have the judgment to ask the hard questions before we sent our troops in the fight.

JAFFE: But Hillary Clinton is not the only worry facing Obama, he also has to contend with John Edwards who finished a strong second here four years ago and who's battling for the lead now. Obama has been critical of an expensive last minute ad campaign on behalf of Edwards by a so-called independent 527 group that threatens to blanket the airwaves in the days leading up to the caucuses. The group, by law, cannot have any relationship with the campaign, but it's being run by a former long-time Edwards adviser and Obama is crying foul. But in his remarks yesterday in Greenfield, his target was not Edwards but Hillary Clinton.

Sen. OBAMA: I admire the fact that the Clintons tried to reform health care back in 1993. The problem is they did it the wrong way. They went behind closed doors.

JAFFE: Obama said he will deal with the problem more openly even put negotiations on C-SPAN and that seemed to move agronomist Bill Dotson(ph) from undecided to Obama supporter.

Mr. BILL DOTSON (Agronomist): I think he's sincere and honest and I think that made a difference.

JAFFE: Dotson said he had been considering Clinton, but there was no lack of support for the New York senator as she campaigned at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown. It was hard to find anyone who wasn't wearing a Hillary button, sticker, T-shirt or all three. She talked a lot about better treatment for veterans and wanted them to remember that on January 3rd.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): And I pledge to you, if you will stand up for me that one night, I will stand up for you every single day in the White House.

JAFFE: Most of the crowd was elderly, a demographic that's part of Clinton's core of support. Eighty-three-year-old George Reinertsen(ph) was typical(ph).

Mr. GEORGE REINERTSEN: I'm going to get all my girlfriends to support her too.

JAFFE: And since he says he has a million girlfriends that should be good news for Senator Clinton.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Carroll, Iowa.

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