Candidates Make Last-Minute Bids in Iowa

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Most of the major contenders for president began their last day of pre-caucus campaigning in Iowa on Wednesday, flying fast planes to the far corners of the state. And in the evening, they were in Des Moines for big rallies — telling everyone to turn out Thursday night.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

And these are the sounds of the last hours of campaigning in Iowa.

(Soundbite of political speeches)

Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Former Senator; Democratic Presidential Candidate): I'm asking you to go and caucus for me and to take some of your friends with you to the caucus.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): And I think these caucus attendees look at the differences between the different candidates, that I'll be able to get the support that I need to, well, do pretty darn well here in Iowa.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Massachusetts Governor; Republican Presidential Candidate): If you go out there and caucus for me and we win this thing, I want to tell you, the political landscape of America will never be the same again ever, because it's not possible to get outspent like me and win.

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): Are you fired up?

Unidentified Group: Fired up.

Sen. OBAMA: Are you ready to go?

Unidentified Group: Ready to go.

Sen. OBAMA: Fired up.

Unidentified Group: Fired up.

Sen. OBAMA: Ready to go.

Unidentified Group: Ready to go.

Sen. OBAMA: Oh, that's what I'm talking about Davenport.

BLOCK: Voters in Davenport and the rest of Iowa will gather tomorrow evening for the first decisive choices in Election 2008. The race is very close on both sides. For the Republicans, polls show Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney in the lead with John McCain gaining some ground. For the Democrats, John Edwards, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are running in a tight three-way race. We'll hear about efforts to get people out to the caucuses and we'll talk about the significance of the Iowa vote in a few minutes.

First, NPR's David Welna reports on the candidate's final pitches.

DAVID WELNA: On one of the coldest mornings this winter, Hillary Clinton showed up 25 minutes late to a church meeting room in Indianola, Iowa that more than a 100 hundred people had packed into.

She spoke for nearly an hour and took no questions, but Clinton did promise that, in her words, if you will stand up for me one night, I will stand up for you every day in the White House.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (New York, Democrat; Presidential Candidate): And I will be ready on day one to assume the responsibilities that we, starting tomorrow, will pass on to the next president. So please, put on your coats, warm up the car, call your friends, pick up a buddy, come out to caucus tomorrow night, and together, we will make history. Thank you all so much and God bless you.

(Soundbite of crowd)

WELNA: Many in the crowd were older women. They tend to favor Clinton more than any other Democrat. Here's 66-year-old Cecilia Mescar(ph).

Ms. CECILIA MESCAR (Iowa Voter): I was voting for Hillary Clinton if she ever ran when her husband was president - and I say, the next president after Bill Clinton runs through his terms, I want Hillary. And I want to see that dream come true.

WELNA: But others there were still struggling to make a decision. One of them was Katie Tener(ph), a 19-year-old independent, who says she definitely plans to caucus tomorrow night, but she's not sure for whom.

Ms. KATIE TENER: I figure I'll figure it out when I walk into the caucusing room. So…

WELNA: But you just heard Hillary Clinton make her pitch, didn't it impress you much.

Ms. TENER: I was impressed by her, but I'm also impressed by Barack Obama and some of the other people I've heard. So I don't really know yet.

WELNA: Still up in the air?

Ms. TENER: Yes, definitely.

WELNA: John Edwards, who seems to be running neck-and-neck with both Clinton and Obama, is making a final statewide appeal in Iowa this evening with a TV ad featuring a man who lost his job when the Maytag plant here moved its operations overseas.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Mr. DOUG BISHOP: I want a guy who's going to sit down and look a 7-year-old kid in the eye and tell him I'm going to fight for your dad's job. That's what I want.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. BISHOP: I'm going to do my best to make sure that my children aren't the first generation of Americans that I can't look them in the eye and say, you're going to have a better life than I had. And I think the person that's going to get that done is my friend and yours, Senator John Edwards.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. EDWARDS: I'm John Edwards and I approve this message.

WELNA: And Barack Obama made a final appeal for support in Coralville this afternoon, reaching out to those who are now backing someone else.

Sen. OBAMA: If you're stuck with the other person…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. OBAMA: …then make me your second choice.

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. OBAMA: Make me your second choice. I still want your support.

WELNA: Across the state in Mason City, Republican frontrunner Mike Huckabee took aim at the Republican whose lead he appears to have overtaken, Mitt Romney. He didn't mention Romney by name, but he did refer to the many millions of dollars Romney has poured into the campaign from his own fortune.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Arkansas Governor; Republican Presidential Candidate): Within about the next 36 hours, those of you here in Iowa are going to make political history, one way or the other. And one of the things I'm hoping for is that we absolutely shock the chattering class of the political pundits on the East Coast - those who have already figured out how it's suppose to turn out. And, you know, there are some who've already figured out that, well, because some folks have more money, they're suppose to win.

Wouldn't it be something if Iowa proved that the people of Iowa cannot be bought, that they can't even be rented for the night.

WELNA: Romney made his own swipe today, not at Huckabee, but at one of the leading Democrats. He promised CNN that if elected president, he and his wife would not embarrass the nation by their conduct in the White House.

David Welna, NPR News, Coralville, Iowa.

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The Countdown to Iowa: Last Bid to Boost Turnout

Supporter at Huckabee news conference

Oscar Poole waits outside of a news conference by Republican presidential hopeful and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in the days leading up to the caucus. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Edwards phone volunteer

A volunteer at the United Steel Workers Local 164 makes phone calls urging Iowans to attend a caucus for Democratic presidential hopeful and former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC). Eric Thayer/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Eric Thayer/Getty Images

The moment has finally come when Iowans will begin choosing candidates for the 2008 presidential race, as they go to the state caucuses Thursday night.

Candidates have been frantically traversing Iowa and reaching out to residents through phone banks, door-to-door campaigning and political rallies. But the candidates have also turned to technology to help them get out the vote in chilly Iowa, sending text messages to potential caucus-goers, or urging them to participate through social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) — with help from singer John Mellencamp — rallied Iowans on Wednesday night in Des Moines.

"Go to the caucus," he urged rally participants. "Stand up, speak out, change this country — show what you're made of, show what your courage is, show what your character is. Let's make America a country all of us are proud of, for our children, for our grandchildren."

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has run more than 8,000 television ads, but on Wednesday, the Republican asked for support from a crowd in the tiny Mason City Municipal Airport before taking off in a chartered plane bound for a stop in West Des Moines.

At the headquarters for Republican Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, about 50 volunteers from senior citizens to high school students made thousands of last-minute phone calls to remind Iowans that the caucus doors would open at 6:30 p.m. sharp.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) directly addressed his younger supporters at a local high school, asking them to disprove cynics who say students do not vote.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who largely ignored Iowa through the fall and early winter, had to push his way through an overflow crowd of supporters outside of his Des Moines campaign headquarters.

"I'm very grateful for you being here. I'm grateful for this expression of support. And I can tell you we've come a long way since I met the 1,203-pound pig named Big Red at the Iowa State Fair — and then enjoyed a pork chop on a stick, followed by a delicious deep fried Twinkie," McCain said.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) posted her appeal on her Facebook profile, which showed 56,214 online supporters Thursday morning.

With such a tight race, campaign workers say they're tracking caucus participants who may need special attention to help them get to the caucuses. The Romney campaign cited one woman with a broken hip who will receive a ride Thursday night to her precinct place.

For Iowans who say they're too busy to attend the caucus, campaigns are offering child care and even the shoveling of snow-covered driveways — anything to make it easier.

From NPR Staff Reports

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