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President Obama doesn't have to worry about winning the Iowa caucuses. He's almost sure to be the only Democrat in the contest. But that hasn't stopped his campaign from organizing its own effort to get out the vote next month.
As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, it's sort of a dress rehearsal for next November's general election.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: While Republican candidates have been hogging the spotlight in Iowa, a small army of Obama volunteers has been busy behind the scenes. They've opened eight campaign offices around the state, hosted dozens of house parties, and logged tens of thousands of telephone calls.
MARGARET LABOUNTY: Hi, my name is Margaret, and I'm a volunteer with President Obama's grassroots team, Organizing For America. Yeah, and we're located here in Council Bluffs. How are you this evening?
HORSLEY: The Pottawattamie County office in western Iowa is tucked behind a hardware story. It's sparsely furnished with folding chairs, outdoor patio furniture and long list of voters for volunteers here to contact.
LABOUNTY: I was calling real quick tonight to see if we could count on you to caucus on January 3rd in support of President Obama. Fantastic.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We want to tell you about the caucuses that are coming up on January the 3rd. We'd sure like to have you there.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You know, it's very important for us to show numbers at caucus. Yeah, and it works as a great springboard for his election in 2012.
HORSLEY: That 2012 election, still 11 months away, is very much on the minds of the Obama organization here. Even though Iowa Democrats don't have the excitement of a contested caucus to keep them interested, spokesman John Kraus says the Obama campaign is using the January 3rd event as a rallying point.
JOHN KRAUS: It's an opportunity to get our volunteers together, so people can come to the caucus, connect with the campaign. What we're really trying to do is use the caucuses as an organizing opportunity.
HORSLEY: A relentless focus on organization helped Mr. Obama win the Iowa caucuses four years ago, a victory that marked the first step on his ultimate march to the White House. Today, though, the president's approval rating in Iowa is below 50 percent. And Kraus knows this state's six electoral votes are very much up for grabs in November.
KRAUS: Iowa is a swing state. It's going to be a tough race, but it's going to be decided by a campaign's ability to organize their grassroots effort on the ground, and that's something we're focused on.
HORSLEY: Political analyst Dianne Bystrom of Iowa State University says the president has a couple of things going for him, a tech-savvy campaign staff who make good use of email and social networks like Facebook to spread their message, and lots of campaign cash. Still, Bystrom sees far less enthusiasm for Mr. Obama among her students today than she did four years ago, when young voters were an important ingredient of the winning Obama formula.
DIANNE BYSTROM: It is going to be, I think, an uphill battle for President Obama to get those young voters back. Part of it is because of his message in 2008 and he promised so much change. He really kind of set himself up because no one really can do as much as he promised.
HORSLEY: And young voters aren't the only ones who've grown disillusioned with a sluggish economic recovery and persistent gridlock in Washington. Volunteer Margaret LaBounty hears that frustration as she works the phones in Council Bluffs.
LABOUNTY: We have people who are just fed up with the way things are going and then we try and talk to them about things that the president has accomplished and the direction he is going. When you explain that, a lot of the time, they do understand and they realize that maybe four more years could be the answer.
HORSLEY: LaBounty's own support for the president has only deepened. She voted for Barack Obama in 2008, but this is the first year she's actively campaigned for him.
LABOUNTY: You can do two things. You can sit around and complain about it and do nothing, or you can try to make change wherever you can.
HORSLEY: Campaign spokesman Kraus says more than TV ads or political events, one-on-one conversations with volunteers are the best way to influence undecided voters. And they won't stop on January 3rd.
KRAUS: So, when the Republican candidates shut down their offices, turn out the lights and move their circus out of Iowa, we'll remain.
HORSLEY: The Obama volunteers will keep making phone calls, hosting house parties, and going door to door, all the way until November.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, Council Bluffs, Iowa.
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