Pres. Hopefuls Attend Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner Saturday's Jefferson-Jackson dinner marks the beginning of the home stretch leading up to the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3. With actual voting less than 60 days away, six of the major Democratic candidates were on hand, hoping to rally their supporters for the last eight weeks of the campaign.
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Pres. Hopefuls Attend Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner

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Pres. Hopefuls Attend Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner

Pres. Hopefuls Attend Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

NPR's Scott Horsley was on hand.

SCOTT HORSLEY: The Jefferson-Jackson Dinner is a fall classic in Iowa. And in an election year like this, it takes on the passion of another contact sport, as Michigan Congressman David Bonior hinted during an afternoon pep rally for White House hopeful John Edwards.

DAVID BONIOR: You know, when I think of a Saturday in the fall in Iowa, I think of football and politics, right?

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

BONIOR: We've had two victories today. The Hawkeyes won today, right?

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

BONIOR: The Cyclones won today, right?

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

BONIOR: And tonight, John Edwards is going to blow the roof off the Veterans Memorial Hall.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HORSLEY: A marching band from Des Moines East High School helped escort Edwards to the Veterans Auditorium where the dinner was held. A few blocks away, Barack Obama's supporters held their own pep rally as a kind of appetizer for the dinner itself.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING)

HORSLEY: At the auditorium, a sell-out crowd of 9,000 party activists was waiting. Many of them grouped into color-coded cheering sections, waving white signs for Edwards, red signs for Obama, and yellow and green signs for a somewhat defensive Hillary Clinton.

HILLARY CLINTON: There are some who will say they don't know where I stand. Well, I think you know better than that. I stand where I have stood for 35 years. I stand with you and with your children and with every American who needs a fighter in their corner for a better life.

HORSLEY: Julie Smith(ph) of Harper, Iowa, was one of those waving a Hillary Clinton sign. She said after dinner, she'd be proud to carry a banner for any of the Democrats.

JULIE SMITH: I think they are all qualified and would make a good president, and that's what we need. We need togetherness and everything right now.

HORSLEY: Rivals see Iowa as their best chance to slow Clinton's campaign momentum. Edwards regularly criticizes Clinton for refusing to turn down campaign contributions from lobbyists.

JOHN EDWARDS: Washington is awash with corporate money, with lobbyists who pass it out, with politicians who ask for it. Look at what happened in the 1990s when we had a Democratic president, a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate. But still, drug companies, insurance companies and their lobbyists killed universal health care in the United States of America.

HORSLEY: Bill Richardson, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd also addressed the crowd. Obama was the last candidate to speak. Unlike Edwards before him, the Illinois senator took subtle aim at Clinton. He said if Democrats are serious about winning the election, they can't rely on the same old Washington playbook.

BARACK OBAMA: The party of Jefferson and Jackson has always made the biggest difference in the lives of the American people when we led, not by polls, but by principle. Not by calculation, but by conviction.

HORSLEY: Obama said he's tired of Democrats thinking the only way to look tough on national security is by acting like George Bush Republicans.

OBAMA: When I am this party's nominee, my opponent will not be able to say that I voted for the war in Iraq, or that I support Bush-Cheney policies of not talking to leaders that we don't like.

HORSLEY: Scott Horsley, NPR News, Des Moines.

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