Published October 20, 2003
DES MOINES, Iowa – Joe Lieberman (search) and Wesley Clark (search), a lagging candidate and a late entrant, are skipping Iowa's leadoff precinct caucuses to focus their time and money on other contests opening the Democratic presidential nominating season.
Party activists said their decisions would have little impact on the outcome of the opening events, and was a signal of weakness for two candidates thought to have a serious argument for the nomination.
"The skipping-Iowa strategy hasn't worked in the past," said state Democratic Chairman Gordon Fischer. "I don't see it working this time."
Iowa's precinct caucuses Jan. 19 launch the nominating process, and a large and active field of Democrats has been stumping for months.
Lieberman, a Connecticut senator, has campaigned far less often than his rivals. Clark, a retired Army general, only recently joined the field, although he has demonstrated some strength in national polls.
Focusing his efforts on Delaware Monday, Lieberman acknowledged that he had little chance of winning in Iowa and said he wanted to direct his resources on other states with early primaries. Delaware holds its contest Feb. 3.
"I can't compete effectively everywhere in that short period of time," he said.
Lieberman called Iowa backers Sunday night to tell them he was dropping his campaign efforts in the state, and would likely leave a storefront operation open with little staff and no campaign time.
"Unlike years past, this time around there are nine early primary states, not just two," Lieberman campaign manager Craig Smith said in a statement. "After much consultation, we decided to focus our resources on where they will prove most effective. Without a doubt, we feel this is the winning strategy for Joe Lieberman to win the nomination."
A Democratic activist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Lieberman would concentrate on the Feb. 3 primary in New Hampshire.
Clark spokesman Matt Bennett said there was no way the late-entering candidate could compete with other hopefuls who have been stumping in Iowa for months, if not years.
"We have made the decision that we don't have the time or the money to compete there," Bennett said.
By opting out of the first test of strength, Lieberman and Clark are following a tactic with a mixed record, and some political veterans saw it as evidence of overall weakness.
"I think it means they will have to answer hard questions about the status of their campaign," said activist Phil Roeder.
Democrat Al Gore skipped Iowa's precinct caucuses in his 1988 presidential bid, arguing they were dominated by liberals and opting to make his stand in Southern primaries. His campaign faded quickly.
Among Republicans, Arizona Sen. John McCain skipped past Iowa in 2000, defeated George W. Bush in New Hampshire and caused a stir in early tests. But he eventually faded from the race.
The decision by Lieberman and Clark allows them to focus staff and resources on other key states, but means they will by shut out of the media attention given to the first tests.