DES MOINES, Iowa – The Democratic presidential candidates are going the extra mile to add some celebrity luster to their campaigns with a tight race and less than two weeks remaining before Iowa's caucuses.
When a candidate can't be there — or sometimes even when they are — they often trot out assorted big names from the worlds of Hollywood and politics, known as "surrogates," to press the case on their behalf.
Those names belong to any number of music stars and movie idols, even heavyweight Washington politicians, who trek out to Iowa in the cold. Another popular variety: the family member offering the "I know him best pitch."
"They can help fire people up and get them to turn out," said Dennis Goldford, who teaches political science at Drake University. "Tight races are won and lost at the margins."
In Iowa, where the nominating season opens with the Jan. 19 precinct caucuses, the Democratic presidential campaign has reached its full pitch of intensity. Surrogates are flooding the state, seeking even the tiniest slice of the enormous media attention that is trained here.
Former Vice President Al Gore (search) campaigns Friday and Saturday on behalf of the front-runner, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean , who won Gore's endorsement last month. Gore will be crisscrossing the same section of the state as Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry , who's bringing in his colleague, Sen. Edward Kennedy (search), D-Mass., to help boost his campaign.
Kennedy is not unknown in the state, having waged a hard-fought campaign against then-President Carter in the 1980 caucuses.
Movie producer Rob Reiner (search) already has joined Dean in Iowa.
Gephardt, who is in a tight race here with Dean, is getting help Friday from California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who succeeded him after he stepped down as House Democratic leader. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., the former Congressional Black Caucus (search) chairman, also planned to be in Iowa for Gephardt on Friday.
"They can help raise a crowd," said Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Gordon Fischer.
But things don't always work out as expected.
After Kerry arranged for folk singer Peter Yarrow (search) to attend a rally and perform the song he wrote about Kerry's campaign, Yarrow later let reporters know he disagreed with Kerry's Senate vote on the Iraq war.
"They bring in their own individual flavor to the campaign," Kerry spokeswoman Laura Capps said of the stand-ins. "It was obviously spontaneous and added a different element to the event."
Although North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was aided by former Gov. James Hunt, staffers were far more excited when the rock band Hootie & the Blowfish visited the campaign's headquarters.
Kerry, in third place in Iowa according to the polls, gets more celebrity help next week from singer-songwriter Carol King, who has worked on behalf of Democratic candidates dating back to Gary Hart in 1984.
Not to be outdone, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich has been joined by country musician Willie Nelson (search), who raises money for family farmers at his FarmAid (search) concerts. Actor Danny Glover (search) narrated Kucinich's first campaign commercial.
Kucinich also is holding a diversity event Sunday with Chief Leonard Crow Dog (search), who is billed as the last remaining Lakota medicine man.
In addition to all the celebrities, the campaign has become something of a family affair, with wives, mothers and children out on the stump.
Teresa Heinz Kerry recently headlined a women's event, and Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, and their two children are fixtures on the trail.
"Mrs. Edwards is our secret weapon," said spokeswoman Kim Rubey. "Next to the senator, she is by far and away our best tool for turning undecideds into wholehearted supporters."
Caucus night may belong to the Democrats, since President Bush has no challenger. But top Republicans expect to be on hand anyway.
The Republican Party is sending a contingent — from top Bush campaign leaders like Ken Mehlman and Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani — to grab some of the caucus-night attention.
"They're going to travel to Republican caucuses and grass-roots meetings to carry the president's message," said RNC spokesman Terry Holt. "Jan. 19 is a big night for Democrats, but it's also a good night to tell the president's message."
Surrogates even dress things up a bit.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (search), which has endorsed Dean, is sending its president Gerald McEntee around to restaurants and bowling alleys in a green recreational vehicle next week.