Almost exactly four years ago, I was sitting in a TV studio in Los Angeles, not long before the Iowa caucus, and I announced, on television, to my Fox colleagues who were anchoring from Iowa, and to the audience watching them, that John Kerry was going to win the Iowa caucus.

This was not, to say the least, the conventional wisdom. Up to the very day of the caucus, people who were supposed to know what was going to happen before it did were saying that Howard Dean, who had been the early frontrunner, was going to win Iowa. And of course, I was saying the wise guys were wrong from a distance of 2,000 miles (not to mention a 50 degree temperature gap), having not set foot in Iowa a single time over the course of that campaign.

Within a few hours of my surprising pronouncement, I got a phone call from Brit Hume’s producer.

"Did you say that Kerry was going to win Iowa?" she asked.

I did, I said.

She said Brit wanted me on his show (either to prove that I was a genius or a fool, but at least it would be lively), but he also wanted to know exactly what my theory was as to why I was right and almost everyone else, including most of the national press on the ground in Iowa, who were still following Dean’s every move, were wrong.

Michael Whouley, I said.

Thereupon, the poor interns and assistant producers who worked at FOX were sent on a somewhat wild goose chase looking for a picture to run of a guy they’d never heard of to accompany my prediction of an Iowa upset about to be engineered by a bald guy with a thick accent who used to work for me in Boston.

Believe me, I’m often wrong about many things, but given how many of the top organizers in the Democratic Party worked for me at some point in the past, I was pretty comfortable that this wouldn’t be one of those times, and I was right.

So this year I want to give everybody a little extra notice. Instead of waiting until a week or a few days before, when good pictures may be hard to find (the one they ran of poor Michael was not the most flattering), not to mention taking the risk that I could be scooped, or that FOX won’t have time to fly me out to Iowa to be there and say "I told you so," I’m going to set the search in motion now.

Teresa Vilmain.

Go find pictures. She’s a lot prettier than Whouley. And just as talented.

And she’s running Iowa for Hillary Clinton.

She’s been running Iowa for presidental candidates for 20 years. To say she knows what she’s doing is a massive understatement. Most people who are as good as she is retire or move on after one or two or three or four cycles. When I noticed that she was back at it, doing it for Hillary, I almost missed our days together 20 years ago.

Then, we stayed at the Savery Hotel in Des Moines, which used to be the only place Democrats stayed, trying to figure out how a guy whose first trip to Iowa involved an unfortunate comparison between the well-known cranberry farming state of Massachusetts and the issues facing farmer in Iowa-- a guy who refused to run negative ads, had just endured a major scandal in his campaign that cost him his campaign manager (my predecessor) and his deputy campaign manager (the late Paul Tully, who was a mentor to both Teresa and me), who was running against two midwesterners and a bunch of full-time candidates--was going to survive in a state where candidates were expected to campaign every day and he insisted on being governor half the week.

I need third, I used to tell her. If he finishes third, we can win New Hampshire, and if we can win New Hampshire, we can win enough states on Super Tuesday to win the nomination. It was a plan, but the hook was that a disastrous finish in Iowa would undermine the confidence of voters in New Hampshire that the local boy was anything more than that, and if we lost New Hampshire we were lost.

Just third, I would say to her, at times when public polls showed us running fourth and fifth and even sixth. She was 28. I was 33. We were girls in a men’s business. Lots of people were staring, gawking, and it wasn’t because they were betting on us. Fish out of water swimming upstream. We had money, but there were strict caps in those days on what could be spent in Iowa, and I had a candidate who was not about to fudge with the cap.

Her job was to demand more and mine was to give less. At one point, she had the whole Iowa office (including the candidate’s own daughter) on strike against the national headquarters, refusing to answer our calls until we sent more money. Did I say she was determined? Did I mention she was zealous? Sometimes impossible?

Yes, all those things. But Teresa Vilmain could organize jello, and there was nowhere that she knew -- knows -- the jello and how to get it to stick together better than in Iowa. Her mother was a political organizer in Cedar Rapids. Iowa politics is in her blood. No one understands what it takes and how to do it, who counts, where the bodies are buried, and why "no" is not an acceptable answer.

My ex-husband came up with the line of the night ("This week the bronze, next week the gold"), but Teresa was the one who made sure every single human being in the state of Iowa who suported Michael Dukakis was on our list and at their caucus that Monday night.

Maybe it’s because I’ve worked for so many losing candidates (although a number of them managed to get nominated, which as is becoming clear this year, is no small feat), but I’m a firm believer that in the last analysis, it’s candidates who win and lose elections, not staff members or strategists or particular ads.

Modern campaigns aren’t monoliths; they’re too big for that, and besides, good candidates wouldn’t want it. In any major campaign, the candidate is getting advice from a number of people, representing a number of perspectives, and his job, or hers, the hardest job in the end, is deciding whose advice to follow.

Believe me, there were people who told John Kerry to fight back against the swift boat attacks and there were people who told him not to; there were people who told Al Gore to bring Bill Clinton into his campaign in a major way and people who told him not to. The best the best staff can do is make sure the candidate knows all the options and arguments and numbers and nuances, and then the fish rots from the head. Or not.

But where staff makes the biggest difference is in caucus states, where the outcome depends as much on who can turn out their supporters as who has them in the first place. The candidate’s job is to convince people to be for him, or her; the staff’s job is to figure out exactly who those people are, down to the name, address, phone number and today, e-mail address, and create a structure for keeping them committed to the point that they will actually turn out and spend a cold Monday night listening to speeches and lining up on different sides of the room to be counted, literally, in a candidate’s corner.

It’s like the old joke about the difference between the role of the chicken and the pig in creating a ham and eggs breakfast: the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed. Caucuses require commitment. Commitment depends on organization. And there is no one better at organizing people to turn out at Iowa caucuses than Teresa Vilmain.

If Hillary wins Iowa, she’ll win New Hampshire. If she wins Iowa and New Hampshire, the nomination is hers, sooner not later. It’s not a little pressure. It’s a ton of it. Teresa can handle it. So can Hillary. Keep an eye on the women. And get some good pictures ready.

Click here to link to Susan's new book, "Soulless. "

Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for FOXNews.com.

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Click here to link to Susan's new book, "Soulless. "

Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for FOXNews.com.

Respond to the Writer

Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.

A woman of firsts, she was the first woman president of the Harvard Law Review and the first woman to head a national presidential campaign (Dukakis). Estrich is committed to paving the way for women to assume positions of leadership.

Books by Estrich include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders." Her book "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women," is a departure from her other works, encouraging women to take care of themselves by engaging the mind to fight for a healthy body. Her latest book, The Los Angeles Times bestseller, "Sex & Power," takes an impassioned look at the division of power between men and women in the American workforce, proving that the idea of gender equality is still just an idea.