Candidates Target New Voters in Iowa

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Democrat Howard Dean (search) is relying on house parties and hype while rival Dick Gephardt (search) is tapping into fear and anger to drive new voters to Iowa's leadoff presidential caucuses.

In a tight, four-way race that may be determined by which campaign best recruits political novices, the leading candidates are using different tactics and motivations to expand the universe of caucus-goers.

Dean's campaign has 2,000 Iowans lobbying neighbors and friends on the candidate's behalf. Gephardt's team has 600 out-of-state union activists knocking on doors of labor workers.

Dean's organizers promote his front-running status and you-have-the-power message to create a buzz of inevitability among caucus newcomers. They fare best with voters angry at President Bush for waging war against Iraq.

Gephardt's organizers raise fears about lost jobs and health insurance to get active and retired union members interested in the race. They fare best with voters angry at Bush for what they describe as a reversal of Clinton-era economic gains.

It smells of pizza and stale sandwiches at Dean's get-out-the-vote offices. Cigar smoke and dipping tobacco punctuate the air at union halls turning out foot soldiers for Gephardt. The hair is long or spiked at Dean's headquarters; Gephardt's organizers are gray or balding.

They say they're fighting for the fun it -- or for an ambiguous cause -- at Dean's headquarters. They're fighting for their jobs at another.

But there are important common threads running between both operations: Teams Dean and Gephardt are obsessed with face-to-face contacts, soft sells and persistence.

Union Organizers Spread the Word About Gephardt

Craig Weston is standing outside his home, no coat or shoes to shelter him from a frigid Iowa night, telling two union organizers from New York why he'll likely vote against Gephardt.

Dino Esemplare and John Palumbo are not happy. They paid their way here to knock on doors for Gephardt, and now this 49-year-old employee at the nearby Maytag plant -- a first-time caucus-goer -- is leaning toward rival John Edwards.

"How crazy would it be if Maytag left this country and you didn't have a job?" Esemplare said. "Dick Gephardt is the only guy in the race who will protect union jobs like yours."

It is as close as the union organizers get to a direct criticism of a Gephardt rival. Like most recruiters, their pitch starts with information about the caucuses -- where to vote, how soon they can leave and assurances that the process is less intimidating than advertised.

Nobody gets pushy. This is the Midwest.

Several Newton, Iowa, residents open their doors to the chilly pair, offering them coffee and food -- if not their votes.

"Brother, I wish you weren't voting against Brother Gephardt but you fought and died for the right to do what you wish," Esemplare told Thomas Kepler, 58, who plans to vote for fellow Vietnam War veteran John Kerry.

The Massachusetts senator's campaign has identified 10,000 veterans willing to caucus for him, a figure that doubled since late last year as crewmates from the Vietnam War canvassed the state. About a third of them are new voters.

Newcomers Expected to Outnumber Caucus Regulars

About 60,000 Iowans attended the neighborhood meetings in 2000, when then-Vice President Al Gore defeated former Sen. Bill Bradley (search). It was the first contested Democratic caucus since 1988, which had no reliable turnout figures.

Party leaders believe 90,000 to 150,000 will cast votes Monday night, a tribute to intense get-out-the-vote operations of the four top campaigns, all separated in polls by a few percentage points.

New voters may outnumber party regulars. Many of them are undecided. And few first-time voters are as persnickety as caucus regulars, who have grown accustomed to constant courting.

"Getting new voters is probably more efficient than going after the same old establishment types who have to be wooed," said Doug Sosnik, political director in the Clinton White House.

Republicans and independents can register on the spot and vote in the Democratic caucuses, but there's little history of that happening.

Dean's campaign estimates that 60 percent of their strongest backers have never voted in a caucus. Gephardt officials say at least half of theirs are newcomers.

Dean Focuses on Grass-Roots Organization

Courtney Work's 10-month-old daughter, Olivia, is squirming and crying as the Des Moines housewife explains how she became a Dean team leader.

"I've never been involved in politics before. Dean's campaign just seemed fun, something to do. Something that has meaning, too," Work said.

She is one of about 2,000 Iowans working closely with Jonathan Rosen and other political operatives on Dean's staff to build a neighbor-by-neighbor grass-roots organization.

Each leader is assigned 50 to 200 neighbors to call and visit repeatedly. They don't lobby for Dean as much as they answer questions about the caucuses and issues, gently steering neighbors toward the former Vermont governor.

Rosen said ads, direct mail and phone banks are overrated. Iowa is won with a personal touch.

"The problem is traditionally we don't listen, we just ask," Rosen said. "It's the politics of voters as a consumer who have to be marketed to. This campaign is about building relationships."

Organizers for several labor groups are gathered at a union hall in Des Moines, 400 red-faced, blue-collar workers who believe trade deals threaten their jobs. Gephardt, an opponent of recent free trade accords, has tapped that fear.

"All of the other campaigns, one in specific, are running their campaigns on hope. I'll tell you what, this campaign, President Gephardt's campaign, is running on reality," Brett Voorhies, director of the Alliance for Economic Justice told the crowd.

Of the 7,000 steelworkers union members in Iowa, only 500 members attended caucuses in 2000, but three times as many are committed to attend this year, Voorhies said in an interview.

It's the same for the Teamsters, who count twice as many members voting this year than 2000.

After leaving the rally, Esemplare and Palumbo returned to the dark, cold streets of this middle-class town. The door at one low-slung home was answered by Scott Croson, 41, and his son, Nate, who at 17 is old enough to vote under caucus rules because he'll be 18 by November.

They both like Gephardt.

"If you guys are willing to work this hard in the cold," the son said, "Gephardt must be some candidate."