COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa – Past success — and a current demand for campaign cash — have persuaded Democrat Dick Gephardt (search) that he can afford to leave must-win Iowa for a day or so even though rival Howard Dean (search) and the presidential caucuses loom large.
Engaged in a tough fight with Dean for first place Jan. 19, Gephardt is counting on a win in the state he captured in the 1988 Democratic presidential race to propel his candidacy this year. Crucial to his success is his get-out-the-vote operation, with a major lift from labor.
But Gephardt is skipping out of Iowa for part of the week for fund-raisers in New York and Los Angeles, a foreign policy speech, campaign stops in Feb. 7 states Michigan and Washington and a brief appearance on the "Late Show with David Letterman."
The Missouri congressman is going to present his Top 10 list.
"We're running a national campaign," said Gephardt campaign manager Steve Murphy. "You can't just stay in Iowa nonstop. We learned that in 1988."
National campaigns require plenty of cash, and Gephardt has not matched Dean's fund-raising prowess. The former House minority leader started last year near the top in money collected among the Democrats, but he took in less money with each fund-raising quarter.
Gephardt raised at least $16 million last year and received $3.1 million this month from the presidential public financing program. By comparison, Dean collected $40 million last year.
"The main purpose for leaving Iowa is fund raising," Murphy said.
Although it appears to be a political gamble to leave Iowa, the Gephardt campaign argues that its organization, with hundreds of campaign workers and union rank-and-file, is poised to deliver for the candidate. Gephardt, a labor favorite based on his strong record in Congress, has the backing of more than 20 international unions.
The presence of the candidate is not always required, said Murphy, who argued that "it's fine to give the organization a day or two to catch its breath."
Gephardt did campaign in Iowa on Monday and will return to the state, albeit briefly, on Wednesday before heading to Michigan. Although his schedule hasn't been finalized, he is expected to be in the state in the final days before the caucuses.
But some strategists wondered about the strategic decision to leave Iowa, even for a day or so, when the candidate needs all the grass-roots support he can muster. "It's either a sign of confidence or of a critical need to raise money," said Democratic strategist Jeff Link.
If Gephardt had any reservations about his decision, he can take heart in the fact that Dean also is taking a break from Iowa campaigning, returning to Vermont to spend time with his family Tuesday.