DES MOINES, Iowa – Howard Dean (search) may act the angry candidate. But Dick Gephardt's (search) is the angry candidacy. Squeezed tattoo-to-tattoo in a steelworkers' union hall, 400 red-faced, blue-collar labor organizers staged a rally here this week to show why they may be the best motivated get-out-the-vote forces in Iowa: They're frightened and mad.
"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 (search) told the crowd.
"We're scared," he said.
Scared of losing their jobs overseas. Angry at politicians who, unlike Gephardt, backed Presidents Clinton and Bush in the drive to lower trade barriers.
"Dean has more people and more money, but we have the motivation," whispered Gary Hubbard, a spokesman for the United Steelworkers of America (search).
Dino Esemplare, a union organizer from New York, had just jumped atop a platform to spontaneously lead the crowd in a cheer. Hiking up his jeans, he began to chant, pausing between phrases to encourage an echo from the fist-pumping, foot-stomping crowd.
"Gephardt is the man!" he shouted. "Gephardt is the man!" they shouted.
The back and forth continued:
"Yes he can!"
"Be America's man!"
"Because we are union!"
"God bless the union!"
Gephardt was not at the rally. The AEJ, an alliance of unions backing the Democratic presidential hopeful, technically is unaffiliated with the campaign, though their out-of-state professional organizers are the centerpiece of the Missouri lawmakers get-out-the-vote operation. Locked in a tight four-way battle for Monday's caucuses, Gephardt is counting on union workers to help him eke out victory.
It's the big question of this campaign: Who's get-out-the-vote system is better? Dean has more money, a sophisticated voter tracking system and 2,000 Iowans lobbying neighbors and friends on the candidate's behalf, plus 3,500 out-of-state volunteers providing support.
Gephardt's effort includes 600 out-of-state union activists knocking on doors of labor workers, all veterans of political or union campaigns.
While Dean uses blunt language and you-have-the-power rhetoric to fire up an anti-war, anti-establishment base, many of his youthful organizers in Iowa are looking more for adventure than a fight. In Dean's campaign headquarters, where the fast food wrappers and well-worn lounge chairs give the place the feel of a dormitory room, there is a playful kids-against-the-grownup feel to campaign.
A layer or two beneath his senior campaign strategists, who are some of the party's best, Dean's foot soldiers seem to be fighting for the fun it — or for an ambiguous cause.
But the motivation is more clear at the AEJ, an alliance of unions helping Gephardt: They're fighting for their jobs.
"In my adult life, I've never been as afraid as I am now for the working people," steelworkers president Leo W. Gerard told the crowd.
With a full-throated roar, he decried the loss of jobs under Bush. "They are in Mexico and China and Vietnam and Burma — they're every (expletive deleted) place but here!" he said.
After leaving the rally, union activists Esemplare and John Palumbo returned to the dark, cold streets where they are visiting the homes of union workers in search of Gephardt voters.
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."
Later, Craig Weston answered the door in his stocking-clad feet. A union worker at the nearby Maytag plant, Weston said he was leaning toward Gephardt rival John Edwards.
Esemplare politely suggested that would be a mistake.
"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."