DES MOINES, Iowa – Virtually all the presidential candidates will head to heavily Democratic blue-collar Dubuque this weekend, a magnet for contenders seeking an 11th-hour boost among party traditionalists in Iowa.
John Kerry (search) planned to be at the Clarke College (search) student center Friday, Dick Gephardt (search) hoped to energize his union base Sunday and Dennis Kucinich was the featured speaker at the Tri-States banquet Saturday — all in Dubuque County where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-to-1.
Nestled along the rolling hills of the Mississippi River, Dubuque is a must on any campaign itinerary in the 48 hours before Monday's caucuses, not only for its Democratic rank-and-file but its media market.
The scheduled stops for the candidates locked in a tight race reveal what they believe will be a winning strategy — visit the Democratic strongholds to energize organized labor and college students while keeping an eye out for news coverage.
"You have to be in the media centers this weekend, on the airwaves at six and 10," said strategist Joe Shannahan, a backer of Howard Dean.
The candidates plan nearly nonstop swings through the state this weekend as polls show a significant number of undecided voters and four candidates — Howard Dean, Kerry, Gephardt and John Edwards — jockeying for an advantage.
"It's a vicious race for all these candidates," said veteran activist Phil Roeder.
Popular campaign stops were Newton and Ottumwa, both in the central part of the state where traditional industrial unions play a major role. Newton is home to Maytag Corp., whose employees are represented by the United Auto Workers, and Ottumwa is a meatpacking town where unions dominate Democratic politics.
Gephardt, a favorite of organized labor during his 28 years in Congress, plans to visit these pockets of union strength, with a stop in at least one each day this weekend.
There are subtle — and not so subtle — differences in the final weekend campaign schedules.
Dean plans to spend Saturday sprinting from Mason City to Council Bluffs to Sioux City, with four-term Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin in tow, bragging about the endorsement of the state's most popular Democrat.
"We're going to places where our research shows there are a lot of undecided voters," said spokeswoman Sarah Leonard, hoping that a nod from Harkin will push activists to back Dean.
The former Vermont governor will leave Iowa Sunday for a high-profile meeting in Plains, Ga., with former President Carter, who remains extremely popular among Democrats in Iowa. Carter set the model for Iowa's leadoff caucuses with his 1976 campaign.
Edwards plans stops in Davenport, Cedar Rapids and Council Bluffs — all media markets — but then hops a bus to Greenfield, Creston and Winterset, small towns where the North Carolina senator will focus on his roots in the South.
"We feel really good about our strength in the rural areas," said spokeswoman Kim Rubey. "It's an effective use of our time. In a lot of these smaller counties we see the opportunity for growth."
Heading to small towns can be an effective move because collecting even a few backers can lead to a selection of delegates. "It's a lot easier than electing delegates in Des Moines," said Shannahan.
Iowa City, Ames and Cedar Falls — all college towns — are popular stops because of their liberal Democratic leanings. Long-shot candidate Kucinich is likely to find his biggest pockets of support there, and he plans stops in all three.
The candidates also will spend time in rural, even Republican sections of the state, because even though Democrats are outnumbered, caucuses will still occur and the media will provide coverage.
Council Bluffs has 6,000 more Republicans than Democrats, but it also is located across the Missouri River from Omaha, Neb., and Omaha television stations blanket the western half of Iowa.
"There are caucus-goers everywhere, even places that are pockets of Republican strength," Roeder said.
Among the states, Iowa has one of the highest church attendance rates, and the candidates will be in the pews on Sunday. Kerry plans to attend church services in Waterloo, a city with one of the heaviest black populations in the state, while Kucinich will go to the People's Church in Cedar Rapids.
Shannahan said the goal for all the candidates was simple — to see as many people as possible. "That's what's going to convince them to go to a caucus," he said.