Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Obama, Edwards Go Long"

Wall Street Journal:
Manchester, N.H.

Having drawn Hillary Clinton into a trench war in Iowa, her Democratic rivals are stepping up the pressure in New Hampshire and beyond.

Both Barack Obama and John Edwards devoted some last-minute campaign time here this past week, even though Iowa's Jan. 3 caucus comes five days before the New Hampshire primary. Mr. Edwards said Friday he plans a return trip the day after Christmas before diving into the final-week Iowa sprint. Mrs. Clinton began her own two-day run through New Hampshire Friday.

[John Edwards]

While polls in New Hampshire -- often considered a "firewall" for Mrs. Clinton should she lose Iowa -- have been volatile, some recent state surveys have shown her lead over Mr. Obama evaporating. After a hard month that featured several campaign missteps and a hefty load of damaging mudslinging, the New York senator has seen her popularity slip in other early-voting states as well. New polls in South Carolina -- which votes Jan. 26 -- and Florida, Jan. 29, put Mrs. Clinton in a tie with Mr. Obama. A poll this past week in California -- the big prize of the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday states -- showed Mrs. Clinton's lead also shrinking, though still in double digits.

The Clinton campaign didn't respond to a request for comment.

[Barack Obama]

Iowa has long been a horse race among the top three Democratic candidates, while Mrs. Clinton was seen as a prohibitive favorite elsewhere. The race's new competitiveness was on display this past week in the Granite State, where Messrs. Edwards and Obama both played to large and enthusiastic crowds. Mr. Edwards had the splashiest events, swinging through the state with rockers Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Brown and actor Peter Coyote. Mr. Obama spent a day making a direct appeal to independent and undecided voters, focusing particularly on the former, who can vote in either primary in New Hampshire.

In some ways, he is competing as much against Republican John McCain as he is against his Democratic rivals. The Arizona senator's recent resurgence in New Hampshire threatens a replay of his last run at the office, in 2000. Independent voters are believed to make up about 40% of the state's electorate. Mr. McCain took New Hampshire eight years ago on a maverick program that relied heavily on them.

[Hillary Clinton]

"We have to make sure he doesn't define himself in a 2000 John McCain way," said Steve Hildebrand, a senior adviser in charge of the Obama campaign's early-state strategy. "Our camp needs those voters as bad as anybody."

One measure of the tantalizing amount of support that remains in play here: At an Obama rally in Rochester, the Illinois senator asked for a show of hands from undecided voters. In a room packed with hundreds of attendees, about a third raised their hands. "We've got a bunch of live ones here," Mr. Obama said. "We're going to go after them."

Beyond New Hampshire, Messrs. Obama and Edwards are opening up other fronts. Mr. Obama is paying more attention to South Carolina, where polls show he has pulled even with Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Edwards, who was born in South Carolina and won the 2004 primary during his first run at the presidency, has begun running television ads in the state. A recent poll put him within seven points of the two front-runners only a few months after the campaign had all but written off the state.

Mrs. Clinton leads the polls in Nevada, which votes Jan. 19, by 20 points or more. But the tiny caucus system there is unlikely to attract more than a fraction of eligible voters and appears ripe for domination by the state's powerful service unions, whose members elsewhere tend to favor Mr. Edwards and Mr. Obama. Both are making a renewed push there. Mr. Edwards recently added two dozen paid staff in the state, while Mr. Hildebrand said the Obama camp has begun scheduling a number of "bipartisan house parties" to lure independents and undecideds in the Silver State.


"John Edwards learned in 2004 that he has to have an organization ready to seize the lightning out of Iowa," said campaign spokesman Eric Schultz. "We have a true four-state strategy and the infrastructure in place to win nationwide."

This past week, Mr. Schultz put out a memorandum to reporters urging that they "not swallow the spin of our rivals" that Mr. Edwards doesn't have a national campaign operation in place. In a series of statistics, he noted that Mr. Edwards has 80 paid staff in New Hampshire -- eight times the number he had four years ago -- and that he has been running seven ads there since November, which is only one less than he's running in Iowa.

The Clinton and Obama camps haven't released similar numbers in New Hampshire, but both are believed to have larger operations in the state.

Mr. Schultz's memo notes that Mr. Edwards also has made 17 trips to Nevada this year -- more than any other candidate. The memo also claims that this month, it has organized volunteer telephone calling operations in the 22 states that are scheduled to vote on March 5.

Howie P.S.: "Clinton-Obama battle heats up as Dems campaign for California primary" looks at the run-up to the post-Iowa game there. If you want to really get down into the early state weeds, check out "Cable Micro Targeting Presidential Primary in California and Earlier States."

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