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Last Pitches Before the First Vote

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Sights and sounds from an early morning rally by Hillary Clinton to a 'Tonight Show' appearance by Mike Huckabee, presidential candidates traveled across Iowa and to California in the final full day of campaigning in Iowa. All times listed in the video are Central Time. Video by Jackie Refo, Ed O'Keefe and Chet Rhodes/post.com

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By Michael D. Shear and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 3, 2008

DES MOINES, Jan. 2 -- The presidential candidates made their final appeals to voters Wednesday in the earliest-starting and most expensive campaign in Iowa history, fanning out across the state in search of a victory and crucial momentum headed into a front-loaded primary season.

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With the competitions in both parties still too close to call, the leading candidates raced between colleges and small towns to make their last pitches, well aware that the contests would be decided by the lavish turnout operations they spent millions of dollars and much of the past year building.

Republican Mitt Romney flew two dozen reporters across Iowa for a series of events, ending a hyper-organized Hawkeye State effort that is now threatened by Mike Huckabee's unconventional campaign. "It's kind of like, you know, you can't wait," Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, told a rally in Bettendorf. "Maybe it's like Christmas morning and you want to run down and open the present and see what you got and hope it's not a lump of coal."

On a bitterly cold Midwestern day, Democratic front-runners Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama closed out their year-long debate on experience vs. change. The three are running even in the polls after a contest that began with Obama a virtual unknown, Edwards coming off a second-place finish here in 2004 and Clinton having major institutional advantages.

All of the candidates exhibited exhaustion and a bit of desperation -- the natural outcomes of a presidential campaign that began earlier and with more intensity than ever before but one that has not produced an obvious front-runner on either side.

After two brief morning events, Huckabee flew to Hollywood to tape an appearance on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." The former Arkansas governor sparred with Leno, telling jokes and explaining his improbable come-from-behind candidacy. "People are looking for a presidential candidate who reminds them more of the guy they work with, rather than the guy that laid them off," he said.

Not to be outdone by Huckabee, Clinton taped a cameo appearance on the "Late Show With David Letterman," taking her message of experience beyond Iowa's borders -- yet not leaving the state for a moment to do so.

But even as they closed out their Iowa campaigns, some of the candidates began turning their attention to the East Coast, where New Hampshire's primary will take place five days later -- an unprecedented schedule that has accelerated the election and confounded political predictions.

At Bettendorf Middle School on Iowa's eastern edge, Romney singled out Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), not his chief Iowa rival Huckabee, as his campaign braces for a brutal but brief contest in New Hampshire, where McCain has surged to a tie for first place in recent polls. Romney plans a 3 a.m. rally in Portsmouth on Friday to begin his effort there.

"With regards to Senator McCain, I think he was just wrong to vote against the Bush tax cuts twice," Romney told a group of about 75 students and parents. "He continues to defend that vote. He continues to believe it was the right thing to vote no on the Bush tax cuts, despite the fact that the Bush tax cuts helped working families, helped people meet their obligations."

Obama, likewise, took the opportunity to tweak his message for New Hampshire, sharpening his cross-party pitch to Republicans and independents and framing it as part of an electoral strategy that could deliver the White House to Democrats in November.

"There are all kinds of Republicans and independents outside Washington who have also been disappointed, who can also be part of a coalition for change," the senator from Illinois told a crowd of 1,500 in Coralville on Wednesday. "And that's how we're going to build a working majority."


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