Canvassers Make a Final Frantic Push in Iowa

(Chris Hondros - Getty Images)
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 3, 2008

CARROLL, Iowa, Jan. 2 -- Jean Guy discovered Wednesday morning that a secretary at Kuemper Catholic High remained undecided. With barely a day before the Iowa presidential caucuses, Guy went to work and persuaded her to support Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Guy, an English-literature teacher and Clinton precinct captain, spent three hours on the telephone on New Year's Day, and she expects to work her lists right up to the minute the Precinct 1 doors close, dialing anyone who could potentially tip a delegate to the New York senator.

"I'll have to get a new battery for my cellphone tonight. I don't think my battery is strong enough for all the things I'll need to do," Guy said. "I think we have some real good supporters. I just don't know what the others have."

On the eve of one of the more closely watched Iowa caucuses in history, ground warriors for the three leading Democratic candidates set out to eliminate chance. Thousands of volunteers joined hundreds of paid staffers to convince, cajole and all but carry prospective supporters over the threshold.

As the candidates rocketed around the state trailed by media throngs, the nitty-gritty of caucus mobilization was underway more anonymously in 1,781 precincts that will provide the jigsaw pieces for Thursday night's portrait of winners and losers.

In downtown Carroll, 100 miles northwest of Des Moines, teams of canvassers spread out in freezing temperatures to knock on doors and pass out literature. Storefronts that were opened months ago by lone newcomers buzzed with believers making final-hour calls to the committed and the still unsure.

Friends delivered casseroles and back pats and polished plans to make their corner of the caucus sites lively and appealing -- where the cool people gather. Megan Arellano prepared to bake frosted sugar cookies for supporters of Sen. Barack Obama and perhaps attract lonesome and hungry backers of Sen. Christopher J. Dodd or New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

The Clinton campaign planned to counter with sandwiches, chips and sweets.

It is the Clinton and Obama campaigns that are most dependent on luring newcomers, whose commitment to the candidates and the caucus process remains unproven. That made for a frenetic last dash as the campaigns stretched to make good on their extraordinary investments in the ground game.

A hand-drawn sign on the wall at Obama headquarters in Carroll made the situation plain. It referred to a recent opinion poll:

Obama 29

Edwards 29

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