Walter F. Mondale, who has visited this state 26 times during the last two years, looked out across the crowd at the Savery Hotel the other night, and said:
"Anytime you meet and the speaker you want turns you down, you turn to Walter Mondale, and he always comes. All I ask now is that you make me president of the United States."
Everyone applauded loudly, and as the presidential candidate slowly made his way through the crowd shaking hands he greeted many people by name. Mondale, who grew up just over the Minnesota border in the tiny farming town of Elmore, was thoroughly at home.
"He's running as the favorite son. Since 1972, he's been here every year for almost every Democrat," John Law, the state coordinator for Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), said later. "He's the establishment candidate."
"Certainly Walter Mondale has shaken the hand of every active Democrat in Iowa," said Don McDonough, state coordinator for Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio).
So far, Mondale's ties to the Hawkeye State have served him well.
With Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses six months away, the former vice president has a 15-point lead in the Iowa Poll, the support of scores of leading Democratic power brokers, and the slickest, most professional campaign organization in the state.
His biggest problem may turn out to be that he has been in the state so often for so long that he has become too familiar and too well-connected.
There already are some signs of this. Mondale, for example, was largely ignored by passers-by when he toured the state fair here last Friday, despite the fact that he was followed by an entourage of aides and reporters.
"Who's that?" one woman asked as he swept by.
"Oh, that's just Walter Mondale," her husband replied.
"Mondale is well-known. He's been coming here forever. He should be the logical candidate for most of us," said Lowell Norland, the Iowa House majority leader. "But there seems to be a reluctance for rank-and-file Democrats to get behind him. So I think John Glenn has a chance, and should be given an opportunity to state his case.
"Maybe the folks are just rebelling against the bosses. By now Mondale should have it all wrapped up," added Norland, who lives 35 miles from Mondale's old home town.
After months of intense campaigning, the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination is a two-man race here between Mondale and Glenn, with the rest of the pack far behind.
According to the Des Moines Register's July Iowa Poll, Mondale was the choice of 55 percent of the state's Democrats. Glenn had 30 percent; Cranston, 4 percent; Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), 3 percent, and former Florida governor Reubin Askew, 1 percent. Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) didn't register on the poll.
This represented a 12 percent gain for Glenn over the previous poll in March, an 8 percent loss for Mondale, a 3 percent loss for Hart and a 1 percent gain for Cranston.
The Glenn campaign is the most puzzling. Despite his gains in the public opinion polls, the Ohio Democrat has been slow to put together an effective campaign organization, according to most Iowa political observers.
Peter Slone, Mondale's state coordinator, goes so far as to say he sees "no evidence" of a Glenn organization in the state.
Glenn supporters disagree with this assessment. They note that Roxanne Conlin, the state's 1982 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, and Lt. Gov. Bob Anderson recently have gone to work for the campaign and that Glenn will have 12 full-time field workers in the state by September.
Glenn didn't open an Iowa office until March, four months after Mondale.
"By the time we got here, Mondale and Hart supposedly had everything locked up," Glenn coordinator Maureen Roach said. "Mondale's nomination was supposed to be inevitable. We've shown that isn't true."
Mondale's organizational lead in the state is impressive, however.
He has 10 full-time staff members and plans to double that number and open 10 campaign offices next month.
His campaign is co-chaired by the state's popular attorney general, Tom Miller, former state party chairman Edward Campbell, Democratic National Committee member Jean Haugland and Rachel Fulton, a county supervisor in populous Black Hawk County.
Mondale has been endorsed by Rep. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a Senate candidate, and former U.S. senators Dick Clark and John Culver. He also has widespread labor support.
After a fast start, Hart's Iowa campaign floundered and for months fought off rumors that the Colorado Democrat might drop out of the race. His two best-known operatives--state coordinator Bill Rumjue, who ran Jimmy Carter's successful 1980 Iowa effort, and former congressional candidate Lynn Cutler--left the campaign.
The campaign also lost momentum when Hart moved his entire Iowa staff to Wisconsin for more than a month in an unsuccessful attempt to win a straw poll there. Cranston won the poll.
"Obviously, the campaign lost ground," said Sharane Darlington, Hart's coordinator here. "People have been looking for a sign that the campaign is still alive. We think we've given it. I've doubled our staff in the last three weeks, and the hope in Gary's candidacy is alive and well."
As Hart's campaign slid, Cranston's gained ground, but not as much as his supporters had hoped.
Cranston has hired several well-regarded young operatives, including Law and Karen Kapler, both former executive directors of the state Democratic Party, but he is still considered a weak third in the race.
"Outside of 3,000 to 4,000 party activists, nobody knows who the hell Alan Cranston is," Law said.
Iowans got the first look at the four leading candidates appearing together Saturday at a peace forum attended by 1,800 persons in Des Moines. Afterwards, Stop the Arms Race Political Action Committee, a peace group, endorsed Cranston, but only after an agonizing debate in which several leaders of the group voiced support for Mondale and Hart.
Hollings and Askew didn't attend the debate. Neither has made major inroads in the state.