DES MOINES, FEB. 5 -- On Friday, the campaign moved inside.
At 7 a.m., the wind chill index put the temperature at minus 44 degrees and the weather reports warned of "dangerous wind chill" throughout the day.
Several candidates kept up their campaigning, but with a strong wind sending stinging clouds of "snirt" (an Iowa term that means "snow mixed with dirt") through the frigid air, the horde of campaign workers and the herd of media types covering -- or perhaps smothering -- the Iowa caucuses clustered in hotel lobbies and campaign offices today to await developments.
There were not all that many visible developments, as the campaigns settled in for a long last weekend of phone bank work to turn out supporters at the caucuses on Monday. The candidates and their staffs continued to snipe and dig at one another over advertisements, campaign funds and the other matters that have sparked a rush of negative campaigning in these final days.
But the electronic news media's demand for "visuals" was increasing geometrically as downtown Des Moines turned into a giant parking lot for satellite vans from scores of local TV stations around the country.
So many of these vans, each sprouting a flying-saucer-shaped antenna, have gathered on the big plaza beside the convention center that locals have come to call the spot "the Mars base." Media outlets already docked at the base range from CBS and C-SPAN to Channel 22 in South Bend.
Most people had better sense than to go outdoors, navigating from pol to pol through the system of "skywalks" connecting eight blocks of downtown Des Moines. The skywalks -- which will be the scene Sunday of the Third Annual Skywalk Open Golf Tournament -- looked more and more like the corridors of the National Press Building in Washington as the ranks of the press corps swelled to 3,000, give or take a few hundred.
Phil Roeder, of the Iowa Democratic Party, says there are three times as many reporters here as there were in 1984. The central gathering point for the reporters and consultants from Washington is the bar at the Savery Hotel downtown, where it has been possible some nights this week to walk through the whole room without finding more than a handful of permanent residents of Iowa.
Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis (D) captured the scene perfectly when he walked into the Savery's bar Tuesday night. "You guys were all sitting here when I left Iowa two days ago," he told the assembled scribes. "Now I come back, and you're all still here."
The ratio of media members to real people at campaign events in Des Moines, a statistic that might be called the "hype index," has reached record levels.
Today, when Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) spoke to the Greater Des Moines Chamber of Commerce, the score was media 103 to real people 32, for a hype index of 3.1.
There have been similar ratios in the last few days at events for Dukakis, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), Jesse L. Jackson and former Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt. But the hype index drops dramatically outside Des Moines; as a general rule, the farther you travel from the Savery's bar, the fewer reporters you find.
The Simon campaign tried to get some action going this afternoon by picking another fight with Gephardt, who is seen as the narrow front-runner going into the final weekend.
Irritated that Gephardt's fourth-quarter financial report had not been received at the Federal Election Commission, Brian Lunde, Simon's campaign manager, called on Gephardt to halt his television ads until it could be verified that he had not exceeded federal spending limits here. "It's common knowledge among all other campaigns that one candidate, Dick Gephardt, is spending like there's no tomorrow in Iowa," Lunde said.
Lunde said he was moved to act by a report in today's Wall Street Journal that quoted a Gephardt campaign official who said the only copy of the financial report was lost in the mail.
The Gephardt campaign replied with a photocopy of the postmark on the certified mail receipt, dated Jan. 31, with a charge of $5.60. Ali Webb, Gephardt's press secretary, said the campaign would release the full report Saturday morning.
"Who is Brian Lunde, anyway?" she said. "If Sen. Simon wants to attack Dick Gephardt, he should do it himself."
"I have no evidence" that Gephardt is exceeding the spending limit, Simon said on the campaign trail. "I am not questioning anyone about not complying."
The public squabble, a low-level version of this week's feud between Vice President Bush and Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) provided the media with a little more fodder and indicated the almost desperate desire of the campaigns to grab the attention of the media and, through them, potential caucus-goers.
Everyone is trying to get into the act. The past president of the American Agriculture Movement, Corky Jones, arrived here this week from Brownville, Neb., to offer himself up for interviews. Occasionally they consisted of Jones identifying himself and his place of residence. End of interview.
But AAM dropped off one of the more creative news releases of the campaign, a plastic-wrapped piece of Belgian endive and the results of a survey showing that two-thirds of the American people have never heard of the delicacy. For Iowa insiders, this was a vicious attack on Dukakis, who in one of his first forays into the state, suggested that hard-pressed family farmers should consider shifting from corn and soybeans to more exotic crops such as endive.
The network anchors began arriving today to deliver the news from this new center of the world. A few network heavies have been here most of the week. NBC commentator John Chancellor was seen coming down the elevator in the Savery Hotel Thursday afternoon. "Where are you heading?" someone asked. "I'm going to see Pat Robertson in a brassiere factory," he beamed.