Bill Bradley, who often scoffs at such campaign wizardry as polls and focus groups, has a staff sociologist at his Iowa headquarters who is helping strategists target precincts where Bradley has the best chance of making inroads against Vice President Gore.
Bradley's use of the sociologist, who joined the campaign in August and has been crunching numbers 16 hours a day ever since, is dramatic testament to the former New Jersey senator's determination to make a strong showing in the Jan. 24 Iowa caucuses, which begin the presidential nominating process.
The sociologist, Stanley W. Pollock, is part of a complex effort by Bradley to locate casual Democrats--and even Republicans and independents--who can be convinced to try a caucus for the first time. Gore retains strong support among Iowa's party regulars, who can be counted on to attend the caucuses.
Caucuses are one of democracy's most arcane rituals, a time-consuming exercise that tends to draw only the most committed members of a party. In contrast to the simplicity of a secret ballot, caucus-goers head out in the snow for 7 p.m. meetings in firehouses and school libraries that can last three or four hours and sometimes run as long as seven. Attendees indicate their presidential preference by a show of hands or by standing in groups and then, similar to a jury deliberation, try to talk each other into switching.
A poster written in the same shade of purple as the PBS dinosaur "Barney" explains "Caucus Mathematics" and is being distributed to each of the 2,100 precincts. It describes "viability" and "apportionment" and offers such pointers as, "Caucuses which elect four or more delegates: Multiply number of eligible caucus attendees by 15 percent and round up."
In an attempt to make caucus-going seem less intimidating, Bradley's campaign plans to distribute hundreds of videos describing the process, and field workers have been traveling to tiny towns throughout the state to act out caucuses in living-room meetings with potential supporters.
"The trick is to make folks comfortable with the caucus so that when the night comes, they're going to go," said Jim Farrell, Bradley's Iowa communications director. "We're going against institutional power in this state, and Bradley resonates very well with new voters and independents."
And then there is Pollock, who uses a computer to run state and federal data against lists of Bradley supporters from phone banks and candidate events, to help determine the most promising areas and demographics for the campaign to pursue.
"In those counties that have a large percentage of men with graduate degrees, we find a higher support level for Bill Bradley, so that would indicate to us to go into that county and talk to those people," Pollock said. He also said "white-collar professionals are more disposed" to support Bradley.
Pollock, 56, who lives in Minnesota and teaches at St. Mary's University, is a data hound and has even typed in figures about farm injuries, multiple-vehicle households and census-response rates. "You never can tell," he said. He also occasionally joins phone banks, calling registered Democrats to ask the standard questions about which way they're leaning, but then branching off into corn, baseball and the Kennedys to get a better feel for what's on voters' minds.
Bradley has thrown himself into the Iowa effort and has started performing what sometimes sounds like an altar call at the end of his Iowa speeches. "We have the caucus cards in the back," he said at the public library in this pork-packing town the other night. "If you agree with me, if you've begun to take a measure and think I'm the person you want, I hope you'll fill out one of those caucus cards."
The going is slow. After Bradley spoke to 400 pension management workers in Des Moines last week, Jeff Riley, a 29-year-old organizer from Bradley's Polk County field office, stood outside the auditorium waving caucus cards and saying, "If anybody filled out one of these, I can take them."
He got two. "They can mail them in, too," Riley said hopefully.
Bradley's campaign is focusing on precincts that traditionally have a low turnout, including ones in Iowa's heavily Republican northwest corner and sparsely populated southwest and south-central regions.
The importance of casual Democrats and independents to Bradley can be seen in a new 20-page campaign booklet, featuring his slogan "It Can Happen." The booklet never mentions he is a Democrat. Iowa Republicans and independents can participate in a Democratic caucus if they declare themselves a Democrat that night, but that rarely happens, according to Democratic officials.
Hugh Winebrenner, a professor of public administration at Drake University and the state's leading authority on caucuses, said other candidates have tried to lure new caucus-goers, but attendance has stayed stable over time. "Bradley will probably be able to draw some, but it's tough to draw a significant enough amount to change the outcome," Winebrenner said.
Steve Hildebrand, Gore's Iowa director, said his campaign also is trying to lure first-time caucus-goers by targeting African Americans, Hispanics, gays, veterans and farmers.
Gore has 14 offices throughout Iowa, to Bradley's 11. Bradley has 60 paid staff members in the state; Gore's campaign would not reveal the size of its Iowa staff.
Bradley, who has been splitting his time between New Hampshire and Iowa, plans to spend about half of January in Iowa, hoping a strong showing will give him momentum going into the New Hampshire primary a week later. The Hawkeye State has always been an important part of Bradley's strategy--according to a tally kept by Hotline, an online political newsletter, since mid-March Bradley has spent 45 days in Iowa, to 32 in New Hampshire. (For Gore, the figures are 30 days in Iowa and 28 in New Hampshire.)
Bradley also is spending heavily on Iowa television--$800,000 so far, compared with $1.5 million in New Hampshire and Boston, which reaches many Granite State viewers. Bradley acknowledges he is something of a candidate-come-lately in Iowa terms, telling audiences, "I'm operating under one premise here--that if you spend two winters in Iowa, you have a better chance than if you spend one winter in Iowa."
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat whose wife, Christie, often makes appearances for the Gore campaign in Iowa, said in an interview that Gore would probably defeat Bradley by 60 percent to 40 percent if the caucuses were held today. Vilsack was skeptical of the value of the TV blitz that Bradley has planned for January in hope of motivating a bigger turnout.
"If this were a primary, it might work," Vilsack said. "But you get people to go to caucus by spending time with them in a restaurant or a home. You persuade 10 of them to make the effort, and maybe they bring another 10."
Eric Hauser, Bradley's press secretary, said the television effort is necessary to back up Bradley's personal campaigning. "He's still not well known in the state," Hauser said. "If they don't know you, they're not going to caucus for you."
The Iowa Democratic Party chairman, Robert G. Tully, who is neutral in the contest, said Bradley's campaign had a rocky start in the state but has improved. "Bradley is running against the establishment, and that's part of his draw, but ironically it presents a major challenge for him in caucuses," Tully said. "I think Bill Bradley's got the potential to do well in the Iowa caucus, but whether the campaign is going to be able to follow through for him is another matter."
As an example of Bradley campaign lapses, Tully cited the almost comic lengths to which he went to persuade the campaign to contact his brother, who had sounded interested in Bradley. Tully said that from May onward he gave the Bradley campaign his brother's name and number four times--including once to the candidate himself--but his brother says no one ever called.
His brother, Thomas A. Tully, 59, a university administrator from Dubuque, said he now is uncommitted. "I didn't expect a call from Bill Bradley," Thomas Tully, said. "But I did expect a call from his campaign people."
Bradley spokesman Hauser, replied: "We called months ago."
Staff writer David S. Broder contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Bill Bradley, who spoke in Perry, Iowa, Dec. 20, is wooing casual Democrats and independents for Jan. 24 caucuses.