With Iowa and New Hampshire races close, a hustle for turnout
Most polls show a very close race among the top candidates in both parties, so the outcome hinges on which campaigns are best at turning out their supporters.
Des Moines, Iowa
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"The forecast for Thursday: temperature in the mid-20s to mid-30s with clear skies," it reads.
For Iowa in mid-January, that's a downright heat wave. And if the skies really stay clear, watch for a potential record turnout of more than 250,000 people in the first nominating contest of the 2008 presidential campaign.
With most polls showing a very close race among the top candidates in both parties, the outcome hinges on which campaigns are best at turning out their supporters. Among the Democrats, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is counting on young voters and independents to caucus for him. New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is counting on women and older voters. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards is counting on men and on experienced caucusgoers. All three have equal support among union households, according to the latest Des Moines Register poll. And by appearances, it's a tie in organizational strength.
"Given the number of phone calls and people knocking on doors, they're all very active," says Peverill Squire, a political scientist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. "I don't think any one organization has any advantage over any other."
On the Republican side, Mitt Romney seems to have the edge over Mike Huckabee in organizational strength and in getting supporters to their caucus sites Thursday night. Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, began organizing in Iowa almost a year ago, while Mr. Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, began to surge only in November and has not had much money or ground strength until recently.
"Romney has the best political minds in the state of Iowa geared up to work for turnout for him on caucus night," says Mark Leonard, who chairs the Ida County Republican Party, in conservative western Iowa. Mr. Leonard is personally backing former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, but says he feels Romney will win the Republican Iowa caucuses.
Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Christian Alliance, a major social conservative organization in the state, believes Huckabee can make up for his deficit in organization with the fervor of his supporters. In the Des Moines Register poll, Huckabee beats Romney 2 to 1 among social conservative voters.
But pollster John Zogby says he's not seeing any greater strength of support among Huckabee voters than he is among Romney's backers. The most interesting question out of Iowa on the GOP side, he says, may be who comes in third. That race, between Arizona Sen. John McCain and Mr. Thompson, is tied at 12 percent each as of Jan. 1, per Mr. Zogby. If Mr. McCain is able to eke out a third place finish here, a state where he has barely campaigned, that could give him a boost going into the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 8, where he and Romney are tied.