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.
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"There's this really interesting dynamic with McCain," says Zogby. "It's not just simply that McCain is gaining a couple of points here and there, but every point he gains is among either moderates or independents or older voters, meaning they're coming mainly out of Romney's column."Skip to next paragraph
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As Thompson also edges up, he's taking votes away from Huckabee, Zogby adds.
In these final days, perhaps the biggest shot of adrenaline went to the Obama campaign, when the Des Moines Register's final precaucus poll put him seven points ahead of Clinton, 32 to 25 percent, with Edwards at 24. Four years ago, the Register's caucus-eve poll correctly forecast the surprise outcome, showing Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry in the lead.
But no sooner had the Register come out with its big Obama lead than the other campaigns cast aspersions on its finding that 40 percent of caucusgoers this year will be independents – a finding that benefits Obama. Normally, caucuses are attended by party activists who register either Republican or Democrat. Opposing camps agree that high interest in this year's caucuses will boost independent turnout, but they doubt it will be 40 percent.
The last few days have seen the candidates hammering home their final pitches to Iowa voters. For Democrats, the theme is change, particularly in healthcare and foreign policy, with each of the leading candidates arguing that they are best able to bring it about.
In polished 40-minute stump speeches across Iowa, Clinton has ticked off a list of achievements – from her days as a young lawyer for the Children's Defense Fund to her years as first lady and senator – that she says make her more experienced than her rivals at taking on special interests.
"Some people say you get change by demanding it, some people say you get change by hoping for it," she said in Cumming, Iowa, implicitly critiquing Edwards and Obama. "I believe you get change by working really hard for it."
Obama has argued that Clinton is too much of a Washington insider. As a former community organizer on the south side of Chicago, he has told Iowans, he best understands the struggles of ordinary people and has the "right kind of experience" to shake up the establishment and restore hope and unity to America.
"The real gamble in this election is playing the same Washington game with the same Washington players and expecting a different result," he said in a Des Moines speech, alluding to Clinton. "You can't at once argue that you're the master of a broken system in Washington and offer yourself as the person to change it."
Edwards, for his part, has adopted an increasingly belligerent tone, casting himself as a bare-knuckled brawler for working Americans who will "never" negotiate with the health insurance industry and other corporate interests.
"We are not going to allow corporate greed to steal our children's future," he said in Boone, Iowa. "The only way we're going to get their power is to take their power away. What I would tell all of you is, you better send somebody into that arena who's ready to fight."
Edwards set up the most grueling final day of campaigning for himself, with the first event scheduled for 1 a.m. Wednesday, and 12 events planned every couple of hours after that for the rest of the day.
Kucinich has instructed his supporters to back Obama if he (Kucinich) does not meet the 15 percent support threshold required at Democratic caucuses.
Four years ago, Kucinich told his supporters to back Edwards, which might have helped Edwards to his second place finish then.
As for the Republicans, Romney has asserted that his acumen as a business leader, his fiscal prudence as Massachusetts' governor, and his turnaround of the scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Olympics has prepared him to lead the country through challenging times. "I have a record of bringing change to almost every enterprise I've taken part in," he told Iowans in Altoona.
Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, has appealed to Iowans as a self-avowed "Christian leader" most in step with the values of social and religious conservatives.