|"In Iowa we like to see time on the ground," said
David Yepsen, political columnist for the Des Moines Register.
Taking advantage of the summer recess to put in some time on the ground
in the Hawkeye state were President George W. Bush and potential 2004 challengers
Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT), House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO),
and Sen. John Edwards (D-NC). All four visited the Iowa State Fair,
which attracted over 900,000 people during its eleven-day run from August
8 to 18. Bush's speech at the fair merited front page coverage in
a number of Iowa newspapers, but he did not neglect his duties as "fundraiser
in chief," headlining a dinner that brought in more than $1.2 million for
Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Gross. The itineraries of
the three Democrats were likewise peppered with fundraisers for local candidates.
Iowa's precinct caucuses, to be held 17 months hence, mark an important
early step in the race for the White House and this helps account for the
presence of these national figures. However, an immediate and pressing
battle is being waged here in 2002: the battle for control of the 108th
Congress. Iowa is the setting for a closely fought U.S. Senate race
between Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. Greg Ganske, as well as several tight
House races. The current House delegation has four Republicans and
one Democrat, but redistricting has resulted in substantial changes to
district boundaries and Democrats have hopes of picking up a seat or two.
The balance in the 108th Congress will in turn shape the dynamics under
which the 2004 presidential election is conducted.
No wonder that the first two weeks of August saw visits from Speaker
Dennis Hastert (R-IL), House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), House Democratic
Whip Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), co-chair of the
Democratic Steering Committee as they stumped for candidates.
In addition to time on the ground, contributions from leadership PACs are
flowing into the state. Edwards' New American Optimists has been
particularly innovative and intense in its efforts, providing 123 computers,
producing some 800,000 literature pieces (15,000 each of 45 different pieces
for 56 different candidates), and even sponsoring a dirt late model car.
Bush's appearance marked his seventh trip to Iowa since he took office.
It was the fifth visit for Edwards, bringing his total to ten days, Gephardt's
third visit (7 total days), and Lieberman's second visit (3 total days).
Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has spent the most time in the state during his
seven visits. Meanwhile, Vice President Al Gore has made but one
trip, back in late September 2001. Asked whether Gore should run
again, State Sen. Mark Shearer (D-Washington) responded with long pause,
choosing his words carefully. "I don't think America is ready to
put Al Gore in the political closet," he said.