Barack Obama is drawing huge crowds in his final swing through Iowa, while his field organizers are ramping up what could be the largest mobilization program in the history of the caucuses.
On Sunday night, Obama spoke to a packed gym on the South Side of Des Moines, a working class neighborhood in Iowa's largest county, which John Edwards won with about 8,000 caucus votes in 2004. "I'm the only candidate in this race who has actually passed laws to take away the power of the special interests and the lobbyists," Obama declared to the cheering crowd. His down-tempo stump speech presents voters with a temperamental spectrum: Edwards lurches to the angry left; Clinton gravitates towards Beltway accommodation; but only Obama stands for a practical idealism that can inspire and deliver.
Yet with four days to go, even the king of anti-politics cannot avoid talking tactics. Obama's speeches are now studded with appeals to electability. In a strategy powerpoint released on Monday, Obama's aides claim he is more electable than Clinton and better funded than Edwards. The document also implies that reporters should discount Edwards for accepting public financing, despite Obama's pledge to do the same in a general election (if the Republican nominee agrees). David Axelrod, the campaign's chief strategist, defended the emphasis on electability in the homestretch. "I don't think electability is a Beltway concern, electability is the concern of every Democrat," he told The Nation on Sunday. "The fact that [Obama] doesn't bring the baggage of some of the other candidates to a general election enhances our ability to win, and that's very important," he added.
Unlike traditional voter turnout, caucus attendance is not necessarily tied to spending, field organizers or crowd size, as Howard Dean saw in 2004. But Obama has drawn huge crowds at events in several Iowa towns in the past week, far outpacing Edwards and Clinton, including over 500 people in Nevada, Davenport and Mason City. The campaign says it drew an astounding 600 people to a recent event in Carroll -- a tiny town where only 649 people caucused in 2004. Obama has over 200 field officers deployed in 37 field offices across the state; the Des Moines office was buzzing well past midnight on Sunday night. Organizers are distributing a detailed, 16-page confidential strategy packet for precinct captains, advising on everything from how to count delegates to "persuasion talking points" tailored to supporters of other candidates. Democrats who caucus for non-viable candidates – falling short of 15 percent in a precinct – get to vote in a second round, which can tip the entire caucus. As a former organizer, Obama is already making a pitch for those crucial second choice votes. He is now telling Iowans if they are "embarrassed" about their commitment to another candidate, "then make me your second choice."