Three Days Before Caucus Night And…

Lynda Waddington

It's caucus week and with just three days to go Iowa phones are ringing off the hook and GOP front-runners Romney and Huckabee continue to trade barbs.

Our correspondent in Iowa, Lynda Waddington, brings us the on-the- ground scoop about what is happening in the final days of the campaign. These snippets are intended only to give local flavor, see the rest of our election coverage for SRH perspective.

… Iowa phones are ringing off the hook.

Several odd poll-type phone calls have been hitting households in easternIowa. One of the calls begins by asking if the recipient thinks favorably of President George W. Bush. Regardless of the response, the next question is if the individual plans to attend the Republican caucus. If the answer is yes, the person is asked for whom they plan to caucus. If the person responds that he or she is not attending the Republican caucus, the caller then asks about Democratic caucus attendance. The call ends shortly after this answer, regardless of if the response is positive or negative.

A different call asks if the person who answers the phone plans to attend the caucus on Thursday night. No party information is requested, just a simple yes or no to attending any caucus. If the answer is no, the person is thanked and the call ends. If the answer is yes, the caller then asks if the person plans to stay home long enough to watch the first part of the Orange Bowl on television. Whether the answer is yes or no, the call ends after the question.

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At this time, it is unknown who is responsible for either of the calls. The first has been received by both Democratic and Republican households. The second has only been reported by Democratic households — although there could be Republican households who have received it. Most who have received the calls believe the first to be some sort of identification of candidate support on the Republican side of the aisle. The second was considered by the recipients to be something a bit more sinister. Perhaps providing information about a sporting event in an effort to lower caucus attendance.

Of course, in addition to these (and, no doubt, many other) poll-type calls, households of all political ilk are subject to automated calls from the campaigns that provide information on upcoming events and/or request support for a certain candidate. While some are done in the candidate's voice, many are being recorded by surrogates who might have local appeal.

… an extremely non-scientific poll (conducted by this journalist) of more than 50 politically-active Iowans indicates that 3 out of 10 no longer wash their hair out of fear that, when their eyes open, a presidential candidate will be standing in the bathroom.

Depending on your exact location in Iowa today, there are opportunities to meet Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Tomorrow, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is scheduled to join the fun.

Even former Assistant Secretary of State Alan Keyes has been stumping. Speaking to an audience of roughly 10 people at St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids this weekend, Keyes said that the nation is in the midst of another Civil War, a battle about abortion. He added that on this issue, he is the only candidate voters can trust to make the United States completely pro-life.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette, one of the state's largest daily newspapers, reported that Keyes also "seemed to suggest that America become a theocracy." Keyes is quoted as saying: "The issue is not whether Alan Keyes or Mike Huckabee believes in God. The issue is that we're a nation that requires respect for the existences of God. If we don't, we'll be destroyed as a people. That's a simple fact."

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani also campaigned briefly in Iowa over the weekend, telling supporters at his Clive campaign headquarters that he has been tested, is ready to lead and that the nation's focus should be on homeland security.

Arizona Sen. John McCain and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich have, for all practical purposes, abandoned Iowa in favor of the Granite State.

… Clinton's short visit to a Des Moines church leaves some Iowans rolling their eyes.

Iowans continue to react to the news, reported by the Associated Press, that Hillary Clinton, her daughter Chelsea, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and various members of the campaign staff went to Corinthian Baptist Church for roughly 20 minutes Sunday morning. The candidate spoke to the congregation, stressing the need for children to have a strong support system, and then left — before the pastor delivered the morning sermon.

When Rev. James Green took to the pulpit he said, "When I first got here I was a little overwhelmed. All the dignitaries came in. I thought they were going to stay for the service, but they're still campaigning."

The Associated Press notes that earlier in the year rival candidate Obama also made an appearance before the primarily black congregation. He also left early.

… Romney and Huckabee continue to exchange barbs, each in hope of pulling more caucus night support from Iowa social conservatives.

On NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday morning, Huckabee defended his record by labeling recent Romney attacks as distortions. Later in the day, Huckabee launched what Republicans might consider the biggest word-barb thus far. Huckabee compared Romney to George Costanza of "Seinfeld" fame, and quoted the character as saying, "Just remember, it's not a lie if you believe it." He further added that Romney "parsed his words… like former President Bill Clinton."

The harshness from Huckabee comes in response to a television ad by the Romney campaign that accuses the former Arkansas governor of pardoning 1,033 criminals, including 12 murderers; of being soft on immigration issues; and of raising taxes. Direct mail pieces and phone calls have also been used by the Romney campaign to draw attention to what they say is Huckabee's record.

Rumor has it that since the negative attention on Huckabee is beginning to reap dividends for the Romney campaign, the Huckabee crew took the better part of Sunday to shoot at least one new ad that will begin airing in Iowa today. Campaign insiders say "it's a doozie."

Meanwhile, over the weekend, an independent social conservative group, Common Sense Issues, has used the Romney campaign's own ad as a double-edged sword. The ad, a 30-second television spot, "Who can you trust?" opens with a laugh track and the same beginning as the Romney ad: "Two former governors. Both pro-life…" At that point, those old enough to remember record players and albums will recognize the scratch of the needle being slapped across the grooves. The ad goes on to attack Romney on his changed view of abortion and ask the viewer if trust doesn't belong with consistency.

It's worth noting here that the Huckabee campaign has publicly distanced itself from the group, citing their negative messages cause more harm than good. In mid-December McCain requested the New Hampshire attorney general investigate Common Sense Issues and accused the group of illegally conducting push-polls — asking questions not for a response, but to influence the recipient. The Romney campaign complained to the Iowa attorney general about the group, which they said was making calls that violated the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

In the type of "karma-listic" twist that sometimes happens in politics, however, the political ad company responsible for the calls, ccAdvertising, is the same firm Romney paid $53,755 on Aug. 9 for survey research in relation to the Iowa Straw Poll. Common Sense Issues employed ccAdvertising to place the calls to thousands of Iowans.

… the Kucinich campaign is sitting in New Hampshire and writing press releases based on what is printed by the Concord Monitor.

A press release was issued by the Kucinich campaign today, highlighting a news article in the New Hampshire daily that questions the sincerity of Edwards' invocation of Teddy Roosevelt. The article states that Alliance for a New America — "the labor-linked, pro-Edwards 527 that's been running ads in Iowa and spreading pamphlets in New Hampshire" — has ties to New York lawyer Alexander Forger, who holds power of attorney over Rachel Lambert Mellon, the 97-year-old daughter-in-law of industrialist and banker Andrew Mellon. The family is often one of three mentioned by Edwards when he describes the influence of special interest money in politics.

For its part, the Kucinich campaign writes it is "attempting to get clarification on these and other revelations disclosed by the Monitor today."

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