John F. Kerry brought a Kennedy here Saturday to help on the campaign trail. Howard Dean had Al Gore and Iowa’s most influential Democrat at his side. Dick Gephardt planned to counter with a Kennedy of his own later in the week.
Eight days before the Jan. 19 caucuses, the Democratic presidential candidates fanned out across Iowa to rally supporters, elbow their way into local news coverage and plead with the undecided partisans who will help settle what looks to be a tight contest.
To cover 99 counties in a state that spans the broad plains between the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, the leading contenders called in surrogates, political celebrities and grass-roots troops from labor unions, college campuses and neighboring states.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) joined with Kerry, his home-state colleague, in a swing through eastern Iowa aboard a bus dubbed the Real Deal Express.
At Davenport’s Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds, Kennedy recounted an exchange with Kerry before the day’s first campaign event. They were at the back of the hall in the cattle-scented fairgrounds, and they could hear the chants of supporters inside.
“I said, ‘John, you know, when you were a young man, did you ever think that you would grow up and be a war hero fighting in Vietnam and get elected to the United States Senate and then be a candidate for the presidency of the United States?’ ” Kennedy told the crowd. “ ‘Did you ever think that?’ And he said, ‘No, aren’t I lucky?’ ”
Kennedy continued: “And then (Kerry) said, ‘Let me ask you something. When you were a young man, did you ever think that when you grew up that you would be the uncle-in-law of an Austrian bodybuilder Republican governor?’ So I said, ‘No, aren’t I lucky?’ ”
Beyond the banter about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and his wife, Maria Shiver, Kennedy reminisced about the successes his brothers, John and Robert, found in Iowa in the presidential campaigns of 1960 and 1968, respectively. He also mentioned his loss in the 1980 caucuses, when he was challenging President Carter for the Democratic nomination.
“When you all go out [on caucus night] and get together and send those delegates to vote for John Kerry, it’ll be three out of four,” Kennedy joked.
Gephardt had a ready answer for the Kerry campaign: Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.). The senator’s son was due in Iowa to stump for the Missouri congressman this week.
On Friday, Gephardt’s successor as House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, campaigned for him in Des Moines to kick off a surrogate movement called Gephardtpalooza.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Burbank was another Gephardt backer en route to the state.
Gephardt on Saturday carved an arc across northern Iowa, packing in six speeches from Independence to Fort Dodge.
He promised health care for all in exchange for repealing President Bush’s tax cuts.
To counter charges from Kerry and others that his repeal plan would hurt the middle class, Gephardt named couples in his audience who he said would reap a benefit of hundreds of dollars each year through his proposal.
Gephardt also sought to keep up the pressure on Dean, who polls show is ahead in Iowa.
He accused the former Vermont governor of failing to answer why he had disparaged the Iowa caucuses in a Canadian television interview in 2000 as a forum dominated by “special interests.”
Dean, after the interview surfaced Thursday, recanted his words, saying he had learned to appreciate the value of the caucuses in the last year.
Gephardt pointed out that Dean had stumped for him in eastern Iowa during Gephardt’s first run for the presidency in 1988.
“Howard Dean simply doesn’t get it,” Gephardt said in a statement issued during a stop in Waterloo. “After campaigning for me in Iowa, he left the state thinking that the process was controlled by ‘special interests.’ He met with caucus participants and he said they represent ‘the extremes.’ Who are these extremes?... I still haven’t gotten a clear answer to who these ‘special interests’ are.”
Dean sought to capitalize on endorsements from Gore, the 2000 Democratic presidential nominee, and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who announced his choice Friday. Dean appeared with both at a large rally at the University of Dubuque.
The three men came onstage in an auditorium with their joined hands raised above their heads. Smiling broadly, they slapped high-fives and squeezed each other’s shoulders.
Gore, who crisscrossed Iowa Saturday stumping for Dean, offered a full-throated testimonial. The former vice president said he was impressed by Dean’s ability to energize voters and his opposition to the war in Iraq.
“He had the good judgment and he had the courage to stand up and say to President Bush and Vice President Cheney, ‘This is wrong, it’s a mistake, I’m against it. I don’t care how many others are for it, it’s the wrong thing for our country,’ ” Gore said as the crowd cheered.
Dean seemed overwhelmed by the company he was keeping.
“I have to admit this isn’t something I feel very often, but I’m a little intimidated standing on this stage,” he said. “These are two extraordinary people.”
Saturday night, four candidates -- Dean, Kerry, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio -- converged on Cedar Rapids to address a Democratic dinner.
Times staff writer Scott Martelle contributed to this report.