Advertisement

She only has ayes for Biden

Times Staff Writer

Teri Hawks Goodmann is getting stressed.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. has just delivered an hourlong campaign speech to autoworkers at Dubuque’s convention center, and the presidential hopeful now faces a hurdle of fans wanting a picture, a handshake, a chat.

The furrow between Goodmann’s finely plucked brows deepens as time drains from Biden’s tight campaign schedule. Every time the senator from Delaware tries to pull away, another enthusiast appears.

“The nuns are waiting,” she says, wanting to take the candidate to his next destination without further delay.

Advertisement

This political volunteer knows about waiting.

For more than 20 years, she has nurtured the dream of a Biden presidency.

Goodmann is a longtime foot soldier for Biden on Iowa’s eastern frontier. She was there when he sought the presidency in 1987. Two decades later, she campaigns for him again in her hometown.

Dubuque, a historically working class city on the Mississippi River, has changed considerably since Biden’s last run for the Democratic nomination. Where sex shops and dive bars once stood, chic restaurants and a day spa have taken over. The view of the river is no longer obscured by graffiti-covered flood walls.

Advertisement

The city is still heavily Catholic in a heavily Protestant state. In its front yards, white plaster Virgin Marys watch over the shifting seasons. In its bars, black-and-white portraits of President Kennedy conjure up the past.

Residents -- descendants of Irish and German immigrants -- are so headstrong the city has been called “the state of Dubuque.” And few are as headstrong as Goodmann, 54. With just 14 days before the first contest of the 2008 race, she is still fighting hard for her long-shot candidate.

“Jostling with windmills,” she said. “I’ve been there before and won.

“Having said that,” she continued, “I’m not a cynic but a realist. It’s a difficult, difficult battle.”

Advertisement

When Goodmann first met Biden, she was taken with his youth and desire to change the world. Today she praises his maturity and accomplishments. His experience makes him the best candidate for president, she said, in explaining her commitment.

“I have never known Teri to do anything or to support anyone on the basis of political expediency or ambition,” said Chuck Isenhart, a John Edwards supporter and longtime Democratic activist in Dubuque who has known Goodmann for 20 years.

Four years ago, fewer than 3,000 of Dubuque’s 58,000 residents participated in the Democratic caucuses. To reach those precious few voters, the Biden campaign has turned to unpaid but dedicated loyalists like Goodmann.

Goodmann knows her community, its political mores and habits. She knows who married who, where they moved to and how they voted in previous elections.

Advertisement

“These people open doors politically, and these are serious caucus operatives,” said Biden’s national political director, Danny O’Brien. “They give us stature in the community.”

Every night, Goodmann gets on the phone, urging people to caucus for her candidate. Some are “persuasion calls” -- attempts to sway friends and acquaintances. Others are cold calls. Goodmann repeats Biden’s talking point that Iraq is “a boulder on the road” that has to be dealt with before anything else.

“From there, I let them talk and go in whichever direction they want to go,” she said. “I have wonderful conversations.”

She is passionate and persuasive -- essential qualities for getting people out on a winter night to debate politics with their neighbors.

Advertisement

“Teri is a connector, a maven and a salesperson all in one,” Isenhart said.

--

By the time Biden arrived at the convent more than an hour late, the nuns had given up and gone back to their rooms, leaving the dining room dark, chairs stacked in a corner. He had little time left in Dubuque, so it didn’t make sense to summon them back.

Unhappy but undeterred, Goodmann arranged for him to greet supporters at a downtown restaurant before seeing him off at the airport.

Advertisement

Goodmann, an assistant city manager, spends a few hours each day drumming up support for her candidate. She wanted to rally supporters before the caucuses, so a few weeks later she invited volunteers to a potluck-and-strategy session at her home in a tidy cul-de-sac.

It was early December, and Iowa was blanketed by an ice storm. Goodmann worried that the weather would keep people away.

But at 2 p.m., Helene McGee -- a 58-year-old farmer -- pulled up to the snow-covered curb outside the ranch-style house. Then a bevy of nuns (from another convent) rolled up and the living room began to fill with people. The nuns brought brownies. Goodmann made pasta and salad.

“Let’s eat first,” Goodmann told the crowd of about 25 people. “It’s better to do politics on a full stomach.”

Advertisement

Her mother, Charlene Hawks, 77, had come to help organize the volunteer efforts. Two women reminisced about Goodmann’s first political experience when she was a little girl: sitting on her father’s shoulders watching John F. Kennedy at a Des Moines rally. Later, her interest in civil rights developed into a passion for politics. After college, she joined the presidential campaigns of Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale.

When she had children herself, she taught them the importance of public service, taking them to political marches like her father had done with her. Today, political engagement runs strong in the family.

Goodmann’s daughter Ellen, 26, is Biden’s Dubuque field director. Her son, Edward, 22, and oldest, Emily, 28, also plan to caucus for Biden. Goodmann’s husband, an insurance agent, supports the campaign but is not as involved as his wife.

On this afternoon, she listened intently as one supporter talked at length about the Standing Timber Improvement Program, seemingly as interested in federal grants for tree conservation as in who would be caucusing at the Mt. Carmel convent in Dubuque.

Advertisement

After the volunteers had finished eating, they discussed how to target each neighborhood -- which voters to approach and what talking points to use. Ellen then outlined the areas still short on precinct captains -- the key neighborhood leaders responsible for corralling votes on caucus night. Dyersville continued to be a problem, but otherwise the Goodmanns had most of the Dubuque region covered.

Mike Griffin, 31, stood at the back of the room listening to the Goodmann women. He would probably sign up for precinct captain duties, he said afterward. “They know what they are talking about,” he said.

--

After the guests left, Goodmann ran the names of people still on her “persuasion call” list. She was sitting in the living room near a signed and framed poster announcing Biden’s first campaign. His book, “Promises to Keep,” lay on a coffee table, the inscription from the senator on its title page: “You’ve been a true friend and trusted advisor for a long time. But you’ve also been an inspiration for me in the race for president.”

Advertisement

In her basement, Goodmann keeps a video shot during a vacation years ago when her family stayed with the Bidens in Delaware, filled with idyllic images of children catching sand crabs on a beach. But her favorite keepsake, stashed in a drawer, is yellowing and bittersweet. The photo from the 1987 race shows the candidate on a white sofa flanked by Goodmann and her husband. The two men look into the camera but she is looking away, her attention drawn to something beyond the frame.

Their friendship had begun months earlier on New Year’s Day 1986, when Biden called Goodmann to ask for her support. She was already known as a dedicated Democratic activist.

Biden was 44, by then a 14-year veteran of the Senate. Goodmann, then 34, had just given birth to her second child. She was cooking dinner.

“He said, ‘Hello, my name is Joe Biden and I’m running for president,’ ” she recalled. With a low-key pitch, he talked Goodmann into volunteering.

Advertisement

In the months that followed, Biden raised more money than his rivals and became a top contender. But his campaign began to unravel during the fall of 1987. There were complaints of plagiarism, that he had borrowed too liberally from the speeches of Kennedy and Neil Kinnock, a British politician.

In October, he gave up his run. Goodmann and her fellow activists in Dubuque were devastated.

“We had it all going for us,” she said. “Disappointment is an understatement.”

For a long time, she couldn’t bring herself to look at another candidate, but she eventually ended up supporting former Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois.

Advertisement

A few weeks later, the stock market crashed. The farm crisis and the national recession hit Dubuque hard. The John Deere factory and the Dubuque Packing Co. cut thousands of jobs, and people fled the city.

“It was the season of despair,” said Rick Dickerson, the head of the Greater Dubuque Development Corp. and another longtime Biden supporter.

Goodmann refused to give up. While taking care of her growing children, she helped lobby for funds to renovate the riverfront and to build a $188-million National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, which helped pave the way for the city’s revival when it opened in 2003.

“What do they say, small dreams don’t inspire people? So we had to dream big,” she said.

Advertisement

As the years went by, Goodmann got involved in politics again, running several state and local campaigns. Occasionally, she tried to persuade Biden to give the presidency another shot. When he refused, she supported other candidates. Al Gore and John F. Kerry both came to her home in Dubuque during their campaigns. And as a member of Kerry’s state leadership committee in 2004, Goodmann helped deliver the city to him in a landslide.

When Biden decided to run again, Goodmann was thrilled.

When Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois asked for her support, she turned him down -- even though he had more money and better poll numbers. Her loyalty had lasted through the years. “I’ve never felt as strongly about any candidate,” she said.

--

Advertisement

On a clear November day, Goodmann came to the river to have lunch at the Star, a restaurant in an old brewery. Inside, she chatted with the owner, Matt Kluesner, a Republican, and warmly greeted “the union boys” -- Patrick Lynch and “Rosie” Rosenow -- both Teamsters and Biden supporters.

A woman approached her table. It was Marilyn White, a friend of Goodmann’s and a Biden precinct captain. Her daughter, Kelly Donovan, had worked on his first presidential campaign. “Didn’t he sound gorgeous last night,” she said, referring to the senator’s debate performance.

“Why can’t America see this -- he’s so smart,” White said. “I just love him to death.”

She left, and the waiter presented the menu: contemporary American.

Advertisement

Goodmann then gave her sales pitch, trying to persuade him to caucus for Biden.

The waiter would think about it, he said, and took her order.

“The name of the game is to inspire,” she said, and looked at the river.

--

Advertisement

louise.roug@latimes.com


Advertisement
Advertisement