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Calling all voters: Obama’s phone banks are at work

Californians, be forewarned: The phone calls are coming!

The state branch of Democrat Barack Obama’s presidential organization has publicized a tactic that most of the leading campaigns can be expected to pursue -- calling voters to remind them that they don’t have to wait to cast ballots in the nominating contests.

Debbie Mesloh, communications chief for the Illinois senator in California, noted in a recent release that absentee ballots for the state’s Feb. 5 presidential primary will start being mailed Jan. 7. Also, applications to vote by mail will be accepted until Jan. 29.

The calls in California urging early votes for Obama began Saturday.

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Clinton’s ‘don’t ask’ policy

As Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton traipsed through Iowa last week, she told crowd after crowd that it was “pick a president” time. At most of the events, though, that process did not include accepting audience questions.

Before the campaign’s brief Christmas break, the New York senator had been setting aside time after speeches to hear from the audience. But generally -- and in contrast to most other candidates -- she dispensed with public Q&As; after returning to the trail Wednesday.

Campaign aides said her jam-packed schedule in the buildup to Thursday’s caucuses precluded the extra time for exchanges with listeners. But the no-questions policy didn’t sit well with some of the Iowans who came to hear her speak.

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“I was a little bit underwhelmed,” said Doug Rohde, 46, as he left a midweek rally at a fire station in Denison. “The message was very generic -- and no questions.”

On Saturday, Clinton skipped questions at her first event but took some at her second -- which was held in the town of Clinton. One of the queries focused on Pakistan, and she used the occasion to scold President Bush. His dealings with the country, she said, have “put way too much emphasis on [President Pervez] Musharraf instead of dealing with broader Pakistani society.”

Doughnuts for undecideds

Democratic presidential contender John Edwards spent one morning last week engaged in classic “retail” politics -- knocking on some doors in Nashua, N.H., offering iced Christmas cookies, doughnuts and coffee (carried by his staff).

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Edwards, in jeans, hiking boots, a long black coat and no gloves, canvassed the neighborhood of one of his supporters, lawyer William H. Barry III, who said stops were being made only at the homes of undecided voters.

But the advance work by the Edwards staff apparently needs some tweaking.

At one cheerful-looking yellow house, the former North Carolina senator ran into some straight talk from Jim Mail, a Republican who is supporting Arizona Sen. John McCain.

But he had some tips for Edwards anyway.

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With a crush of reporters packed into his front hallway, Mail told the candidate he faced steep hurdles in New Hampshire from Barack Obama and “presumptive front-runner,” Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Said Mail: “Obama has done just incredibly well from somebody who came from . . .”

“From nowhere,” Edwards interjected.

“From nowhere,” Mail agreed, adding that Edwards’ challenge “is to differentiate yourself” from Obama and Clinton. He also opined that if the pair “eat each other alive,” then there might be an opening for him.

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“Only in New Hampshire,” Edwards said with a laugh. “This guy could be a political consultant.”

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Times staff writers Peter Nicholas, Seema Mehta and Maeve Reston contributed to this report.

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Excerpted from The Times’ political blog, Top of the Ticket, at latimes.com/topoftheticket.


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