Indianola, Iowa - On the last full day of campaigning before Thursday night's caucuses, Senator Hillary Clinton and her Democratic rivals John Edwards and Barack Obama feverishly scurried across the state trying to round-up and convince whatever undecided voters remain.
"We're driving down the field, we're in the red zone, and it's first and goal," said former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as he introduced Clinton to a crowd of supporters at a Methodist Church Wednesday morning.
In a tightly choreographed event aimed at softening her image and appealing directly to what the locals call "Iowa Nice, " Clinton appeared before the crowd accompanied by her aging mother Dorothy Rodham and her publicity-shunning daughter, Chelsea Clinton.
Today's campaign set-piece was also decorated by a short appearance by film and TV stars Ted Danson and wife Mary Steenburgen. "Apart from my mother, Hillary has inspired me more than anyone else," said Steenburgen, a close Clinton family friend for 30 years. The campaign meeting briefly took on the air of an Oprah show as Steenburgen confided that Clinton "does great girlfriend" and said that the former First Lady also "has a great raucous belly laugh. Even a little dirty." Steenburgen then rushed to add that Clinton was also "a person of pronounced faith."
The soft-sell heard on stage in the crowded church venue, clogged with supporters and a small army of media, is consistent with the closing themes of the Clinton campaign. While the other two main candidates are daydreaming about pie-in-the-sky-change, Clinton has been suggesting that only she is ready to get down immediately to the nitty-gritty of pragmatic problem-solving.After warning the crowd, as she has been doing all week in every appearance, that the world to be inherited by the next president will be "uncertain...unpredictable...and dangerous," Clinton burnished her own foreign policy credentials by claiming credit for helping to solve the conflict in Northern Ireland and for speaking up against oppression in China during the 1990's. "I was so honored to represent you by traveling to 80 countries," she said, directly suggesting she had much more foreign experience than her rivals. With polls showing Clinton either a handful of points behind Barack Obama or just a point or two ahead of him and Edwards, every warm body that can be lured into a caucus site counts. All the candidates were in a mad hunt to capture them.
As Clinton was speaking in the church thirty miles south of the capital of Des Moines, Edwards was two-thirds his way through a 36-hour, no-sleep marathon bus tour. that had him stopping in to shake hands in small, frozen rural hamlets through the middle of the night. Edwards will be arriving in Des Moines early Wednesday evening to rally volunteer staff working the phone banks at a steelworkers' union hall. He'll crown his campaign with a John Mellenkamp concert later Wednesday in the capital. Obama and Clinton are also staging massive closure rallies a few miles apart from each other in the capital tonight. Obama snaked through a grueling schedule of events Wednesday beginning with an early morning rally in the eastern town of Dubuque.
The three top Democratic contenders have all purchased statewide TV time for Wednesday night. Clinton bought two minutes during prime time local news shows to air an appeal that ends with her saying: "f you stand with me for one night, I will stand up for you every day as your President. I'll work my heart out to bring the country we love the new beginning it needs, and I will be ready to start on day one."
Edwards will use his minute of purchased air time to continue his heightened economic populist message by having a worker who lost his job in a Maytag plant shut down talk about his meeting with the candidate.
All of the campaigns are pulling out the stops in providing resources to get Iowans physically into the caucus rooms tomorrow night. Gerri Conard, an 86 year old resident of Edale who attended this morning's Clinton's event, says she has been "insistently" called by numerous campaigns offering to transport her to the caucus. She says she has decided to accept Clinton's offer. "I've been volunteering for them so I think it's fair if they volunteer for me," she said.