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Dems Brace for Iowa Debate Showdown Tonight

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The following piece was produced by HuffPost's OffTheBus.

Des Moines, Iowa---Sleet, snow, and ½ an inch of ice blanket the streets of Des Moines, but tonight's Brown and Black Presidential Forum, featuring all eight Democratic presidential hopefuls, will go on as scheduled - and so will the candidates' ice spit ball throwing contest, including charges that the organizers of the event are stacking it with Clinton supporters.

Senator Hillary Clinton canceled one campaign event this afternoon in Norwalk, Iowa, and participated in the Heartland Presidential Forum via telephone at 1:30 P.M. at the Hy-Vee Hall in downtown Des Moines. She hasn't yet arrived in Des Moines.

"We're monitoring the weather situation closely," said Mark Daley, Clinton's Iowa press spokesman.

Clinton was in New Hampshire late last night and planned on flying into Iowa early today, but after two planes skidded off the runway, the Des Moines Airport shut down and is not expected to open until mid-afternoon. With a backload of planes waiting in Chicago to reach Des Moines, any presidential candidate not in Des Moines now is at risk of missing the important event scheduled for 7 P.M.

As the Clinton Iowa campaign staff sit nervously in their Des Moines office, no doubt, putting together a back-up plan just in case HRC can't make the forum, several press releases hit my email; one calling on Senator Obama to "take down his incorrect statement on Clinton's health care plan from his website."

In cyberspace, skies are clear and all lanes open for the tour de force mud slinging that is ratcheting up in these final days before the January 3 caucuses in this tight race between Senators Clinton, Obama, and former Senator John Edwards.

Obama and Clinton have been mixing it up for weeks now, including charges and countercharges of how experienced or inexperienced the other candidate is on foreign policy:

"If she wants to tout her experience of having visited countries, that's fine," the Illinois Senator said. "I don't think that Madeleine Albright would think Hillary Clinton was the face of foreign policy during the Clinton administration. But maybe she'll disagree with that."

In fact, Albright, a Clinton supporter, did disagree with Obama.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg which now seems to be roiling over the Hawkeye State in the form of a snow and ice storm that has shut down streets and caused numerous accidents on the freeway. and most residents fear a power outage with all that ice hanging heavy on utility lines.

All voters here are hoping for a thaw between the dueling the Dems though no one expects it anytime soon. The stakes are just too high.

Senator Obama will be attending the forum. He arrived here last night after first rejecting the Ex One Airport in the suburban of Ankeny because "the runway was too short for his private jet."

"Senator Edwards is just wrapping up an event at Drake University," said Iowa press spokesman Mark McCullough on a cell phone call this morning. "He'll be at the Brown Black Forum tonight."

Sharing the top three spots in the Iowa polls, Edwards, a wealthy trial lawyer, keeps his guns blazing against Clinton and Obama.

Just two days ago, he encouraged voters to require their presidential choice to sign a pledge "promising not to accept PAC or lobbyist money" and claiming that he's the only candidate on the field that "hasn't accepted PAC or lobbyist donations."

Obama's campaign was quick to clarify the record.

"That is incorrect. The Obama campaign doesn't accept PAC donations or money from lobbyists," said Bill Burton, National Press Spokesman for Obama, to OffTheBus in a short but succinct email.

Keith Dinesmore, Biden's communication director in Iowa, says, "I expect him to be in Des Moines for the Brown and Black Forum. I haven't been outside the apartment yet, what's it looking like out there?"

Answer: Like hell frozen over.

Senator Joe Biden continues to keep a tight lid on his propensity to open mouth, insert foot. He was home in Delaware last night and boarded a commercial flight to Des Moines hoping to arrive here before the 7 P.M. bewitching hour tonight.

Senator Chris Dodd is in Des Moines and already held an early morning meeting with firefighters. But come on, Dodd doesn't need the private jets used by the Clinton, Edwards, and Obama campaigns.

He moved his family here a few weeks ago, and lives just outside the downtown loop in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in town referred to as "South of Grand." But that hasn't stopped Dodd from a few jabs and email lobs to the press.

His latest was an email accusing Obama's campaign with "scheming to evade either the spirit or the letter of the rules" of the Iowa caucuses, after the Obama campaign sent a brochure encouraging college students who attend universities here to return from their home states during their winter break so they can attend the Iowa caucuses.

Tommy Vietor, Iowa press spokesman said, "Totally untrue. These are students who live in Iowa for 9 months of the year and according to the Iowa Secretary of State, they can participate in the caucuses and we're encouraging them to do it."

"Senator Dodd came to my poor neighborhood and spoke to a big group of Latinos and he spoke in perfect Spanish. He was very impressive," said Mary Campos, one of the forum organizers, has just turned 78 and known around town as the "Latina Queen" for her lifelong work with the growing Hispanic community.

Founders and organizers of the forum since 1984, Mary Campos and Wayne Ford denied in late Friday night interviews with OffTheBus that they are biased toward any candidate or giving preferential treatment.

Wayne Ford, an activist in the African American community and state representative with close ties to the Clintons from years past, said, "As you know, I not committed to any candidate before the forum. After the forum tomorrow - and not until 24 hours after the forum - I can make a decision. We want to keep the forum free from politics from the organizers. We want the forum to focus on the issues that most concern Black and Brown communities in our state."

Iowa is the 5th whitest state in the union. But, according to Ford, "We have 80,000 Blacks and about 80,000 Latinos in the state and this is a chance for all the candidates to speak to our issues."

The fastest growing demographic in Iowa is compromised almost entirely by Hispanics and Campos says immigration and education are the issues that most affect her community. There are Hispanic radio and television stations and newspapers now in Iowa.

"Columbus Junction (a small town on in Eastern Iowa) now has a majority of Hispanics there. They are keeping that town alive," says Campos.

"I haven't endorsed any candidate. We gave each candidate 50 tickets; 40 general seating tickets and 10 VIP tickets and the rest of the tickets have gone to the general public." said Mary Campos.

"The tickets are all gone and we're expecting a record breaking crowd of around 1200. The North High School Auditorium will be packed."

Of course, both Campos and Ford have their own stash of 'private VIP tickets' that they can give to whomever they choose and that's where the questions of preference for Senator Clinton started, but has not been confirmed.

Rumors are rife in this campaign and take on a life of their own, whether they're true or not.

"I'm thrilled with our Democratic candidates. I have great respect for all them. Bill Richardson is the first Latino presidential candidate" says Campos. She has known Richardson since his days in the Clinton Administration.

Despite his rising poll numbers in Iowa, Governor Richardson hasn't yet arrived in Des Moines for an event promised to be jammed with Latinos.

He was out raising money in other states for the last few days, trying hard to fund a race where all the oxygen - and jingle jangle - has been sucked out by the bright lights of the Obama and Clinton celebrity campaigns.

Tom Reynolds, spokesman for Richardson told OffTheBus today, "Governor Richardson is in Iowa right now. He attended a 9:30 A.M. meeting at Mercy Park Apartments with Democratic activists who braved the weather."

"Iowans are like the post office when it comes to politics. Neither rain, nor hail, nor sleet, nor snow, nor gloom of night will stay the couriers from their appointed rounds."

And with all that sleet and snow, the mudslinging has turned to ice spit balls which are sure to be flying around the North High School gym, whose mascot couldn't be more apt for tonight's big event: the Polar Bear.