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Gephardt Aides Confident About Iowa

Two senior advisers to Rep. Richard Gephardt’s (Mo.) presidential campaign asserted Friday that he is well-positioned to defeat former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in Iowa, even as Dean’s campaign circulated a memo decrying the “desperate one-state strategy” of the Missouri Congressman.

“Howard Dean is the frontrunner” for the nomination, said Gephardt senior adviser Steve Elmendorf, who along with campaign manager Steve Murphy led the meeting Friday. “The best chance of anyone beating him is in Iowa.”

Dean spokesman Jay Carson acknowledged that “Gephardt is running a strong campaign in Iowa,” but added: “When you are only fighting and defending one front, it makes it easier to win on that front.”

The back and forth further solidifies the growing conventional wisdom that while Dean remains the favorite for the nomination, Gephardt has his Iowa campaign back on track and is given the best chance to deal Dean a blow in the state and possibly slow his momentum nationally.

“It’s a Dean-Gephardt race,” said one member of the steering committee. “That’s the way it’s shaping up. And they’re very happy with the way things are shaping up.”

The Gephardt gathering was “a combination of getting our supporters in D.C. to raise more money and recruit people to go to Iowa,” Elmendorf said.

It was attended by roughly 30 lobbyists who comprise Gephardt’s steering committee in the nation’s capital, and came just days after Dean shocked much of the political establishment by securing the backing of both the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Elmendorf and Murphy pushed back, according to attendees, noting that on the same day the SEIU and AFSCME news broke, Gephardt received the endorsement of the Iowa chapter of the United Auto Workers. The national UAW has pledged to stay neutral in the race.

As evidence of the campaign’s momentum in Iowa, Elmendorf and Murphy highlighted a Des Moines Register poll conducted in early November that showed Gephardt with a 27 percent to 20 percent edge over Dean.

Several surveys done earlier in the fall showed Gephardt and Dean in a statistical dead heat in the Hawkeye State.

“We think our position in Iowa is very solid,” said Elmendorf, and, according to several people who attended the Friday meeting, both Elmendorf and Murphy claimed the campaign is in stronger shape at this point than they were in 1988 when Gephardt won the Iowa caucuses.

“Dean has been the ‘buzz’ candidate since June, but his numbers still haven’t gone up in Iowa,” said one attendee.

The memo sent by Dean Iowa campaign manager Jeanni Murray also drew comparisons to Gephardt’s 1988 strategy but arrived at much less favorable conclusions.

“In 1988 Dick Gephardt ran the same campaign he has forged this year — run a one-state [Iowa] strategy focusing on labor and senior support, regularly launch negative attacks against your top opponent … and call him a Republican.”

In the 1988 Iowa caucuses, Gephardt’s main opposition was Illinois Sen. Paul Simon. In a December 1987 debate, Gephardt attacked his opponent’s economic plan with the famous quip, “Simonomics is Reaganomics with a bowtie.”

Gephardt went on to take 31 percent to 27 percent for Simon and 22 percent for then- Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. He dropped out before the Super Tuesday primaries.

“In 1988 Gephardt won Iowa but dropped out shortly after because he didn’t have any money and his one-state strategy severely limited his ability to succeed in any other states,” writes Murray.

“Iowa is the only place Gephardt is well-positioned,” added Carson. “Just like in 1988 that is not a strategy that can win the nomination or the White House.”

Not so, said Elmendorf, pointing out that Gephardt has a full-time director not only in Iowa and New Hampshire but also in six of the seven states that vote on Feb. 3 as well as Michigan, which votes Feb. 7. A Delaware state director will soon be hired, he said.

“Dean doesn’t have an office in South Carolina,” said Elmendorf. “I think South Carolina is a pretty important state.”

The Feb. 3 showdown in the Palmetto State has been cast as the potentially decisive contest, as it is the first contest in the South and the first featuring a substantial black vote.

Gephardt and Dean trail both Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) and retired Gen. Wesley Clark in most recent polling in the state.

Rhetoric aside, Gephardt and Dean along with Edwards are the only viable candidates attempting to participate in all of the early caucuses and primaries.

Both Clark and Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) pulled out of Iowa recently, citing an inability to build the grassroots network necessary to win in the state. Each has focused resources on New Hampshire, though Dean holds a commanding lead there with Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) a strong second.

Ed Henry contributed to this report.

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