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Bayh Upping Iowa Outreach

A key adviser to Sen. Evan Bayh has huddled recently with several top Democratic operatives familiar with Iowa politics to discuss the dynamics of that state’s presidential caucuses, the latest sign that the Indiana Senator is an all-but-announced 2008 candidate.

Linda Moore Forbes, Bayh’s deputy chief of staff, has also met briefly with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) to gauge his commitment to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) for 2008 as well as to pick his brain about recruiting Members to back a presidential effort, according to informed sources.

“It’s never too early to lay groundwork, as grotesque as that may sound,” Democratic consultant Jim Jordan said of the moves. “It’s no coincidence that the three Democrats who were most successful in ’04 — [Massachusetts Sen. John] Kerry, [former Vermont Gov. Howard] Dean and [former North Carolina Sen. John] Edwards — were the three who started the earliest and worked the hardest.”

Forbes may have learned that lesson during the last campaign, when she served as political director for Edwards’ vice presidential effort. She also served in that capacity during the Clinton administration.

The increased level of behind-the-scenes activity by the Bayh team coincides with an accelerated level of public visibility by the Indiana Senator in Iowa and New Hampshire — the two states all but certain to be at the top of the order in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Bayh will visit Iowa from Aug. 2 to 4; among the events on the schedule is an Aug. 2 fundraiser for 3rd district Rep. Leonard Boswell (D), one of the power brokers in the caucuses, although he chose to remain neutral in 2004. The gathering, which is being held at the Trattoria restaurant in Des Moines, is being hosted by Tom Henderson, chairman of the Polk County Democratic Party.

In June, Bayh addressed the Greater Des Moines Partnership during the group’s visit to Washington, D.C. Another Bayh trip to Iowa in the fall remains a real possibility, according to those familiar with the Senator’s schedule.

Bayh also spent July 10 and 11 stumping in New Hampshire — a visit that included a fundraiser for the state Senate caucus — and is making plans to return to the Granite State later in the year.

Outside of Iowa and New Hampshire, Bayh has made appearances in Wisconsin, Ohio, California and Colorado since the start of the year.

Bayh is scheduled to speak at the Democratic Leadership Council’s National Conversation on Monday in Columbus, Ohio.

Such a busy schedule places Bayh among the most active would-be candidates on the Democratic side — along with Kerry and Edwards.

The 2004 ticketmates each have a full-time staffer stationed in New Hampshire to gain experience and watch over their interests in the state.

Even Clinton — the odds-on favorite in 2008 — has gotten into the act, hosting a fundraiser at her home in Washington for Iowa donors.

Bayh allies insist that he is not putting specific emphasis on the Hawkeye State — and its likely first-in-the-nation caucuses — but some neutral observers believe given his geographic proximity, a strong showing is a must.

“If the calendar remains close to what it was in 2004, it is hard to imagine he wouldn’t have to get off to a great start in Iowa,” said one unaffiliated Democratic strategist about Bayh. “It is hard to imagine he would stumble in Iowa and have a resurgence in New Hampshire.”

John Norris, who managed Kerry’s successful caucus campaign in 2004, offered a differing viewpoint, arguing that Bayh’s roots in Indiana would neither help nor hinder him in Iowa.

“I don’t think Iowans view Indiana as enough of a geographic connection,” he said, adding that Bayh “is pretty undefined to most Iowa Democratic caucusgoers.”

And, Norris said, all of the calculus about Bayh could go out the window if Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) decides to make a national bid, a move that could turn the caucuses into a rout, much as they were for Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) in 1992.

“Depending on what Vilsack does everyone has to keep Iowa in play,” said Norris.

Few operatives quibble with the aggressive activist approach that Bayh and his team have adopted toward the 2008 nomination process especially in Iowa.

“For someone who has never run in the Iowa caucuses, it is never too early to start,” said one party strategist familiar with the state. “It’s why [former Missouri Rep.] Dick Gephardt won there in 1988. He went there incredibly early and often.”

Gephardt was a little-known Democratic Congressman 17 years ago when he shocked the political establishment by winning in Iowa over several household names; the Iowa caucuses also ended his political career in 2004 when after a poor showing he dropped from the presidential race.

The strategist added that at this stage in the presidential race, activists are often getting one-on-one phone calls or personal audiences with a candidate, experiences that they may well remember fondly in two years.

Activists are considered essential to a winning effort in Iowa, as they can help put together call lists for a candidate as well as organize local events to help build grass-roots momentum.

One high-level operative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, argued, however, that the 2004 caucus results showed that organization alone is no longer enough to deliver a victory in the caucuses.

Though Dean and Gephardt were widely acknowledged to have the most ground troops, they finished third and fourth, respectively, in 2004.

“You need an organization, but you are not going to win on the backs of an organization alone,” said the source. “You need to have momentum at the end.”

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