This is the last shopping day before Christmas, but if you’re an “undecided” Iowa Democrat, there are still 26 days remaining to choose a presidential candidate. Just four of the ten announced candidates are truly in the hunt for a win in Iowa’s January 19th Caucuses. Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt won here in ’88. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean has wound up at the top of the pack in recent polls here and in the rest of the country. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry has fallen way behind in New Hampshire, so he’s now focusing on Iowa, hoping to finish strongly here to get a bounce into New Hampshire’s contest. And North Carolina Senator John Edwards just last week completed a year-long tour of every county in Iowa. Des Moines Register political columnist David Yepsen says Dean and Gephardt are in a real fight for first here. Yepsen says Gephardt’s campaign is “very much the old Democratic party. It’s very structured and he’s very disciplined, according to Yepsen, who says that could be a great strength, but also its weakness. Dean this fall said he had a shot at winning Iowa. Now’s Dean says he must win here. Yepsen says Dean may have raised expectations too high. Yepsen says if Dean doesn’t finish first here, it’ll be seen as a set-back. Yepsen says Kerry has “decided to make his stand” in Iowa. Yepsen says Kerry is spending more time here, spending more money here, deploying more staff here, and honing a “sharper message.” Yepsen says those are all things that help a candidate in Iowa. Edwards, who is hoping to best Kerry and finish third, has focused his fire on President Bush rather than the other candidates. Other states scheduled their primaries and caucuses earlier in 2004 in order to dilute Iowa’s influence in choosing a party nominee, but Yepsen says it has had the oppositve effect and made Iowa more important. Yepsen says if a candidate doesn’t do well in Iowa, there’s no place else to recover. Yepsen says “the stakes have never been higher in a Democratic race than they are in this one.” The candidates are taking a few days off over the Christmas holiday, but all four intend to be back in the state either this weekend or on Monday.
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