The closing moments of the 2004 Iowa Caucus campaign included rancor, rallies and a reunion of war buddies. Just hours remain in this race that seems to be going down to the wire, and the campaigns pulled out all the stops this weekend. Last night, Howard Dean’s wife, Judith Steinberg Dean, made her first appearance in the state, speaking at rallies in eastern Iowa. Dr. Dean said she hadn’t been with her husband as much as she’d like because she has a son in high school, a daughter in college and a medical practice with “patients that depend on me daily.” Dr. Dean, who still makes house calls on occasion, thanked Iowans for opening up their homes to her husband. The other Dr. Dean — the candidate — took some swipes at his competitors, reminding supporters that he began stating his opposition to the war in Iraq last spring. Dean said he “is so proud that other than Dennis Kucinich” he was the “only one running for president who stood up against the war in Iraq, not now but then.” One-quarter of Dean’s donors are under 30 years old, and Dean’s counting on legions of younger Iowans to Caucus for him tonight. For most, it will be their first Caucus. Dean said “now is the time to see if this enormous movement and outpouring of support from all over this country translates into votes.” Dean told his supporters they now have the chance to “prove it, or not.” On Saturday, Massachusetts Senator and Vietnam vet John Kerry was reunited with a man he saved 30 years ago in Vietnam. Retired cop James Rassman, a Republican, was a Green Beret back in 1969, when he was thrown into a river by an explosion on Kerry’s boat — an explosion that injured Kerry’s arm. He recounted his rescue Saturday at an event in Des Moines. Rassman says he grabbed onto a cargo net dangling on the front of Kerry’s boat, and Kerry came forward — under fire — and pulled Rassman on board. Rassman told Kerry he owed him his life and Kerry had his vote. Kerry said he was “overwhelmed” to hear Rassman’s story. Kerry downplayed his role in the rescue, saying “anybody would have done” what he did. “It really isn’t a big deal,” Kerry said. One of the big deal’s this wekeend was the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll, which showed Kerry had pulled out into first place by last Friday. Kerry said his campaign is moving because of the independence of Iowans who listen and try to find the person they can trust. North Carolina Senator John Edwards was second in the Register’s poll; Dean was third and Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt fourth. Gephardt downplayed all the polls. Gephardt told supporters the Iowa Caucuses are an unusual event, and it’s hard to get an accurate poll because you don’t know who’s coming out. Gephardt says there’s “never in the history of the Iowa Caucus” been a voter turn-out effort like the one his campaign has set up, with the help of 21 international unions, including the Teamsters. Gephardt said in 1988, when he won the Caucuses, his campaign “didn’t hold a candle” to his organization this time around. If Gephardt doesn’t win tonight, after he had declared he would win, it could be the end of his political career, and his wife, Jane’s chin wobbled as Gephardt closed one rally yesterday with these words. Gephardt told his supporters he doesn’t “care about bein’ president…need the job…or need the title.” Gephardt said “America needs a leader who comes from the life experience” he’s had. Edwards, who vaulted from single digits weeks ago to second place in the Register’s poll, was perhaps the most boyant of the candidates, kicking off the closing weekend with a pep talk for his troops. Edwards said there was “so much energy and excitement and momentum” behind his campaign because it’s a campaign not based on cynacism but hope. That’s the theme Edwards repeated in stop after stop this weekend, to packed rooms where backers spilled into the corridors. Edwards said it is time “to make Americans proud to be Americans again, to make them believe in what is possible.” Long-shot candidate Dennis Kucinich made a flurry of appearances throughout the state, too, and took out huge ads in Sunday newspapers.
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