Monday, January 19, 2004

Proof, If You Needed It: As Iowans go to caucus, should we believe the famously unreliable polls that attempt to divine what voters will do? For example, is Howard Dean really in freefall? One item worth noting in that regard is that the famously absent Mrs. Dean showed up in Iowa over the weekend. From the NY Times:
Dr. Dean returned Sunday afternoon to Davenport, Iowa, to appear alongside what his campaign billed as a real surprise guest campaigner: his wife, Judith Steinberg Dean. It was her first campaign appearance with Dr. Dean this year and her first ever in Iowa, and it came at a time when polls and interviews with voters signaled that support for Dr. Dean was declining.
Sounds like the numbers the Dean campaign are coming up with match that Zogby poll that shows Kerry leaping ahead. Remember that Dean said he wouldn't drag his wife onto the campaign trail . . . unless, of course, he's getting his ass kicked.

There's more evidence that Kerry's latest boost is real, and that his competitors' internal polling numbers back it up. Remember that if you tell a candidate, "Gallup says this, NBC says that," you'll likely get a yawn. Candidates are constantly working over the numbers themselves, and they are more srupulous about culling the crap from their surveys. But the sudden spate of attacks on Kerry indicates that the internal numbers have Dean and Gephardt worried:

Two other candidates, Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt, circulated to reporters on Friday comments Kerry made five years ago indicating he would drastically scale back the U.S. Department of Agriculture and revamp farm subsidies.
Kerry's take?
"It's obvious that my campaign is moving because two of the other candidates have chosen in the last few days to engage in a smear effort on my farm policies," he told supporters.
That's the purest, most self-serving drivel you're ever going to hear. By coincidence, it's also true.

So, at 8:00 pm Eastern time, it's still a jump ball in Iowa as far as anyone can see. The conventional wisdom has it that Kerry's forces on the ground are too weak to get out enough votes to make his caucus results match his poll numbers. Dean and Gephardt, they say, have armies of workers ready to knock on doors, offer rides, hand out cookies, whatever. There's some truth to that. It may not be the whole ballgame, but in Iowa, I wouldn't bet against the candidate with the best grass roots effort. (More: Viking Pundit agrees, but his head is clouded by the AFC Championship.) The problem is, you can't tell who had it until the results are in.

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