Stumping until last minute of up-for-grabs Iowa race

The campaign has been one of the most unpredictable and complex - and time-consuming - in state history.

clinton iowa 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
clinton iowa 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
When Hillary Clinton took the stage at the Iowa Historical Society for her final appearance before Thursday night's first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, she began by telling the hundreds of cheering supporters crammed in on folding chairs, stairwells and even the museum gift shop a self-evident fact. "This is the last event in a wonderful, long campaign," she told the knowing audience, which has spent much of the last year following her and the other presidential candidates as they've traipsed through cornfields, factories and schoolyards in this rural Midwestern state trying to convince voters to back them in the vote that kicks off the party primary process. Indeed, the campaign has been one of the most unpredictable and complex - and time-consuming - in state history, but the most remarkable fact about it might be that after all of the time and energy Clinton and others have poured into it, ahead of Thursday night's vote it remained unclear who would win in either party. The small but politically active Jewish community was among those constituencies which evinced no clear favorite. Clinton, the early frontrunner in national polls and long the top Democrat here, has seen her running mates Barack Obama and John Edwards catch her, putting them in a statistical tie ahead of the vote according to polls. The polls themselves, however, were unclear, since it can be hard to accurately assess who will turn out at an event that lets people of any party vote - on the condition that they are willing to show up to appointed sites to cast ballots at what can be an hour-plus decision process. On the Republican side, Mitt Romney has also lost his lead in polls to Mike Huckabee, while John McCain - counted out months ago - has enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent days and could steal much of the media coverage by virtue of a stronger-than-expected finish ahead of the New Hampshire vote, the first primary scheduled for next Tuesday. "It's volatile. It's pretty much wide open on both sides," said Bud Hockenberg, who is active in the Jewish community and serves as the chair of Republican Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley's executive committee. "This is the most unusual [contest] I can remembers since 1952." That was the last time there were no incumbents or vice presidents in the race on either side, paving the way for a race with no presumed winner. McCain could benefit from Jewish support because Republican Jews tend to be less in favor of the staunch conservative stances on social issues espoused by Romney and Huckabee, while even Rudy Giuliani, who has skipped campaigning in Iowa and has polled abysmally here, could win their support because of his strong pro-Israel and national security stance. McCain and Giuliani are also less associated with religious affiliation, while Huckabee and Romney have made their Christian faith a central part of their campaigns. Republicans, however, were expected to see many fewer caucus-goers than Democrats, and independents were expected to largely attend Democratic caucuses. Both parties' caucuses took place after press time. That could help Obama, who has picked up support in the Jewish community as well as in the greater Iowa population as the campaign has progressed. "In the Jewish community there is no one candidate," said Paulee Lipsman, a former member of the Democratic National Committee and a long-time Iowa resident. "Some years it's none of the above. This year it's all of the above." She, as others have, attributed the fractured support to having so many strong candidates to choose from. In Iowa City, a left-of-center community affiliated with the nearby university, James Eaves-Johnson said that he senses Jews there were leaning more towards Obama, because Clinton was seen as too conservative among the liberal constituency, though he was backing her. Eaves-Johnson has also been active in trying to counter the efforts of pro-Palestinian groups there to pass a resolution at the caucus blaming Israel for not recognizing Palestinian rights. "I'm not seriously concerned. I don't think it will be major issue," he said of the resolution if it is presented. "But we have to be vigilant, because a lot is at stake if it becomes an issue of concern." He pointed out that considering the resolution will only come after the vote for the presidential candidates, he didn't expect outside interest in the subject to be great. "This can't be the most important issue for the people of Iowa City," he said. "It's going to be cold. It's already going to take a long time to deal with the presidential candidates and most people don't want to spend all night discussing issues that aren't the most pressing."