So a week after Democrats complain about Al Gore's seeming unwillingness or inability to get excited about campaigning for 2002 congressional candidates, Gore decides that Iowa in October might not be a bad place to vacation.
A Democratic caucus source reports that Gore has committed to spending several days in the Midwest campaigning for House candidates. But as we reported earlier this month, he's limiting his appearances and seems focused on helping friends, rather than the party as a whole.
Much of Gore's quality time in the first caucus state of the 2004 presidential campaign will be spent on the hustings for John Norris, whose wife worked for Gore's presidential run in 2000. He'll also make brief appearances for several more candidates around the state.
Why Iowa? Now? Perhaps it's because other potential presidential candidates have been spending lots of time and money there. Despite the perception that Rep. Dick Gephardt, given his Midwestern roots, should have the caucus in the bag, everyone from Sen. John Edwards to Sen. Tom Daschle to Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has been traveling the backroads of the state for months. And plunking down lots of cash.
Daschle alone has donated close to $30,000 of his own PAC's money to Iowa Democrats and the party. Gephardt, too, has been campaigning heavily in the state, and Edwards paid the Iowa Democratic Party more than he had to for its mailing list. Dean has spent so much time there that rumor has it Vermont can no longer be considered his legal residence.
"He's fallen way behind just about everyone here," says an Iowa Democratic Party official of Gore. "If a caucus were held today, he'd probably still finish in the top three, but only because of name recognition. There is no well of affection for him as a candidate. By 2004, if others keep doing what they are doing, Gore might be surprised at how badly he has slipped."
On Friday, Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott held a party fundraising lunch in which he promised that the GOP would retake the majority. In tow, according to a Senate source, Lott brought along a pollster (who shall go unnamed) who backed up Lott's predictions. One problem: despite several weeks of positive news, many Republicans inside party headquarters and in the Senate campaign committee remain uncertain that they can win enough seats for a clear majority. This, because of remarkably close races in Texas and New Hampshire, both seats Republicans expect to hold, but which remain too close for comfort.
And then there is Colorado, where Republican Wayne Allard is said to be struggling mightily. "That's one state we weren't expecting would be trouble, and it is," says a GOP strategist. "If Allard loses in Colorado, and we don't pick up a Democrat seat somewhere along the line, then we're back to where we started: Democratic control."
Those who are less excitable than Lott say they are becoming increasingly annoyed by the former University of Mississippi cheerleader's cheerleading. "He shouldn't be pushing this too hard. He won't look good if his guarantees don't hold up," says a U.S. senator.
Two dates that may play out for the November elections: October 11, when retail sales figure for September are scheduled to be released, and October 21, when the index of leading economic indicators for September is made public. These, along with unemployment figures, are stats the White House is hoping will reveal at the least a stable economy leading into a period when voters most likely will be just beginning to seriously look at races in which they will pull the lever.
"The numbers don't have to be great to create the impression that things are on the uptick," says a Commerce Department source. "We just need them to be solid." You figure out what that means.
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