Local Democratic supporters gearing up for primaries


Published: Monday, January 19, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 19, 2004 at 2:31 a.m.

Bleary-eyed and cold, University of Florida adviser Chiara Anderson combed Des Moines, Iowa, neighborhoods Friday, knocking on doors and talking up Howard Dean, her choice for president.

She hit the ground running following an all-night flight in a small Cessna aircraft from Gainesville to the site of the first major presidential caucuses.

Anderson, and a group of about 10 Gainesvillians who drove to Iowa, are among some 3,000 or so Dean supporters from across the nation in the Midwestern state to canvass neighborhoods, make phone calls, stand on street corners and anything else to get the vote out today.

They are banking that their efforts will bring home a first-place finish

for the former Vermont governor.

"No other campaign has the force that the Dean campaign has here on the ground," said Anderson, confronting icy drizzle and bone-chilling daytime temperatures of about 30 degrees.

Even though Iowa has fewer people than Broward County and is criticized as not being representative of the country with a tiny black population, a win nonetheless brings bragging rights and free publicity.

With the Iowa caucuses upon them, local campaigners backing many of the Democratic presidential contenders are gearing up for two months worth of primaries and caucuses that likely will make or break their candidates.

While the Gainesville for Dean group is the only one known to have headed for the Hawkeye State, other candidate backers are eyeing critical primaries in New Hampshire on Jan. 27 and South Carolina on Super Tuesday, Feb. 3.

Chris Poynor, a UF political science senior who's organizing Gen. Wesley Clark's local campaigns - Gainesville for Clark and Gators for Clark - left with a handful of other Clark supporters for Columbia, S.C., Friday evening.

Poynor said his group will be meeting up with Clark supporters from Arkansas for some neighborhood canvassing. Today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Gainesville Clark supporters are expected to rally with Clark for a march to the state Capitol.

But they'll be watching what happens in Iowa.

"If Dean loses, then he will lose momentum," said Poynor, who at 23 ran then-Alachua County Commissioner Dave Newport's re-election campaign last year. "That could really put us in better standing."

But when he gets back to Gainesville, he'll be looking for some

recruits to campaign for Clark, the person he believes has the most breadth in foreign policy.

A group of Dean supporters from Gainesville are heading to South Carolina in coming weeks, too.

Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman has UF senior James Argento heading local efforts for his campaign.

Argento acknowledged local support for Lieberman has yet to be galvanized, but he believes a surge in support may come following the primary in New Hampshire, where Lieberman has better polling

numbers.

A couple of UF students are already in New Hampshire volunteering in Lieberman's campaign leading up to the primary a week away, Argento said.

Iowa's four-way race involving Dean, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards show there is no solid frontrunner in the presidential race, Argento said. That bodes well for Lieberman. The Rev. Al Sharpton and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich are considered longshots.

"We are trying to gear up and recruit people," Argento said.

No local organized campaigns are known for Edwards, Gephardt and Sharpton.

However, the former president of UF's College Democrats, Mark McCullough, is serving as a county organizer in Edward's Iowa campaign.

The start of a Kerry campaign group is beginning to form as a result of efforts by UF freshman Racquel del Castillo, who isn't even old enough to vote. She turns 18 this week.

She said she plans to travel to New Hampshire for some lessons on campaigning and recruiting, so that she can galvanize some locals around Kerry.

"You can see in the polls that people are starting to take Kerry more seriously," del Castillo said.

Kucinich backers say local support is growing for their candidate as well. Kucinich's state headquarters are in Gainesville.

Jerry Rose, the Gainesville coordinator for the Kucinich campaign, said he is extremely optimistic about his chances.

"If it were a two-to-three person race then I would say we didn't have a

shot," said Rose, a retired sociology professor from the State University of New York, who moved to Gainesville two years ago. "It's deadlocked in Iowa. I think it's going to be a long campaign."

Janine Young Sikes can be reached at 337-0327 or sikesj@ gvillesun.com.

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