Iowans for Clinton? Not Necessarily

Hillary Clinton is in. And she says she's in to win.

But to get to the White House you must pass through Iowa, home of the nation's first caucus, and Sen. Clinton heads there next week.

She has not visited the state since 2003, wary of sending a signal that she was running before she was ready. But Gordon Fischer, a lawyer and Democratic blogger at IowaTrueBlue.org, said she has been calling Iowans for quite a while, gauging support and asking questions about the caucuses.

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Clinton well ahead of the Democratic pack nationally. Forty-one percent of Democratic-leaning voters prefer her. Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards trail at 17 and 11 percent, respectively (margin of error +/- 4%).

But the picture is very different in Iowa. Among likely caucus-goers, Edwards is consistently in first place, with Obama, Clinton and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack vying for second place.

David Yepsen, longtime political columnist for the Des Moines Register, said Clinton's extended absence from the state means it will be harder to make up that ground.

"She's not put together any kind of ground game or organization," he said. "John Edwards and Tom Vilsack are way ahead of her on that front."

Edwards has been a regular fixture in Iowa since 2004, Vilsack is a hometown favorite, and Obama made multiple stops supporting candidates in the 2006 election.

According to Yepsen, Iowa Democrats like and respect Hillary, but they have one big reservation.

"They're just concerned about her electability," he said. "With caucus goers, electability is a huge issue. It's, 'Can you win?'"

Clinton's vote in 2002 granting President Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq may also hurt her in a state where, according to Yepsen, the Democrats tend to be doves. Clinton has not been willing to say she regrets that vote, as some other Democrats have, though she says it would never have come to the floor had Americans known then that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

For Iowa State University student Gavin Aronsen, that vote is all important.

"John Edwards voted for the war, but he's come out and repented more strongly, in my opinion, than Hillary Clinton ever has," he said.

Aronsen is active in Democratic politics, but said he is not planning on supporting Clinton. For now, he is leaning toward Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a candidate with a low profile but a strong anti-war message.

The Web site Facebook is starting to see groups devoted to particular candidates, and Clinton has three Iowa state groups with more than 50 members backing her. Five of those students are hoping for a Clinton-Obama ticket.

It requires more motivation and more commitment to caucus than simply to vote, which means it is harder to predict who will actually turn out.

Yepsen said this means Clinton needs to get out of New York and Washington, and start campaigning.

"She needs to get out of that celebrity bubble and get on the ground, start finding supporters," he said. "She's got an asset here, and that is that there are 100,000 to 120,000 people who show up at these caucuses among eight candidates. It only takes 20,000 to 25,000 votes. She needs to find 30,000 people to show up on caucus night."

And then, she'll just have 49 more states and a general election to go.

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