DES MOINES, Iowa, Jan. 19 — On September 2, 2003, Senator John F. Kerry stepped into the Grand Ballroom at the historic Hotel Fort Des Moines only hours after he had stepped on his own announcement tour message, embroiling his campaign in a "staff shakeup" drama that would haunt the Kerry camp for three long months. On Monday night, Kerry walked out of that same ballroom the upset winner, regaining the frontrunner status lost somewhere in Dean's hot summer. The Senator heard the first set of entrance poll numbers while traveling on the "Real Deal Express" from his final Iowa event to Urbandale High School, a bustling caucus site for 1,400 people.
Kerry waded his way through the crowd, signing autographs, posing for pictures and making one last pitch, "Help the undecideds," Kerry cried, "Don't let them get away!"
By the time the Senator reached Suite 1014 in downtown Des Moines, it was fast becoming clear that his 76 long days in the Hawkeye State were about to pay off. Kerry sat with his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry and his daughters Alexandra and Vanessa watching returns and failing to eat the room service his ever-faithful staff had ordered for him.
Sen. Ted Kennedy, who made three separate trips to the Hawkeye State in support of his junior Senator, sat nearby, along with numerous members of the Kerry staff, including turnout wizard Michael Whouley, ad man Jim Margolis, and concept creator Bob Shrum.
In a brief availability with his original press corps, Kerry heaped praise on Iowa for "giving America a lesson in democracy."
Pledging to take the fight to his native Northeast, Kerry pledged, "I'm a fighter. I'm here to win. And I'm going to take that message to the White House." The candidate mentioned a call he placed to Gephardt, the "gracious" conversation he had with Howard Dean, and several attempts to reach Sen. Edwards. The seemingly tired but clearly pleased Senator leaned back and commented, "It feels like comeback Kerry. I like it."
Kerry's campaign took a 2:00 am flight from Des Moines to Manchester with only 7 days to find out if New Hampshirites feel the same way.