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Democratic rivals unfazed by Lieberman, Clark decision on Iowa

Dean, Gephardt running strong in state

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit

Joe Lieberman answers questions at a recent retirement center campaign appearance in Pembroke Pines, Florida.
Joe Lieberman answers questions at a recent retirement center campaign appearance in Pembroke Pines, Florida.

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Wesley Clark
Joe Lieberman
America Votes 2004

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The decision by Democratic presidential candidates Joe Lieberman and Wesley Clark to skip the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus January 19 caused nary a stir among their rivals Monday, but it could hinder their efforts to court voters in other Midwest states.

Spokesmen for Iowa front-runners Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt, the former House leader who first ran for president in 1988, said the absence of Lieberman and Clark will have little impact on their campaigns.

Clark, a retired general who is now criticizing President Bush's Iraq strategy, and Lieberman, the senator from Connecticut who was Al Gore's 2000 running mate, decided last weekend they will spend little, if any, time or money on Iowa. Instead, they plan to focus on key early-primary states like New Hampshire, which holds its primary January 27, as well as South Carolina, Arizona and Oklahoma, where Democrats vote February 3.

"I don't think it really changes our strategy. It's a Gephardt-Dean race in Iowa, and it will always continue to be a Gephardt-Dean race," said one Gephardt campaign official speaking on the condition of anonymity.

"Clearly, the election is going to be won in the Midwest and the Rust Belt, places where President Bush has been campaigning -- Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio -- places very similar to Iowa."

The aide noted that these are states where Gephardt is polling well, states with a lot of union members, blue-collar voters. "That's our big message. if you can win Iowa, you clearly can go into these other states and do very well," the aide said.

A Dean aide said the antiwar former Vermont governor is "not going to take any state for granted, and this doesn't change our strategy at all in Iowa."

Other campaigns offered similar reactions, noting that Lieberman and Clark, who joined the presidential campaign last month, had never polled strongly in Iowa. Consequently, their absence is unlikely to cause a dramatic stir in the race.

Lieberman aides tried to change the subject Monday, announcing they had added staff and opening new offices in New Hampshire and several February 3 primary states.

"With approximately 100 days left to go before the voters have their say, we are making the key investments necessary to ensure that Joe Lieberman will be the Democratic nominee in 2004," said the Senator's campaign director, Craig Smith.

In the weeks to come, the campaign plans to open four new offices in New Hampshire, a new headquarters in Oklahoma and has hired state press secretaries in Arizona, Oklahoma and South Carolina. With these openings, Lieberman will have 10 campaign offices in New Hampshire and two in Oklahoma.

Few presidential candidates have tried to bypass Iowa since the caucuses came to prominence in 1976, when Jimmy Carter used the state as a springboard to the White House

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