The campaign trips to Iowa are becoming more frequent, the pleas to voters more urgent and the potential for coming up short more vivid. The three-month sprint to the Iowa caucuses begins Friday with more than a dozen Democratic presidential candidates making their increasingly urgent pitches at the state party's marquee annual fundraiser, the AP reports. Fourteen White House hopefuls are scheduled to speak to the more than 13,000 Democratic activists, party volunteers and campaign supporters expected to convene in Des Moines for state party's Liberty and Justice Celebration. The event, the largest gathering of Democrats in an early voting state, is so big that it serves as something of a dress rehearsal for the Feb. 3 caucuses. The evening ushers in a critical chapter of the campaign: Candidates must move beyond simply introducing themselves and focus on perfecting a grassroots strategy to ensure their supporters show up at the caucuses.
"This dinner is an epic moment," said former state Democratic Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky. "It kicks off an entirely different phase of the national campaign." The damp, chilly streets of downtown Des Moines buzzed Friday with the intensifying campaign. Candidates' supporters waved signs at busy street corners and congregated in chanting droves outside Wells Fargo Arena, where the evening event takes place. The candidates can look to history for reassurance that a strong performance at the dinner can change their campaigns. In 1999, Al Gore effectively blocked Bill Bradley's advance with the chant during his speech "stay and fight," a nudge at Bradley for leaving the Senate. Four years later, John Kerry held off a challenge from Howard Dean at the event. And Barack Obama in 2007 took on front-runner Hillary Clinton by declaring "triangulating and poll-driven positions ... just won't do."
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