Obama In Iowa: Setting The Scene

SOMEWHERE IN EASTERN IOWA -- Sen. Barack Obama begins a two-day, five city swing through central and eastern Iowa and will resist the temptation to refer to, or defer to, the great big beast to his West: the specter of the Clintons, side by side, telling thousands of Iowans that Obama, in effect, is not qualified to be president.

Two dozen journalists, including Lynn Sweet, a dean of the Obama press corps, will accompany Obama for these two days. We're aboard the "Audacity One," a name I completely made up two seconds ago, and about halfway between Des Moines and Keokuk. Obama aides Josh Earnest and Tommy Vietor are keeping close watch on our cynicism and plying us with confections. (Yes, the journalists will be billed -- keep your hats on).

Obama's counterprogramming will be Seinfeldian -- it consists of nothing. Instead of major speeches, raucus message events and town halls, Obama will speak to what to him are fairly small crowds. They're billed as "grassroots" events and "family" events. He will keep his remarks brief and spend more time than usual working the ropelines. Town hall meetings are not Obama's forte -- in the immortal words of a fellow journalist, his turning radius on certain answers is akin to that of an aircraft carrier.

So instead of taking questions, Obama will take the time to meet Iowans one and one. Speaking of that number: smaller meetings are often the most efficient way to convince Democrats to caucus. Personal contact turns might-caucusers into definite-caucusers -- "ones" in the lingua franca of campaign operations.

Obama advisers claim that their candidate does not enjoy the same degree of name identification as John Edwards and Hillary Clinton -- and that these smaller, intimate visits help quench voters' thirst for knowledge about Obama. Aides to Clinton and Edwards scoff at the very notion that Obama has anything less than universal name identification among likely Iowa caucus goers. In December, it was true enough. But Obama's campaign launch generated more publicity than any other presidential candidate in history -- publicity reaching the level usually reserved for presidential nominees.

Certainly, these voters have more to learn about Obama than they do the other two. The campaign is airing biographical ads on television and radio and has started to target Iowa-based websites with internet video. Some 30,000 Iowans received a biographical video of Obama's life.

Here are some more numbers:

As of next week, his Iowa campaign will have almost 30 functioning field offices and about 40 full-time employees. 1,500 volunteers canvassed for Obama in Iowa in June, knocking on 30,000 doors.

Obama has so far visited 26 counties. (99 isn't the aim yet).

The campaign has held organizational meetings in all 99 counties.

Crowdwise, Obama attracted 10,000 to an April event in Iowa City and 6,500 to an event in Ames.