The Clintons In Iowa: Some Perspective

DES MOINES -- Ahead of last night's event, the campaign distributed 3,500 tickets, and the crowd bulged through the hay barriers set up to contain them all.

A Clinton aide said that campaign volunteers had counted at least 7,000 attendees.

But the old press hands in the pack were skeptical : they estimated the size of the crowd to be a bit less -- about 4,000. Still, that’s at least 4,000 names that will go into the Clinton campaign’s massive central database.

To enter the theatre in the round where the Clintons spoke, your typical Democrat had to pass through a barrage of eager Clinton volunteers telling them they couldn’t proceed any further unless they signed in. The sign-in cards included space for the supporters to mark whether they planned to caucus for Hillary. Presumably, if they circled “yes” – they’ll receive more literature and telephone calls from the Clinton campaign.

What’s remarkable about a crowd this size is that it is not so remarkable anymore. To the Clinton campaign, like all the hottest new acts, Barack Obama attracts larger crowds. But the Clintons are in some ways the Billy Joels of the Democratic Party; 4,000 is most respectable and certainly sufficient. For the Clintons, and for the Iowa caucuses generally, quality matters more than quantity. A good precinct campaign with a nimble mind and knowledge of the rules can be worth a dozen caucus goers.

The Clinton campaign refuses to say how many full time Iowa staffers they employ (I estimate about 35 to 40), how many voter contacts their volunteers have made, how many day-long canvasses they’ve held. The less their combatants learn about their plans, the better. I can tell you how many field offices the campaign has opened to date: about a dozen.