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Jewish World Review Jan. 6, 2004 / 12 Teves, 5764

Roger Simon

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http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | DES MOINES It is Fish in the Barrel time, that period in the world of politics when the candidates for president crowd together in one state. For the next two weeks that state is Iowa, which holds its presidential nominating caucuses on Jan. 19.

You might be wondering why Iowa is bothering to hold caucuses since Howard Dean has already won the Democratic nomination

Well, the media got together and decided that even though Dean is leading in the polls, leading in money contributed, leading in volunteers signed-up and leading in profiles done of his campaign manager, actual citizens ought to be allowed to vote.

It is a nostalgia thing, I guess. Once upon a time in America the outcomes of elections where not known months in advance. (Back when George Washington promised wooden teeth to all Americans as part of his national health care plan citizens had to wait months and months for the votes, some of them on pieces of bark, to be counted.)

So we are going to let people vote in Iowa, first because it is the democratic way and second because it allows us political reporters to stay in fancy hotels and order cashews from room service.

We also will write a few stories along the way with headlines like "Can Dean Be Stopped?" and "Who Can Stop Dean?" and "If Dean Does Get Stopped, Who Can Stop the Guy Who Stopped Him?"

Of the nine Democratic candidates for president, seven are competing in Iowa and it is possible to cover several of them in a single day. On Monday, for instance, some reporters woke up and drove out to a Dick Gephardt morning event and then drove over to a John Kerry luncheon speech and then to a John Edwards afternoon rally.

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At each event, reporters asked the candidate the same question: "Why aren't you Howard Dean and what are you going to do about it?"

My rule of thumb for covering candidates is easy: If their events are on the skywalk, I go and if they are not, I watch it on C-SPAN.

The skywalk is a climate-controlled walkway system that stretches miles through downtown Des Moines and allows you to go from building to building without ever breathing fresh air.

It is very popular because the fresh air on many days in winter here is below freezing. Hotels, restaurants and other businesses are all connected by the skywalk. NBC had a debate in Des Moines several weeks ago and while the debate was on the skywalk, NBC toyed with the idea of making reporters leave the skywalk, go outside and enter through a separate press entrance.

This idea lasted for about five minutes, as reporters expressed the opinion that leaving the skywalk is like leaving the womb: Yes, you may have to do it some day, but you don't have to be in a hurry about it.

As I type this, it is 5 degrees in Des Moines, with the low tonight expected to be minus 2.

Fortunately, Howard Dean's hotel is on the skywalk and I was able to walk over there on Sunday and interview him in the lobby. At the end of the interview, he invited me to follow him around for the rest of the day.

Follow him around as in "outside" as in "out in the fresh air" as in "off the skywalk."

So who says Dean is humorless?

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