Over at The Stump, Noam Scheiber mentions something that's become part of the John Edwards Iowa lore but which, it was pointed out to me over the summer, is not actually correct:
one reason people think Edwards is well-situated in Iowa (more so than the polls would suggest, in any case): He spent a lot of time organizing rural areas and small towns in 2004, which helped drive his second-place finish.
I've looked at the maps myself -- both private and public -- and have to agree that the idea that Edwards was the standard-bearer for rural Iowans in the last cycle is something of an Edwards campaign-generated myth. John Kerry won the Eastern and Western Iowa counties in 2004, both rural and urban, while John Edwards's second-place finish was driven by his success in those rural South-Central Iowa counties that are part of the Des Moines media market, as well as his strength in Des Moines. This map shows the counties won by Kerry, Edwards, and Howard Dean. This scaled map of the Edwards county wins, showing the power of winning each of the counties, shows even more clearly how his base of support was in the center of the state, while this scaled map of Kerry's wins shows a more even distribution of support throughout the state, and especially in the larger towns and rural hamlets in the Eastern and Western parts of the state.
What this means for the future is anyone's guess. As the Edwards folks told me on Saturday, they have 75 percent of their precinct captains statewide in place already. But that may be fighting the last war. Iowa is a momentum game as much as an organizational one, and it was Kerry who won late-deciders (though Edwards was very competitive with him among them) and new caucus-goers (PDF) in 2004. Whoever seems on the upswing on Jan. 3 who will probably do very well with them this time, too, and given the unusually large crowds that have flocked to campaign events in Iowa this year, I would not be surprised if the percent of first-time caucus-goers exceeded 2004's already high 55 percent.