DES MOINES - A week ago, the combatants in what's already the longest, most grueling presidential campaign in history observed a two-day Christmas truce, shutting down their operations in deference to the holiday.
Not so for the new year.
With just three days to go until the Iowa caucuses, six Democrats and three Republicans continued to swarm across the state Monday until the late hours and planned to resume New Year's Day after an abbreviated night's sleep. Their TV ads continued to bombard Iowans, with as many as a half-dozen crammed into a single commercial break, and they continued to stuff mailboxes across the state with campaign literature.
The races in both parties remain too close to call and all of the campaigns were breathlessly waiting for the final precaucus poll to be published by the Des Moines Register, results that became available late Monday night.
Never before has the presidential campaign collided head-first into the holidays the way it has this year. The arc from Christmas to the new year had been a politics-free zone until this year, when Iowa and scores of other states moved their primaries and caucuses into the first weeks of the year.
So the campaigns, with so few days left to spare until Thursday, came up with varied strategies to deal with New Year's Eve.
Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama planned to spend Monday night privately with their families in Des Moines (although Obama was scheduled to hold a conference call with staffers across the state just before midnight).
Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd planned to hold a low-key gathering in Dubuque, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was scheduled to spend the evening with family members in Waterloo and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson planned to end up in Des Moines after a day of campaigning.
Bigger bashes were planned, for those Iowans with the appetite to mix politics with their New Year's Eve celebrations.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was scheduled to hold a blowout at a ballroom in West Des Moines, featuring actor Chuck Norris.
Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor, booked three local bands for a New Year's countdown at a downtown hotel.
And New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, with her husband, Bill, in tow, planned to host a party in downtown Des Moines featuring the band Big Head Todd and the Monsters.
What the poll said
Before the new year rang in, the Des Moines Register released results of its final precaucus poll: Democratic leaders: Obama 32 percent, Clinton 25 percent, Edwards 24 percent. Republicans: Huckabee 32 percent, Romney, 26 percent.
The biggest party, however, may have been the news media bash ("Raucous Before the Caucus") that had been jointly planned for Monday night by the state Democratic and Republican parties. Five hundred or more journalists were expected to attend.
The final week of the campaign, falling over the holiday week, has attracted more than just local political junkies to the trail. Several people at candidates' events said they showed up as much for the celebrity value as for the politics.
Dave Prolo, of San Clemente, Calif., is in town because his oldest daughter is in a local Rockettes production playing for three weeks in downtown Des Moines.
"We've caught Mitt and Rudy and Huckabee and we'll try to get a couple of the Dems before we have to go home," he said. "This is so great for the kids to see, these guys up close like this. By the time they get out to California, half of them will have dropped out and you could have never gotten this close to any of them.''
Bob von Sternberg • 612-518-3182