FORT DODGE, Iowa — Bad poll numbers, enthusiastic rallies: These are mysterious days in Illinois Sen. Paul Simon's Democratic presidential campaign.
"I've been in politics a long time, and you just learn to get a sense of things," Simon said in an interview on his campaign plane Tuesday night.
"When you see a crowd like that, you can sense something is happening out there," he added, referring to a rocking crowd of 300 supporters in Fort Dodge who had just urged him on to victory in next Monday's caucuses.
Several new polls show Simon--once the leader in Iowa--now running third to Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt and Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.
Simon is used to defying last-minute polls--all of them had him losing just before he won his 1984 U.S. Senate race in Illinois.
"What the polls don't pick up is the depth of commitment to Paul, and that will be critical to getting people to attend the caucuses on a cold night," said Simon Press Secretary Terry Michael.
And indeed Simon, an unpretentious man with a consistent record of supporting social programs, appears to engender deep affection in his supporters.
One hundred of them turned out to see him in a blizzard Wednesday night in Fort Madison.
"Paul was endorsed by the Des Moines Register for the same reason we all support him--his positions on the issues don't change," Kim Motl, chairwoman of the Webster County Democrats, said at the rally.
Simon told the crowd: "I don't know if there will be any more polls published before next Monday, but don't pay any attention to them.
"I mean this from the bottom of my heart: If you will make that extra effort for me on Monday, I will do a job as President that you will never be ashamed of."
Gets Overflow Campus Crowd
He said the same thing Wednesday to a cheering, overflow crowd of 1,000 at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. By comparison, Gephardt drew 300 Tuesday at the same site.
The press, meanwhile, keeps talking about new polls showing Simon far behind Gephardt, and this has Simon and his staff scrambling to keep reporters from writing off the campaign.
"Things are definitely turning our way," Press Secretary Michael announced Wednesday. New polling by the Simon campaign, he said, had found that a large number of potential caucus-goers were aware that Simon was endorsed last Sunday by the Register, Iowa's most influential newspaper.
But when asked if the respondents had been persuaded by the endorsement, Michael suddenly grew vague and stared out the van window at the snowy Iowa landscape.
"Look, all I can tell you at this point is that I feel very good this morning," he said, adding that the campaign is so convinced of the power of the endorsement that it will be the subject of Simon's final TV commercial.
Meanwhile, another approach is being tried in Simon's new radio ads--an attack.
Radio Spots Target Gephardt
These spots, which began today, remind listeners that the Gephardt seen in television ads promising to fight for the average man is the same Gephardt who voted for the 1980 grain embargo and for Reaganomics in 1981, both of which caused pain in Iowa and other parts of the Midwest.
Simon opposed the grain embargo, as well as the Reagan tax cuts and shift in spending priorities toward defense.