CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA — They are the basic chores that can make or break a political candidate: identifying likely supporters, getting them excited and making sure they turn out when it's time to vote.
And as the Democratic presidential campaigns focus on the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, Hillary Rodham Clinton has a major advantage: Three organizations outside her campaign are lending a big helping hand with those difficult and expensive tasks, pouring more than $2 million and an army of fresh troops into the last-minute push. The outside effort, much larger than any being mounted on behalf of a rival campaign, is led in large part by EMILY's List, the nation's largest political action committee and a significant force in Democratic politics. Allied with it are the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers.
The unions are supporting pro-Clinton radio and television advertising and direct mail contacts with targeted voting groups. Separately, AFSCME has dispatched more than 200 paid workers to Iowa. The fly-in gives Clinton about twice as many such workers in the state as rival Barack Obama, officials of his campaign say.
EMILY's List also is trying a new technique developed with the help of Google to reach female voters there, especially those who are unsure how to navigate the state's complex caucus system. Whenever someone in Iowa searches online for "recipe," "stocking stuffer" or "yoga," for instance, a banner will pop up inviting the searcher to visit a website supporting Clinton.
How much effect the last-minute infusion of money and other resources will have is unclear, but the effort has stirred concern in the Obama campaign. "When you are in a tight race like this, any- and everything matters," said Obama's field director, Steve Hildebrand.
The effort by EMILY's List and the two unions reflects the increasing importance of so-called independent expenditures, in which groups officially independent of a particular campaign pay for advertising, consulting fees and other expenses that might otherwise be covered by the candidate. Such spending is on the rise in both Republican and Democratic campaigns.
And such groups can accept more in donations than a candidate can. Individuals may give no more than $2,300 to a candidate per election, but they can give $5,000 to independent political action committees like EMILY's List. So long as the outside groups avoid "coordinating" their efforts with the favored campaign, federal rules permit the groups to advocate for the candidate by name.
Just how close the ties can be between an independent group and a campaign is illustrated by EMILY's List. The group previously steered clear of presidential politics and concentrated on electing women at the state and congressional levels who support abortion rights. But it backed Clinton as soon as she announced her candidacy.
Ellen Malcolm, president of the feminist PAC, is a national co-chair of Clinton's campaign; she says she has stayed away from the independent spending by EMILY's List for Clinton. Federal rules prohibit coordination of independent spending with a candidate's campaign.
Former President Clinton signed a fundraising pitch for the PAC in October, in advance of the group's independent campaign.
Other Democratic presidential candidates also are benefiting from independent expenditures, on a smaller scale. Branches of the Carpenters Union and the Service Employees International Union will spend $1.4 million on behalf of former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. A firefighters' union has spent $158,000 backing Connecticut Sen. Christopher J. Dodd.
A California-based group has spent $38,000 for Illinois Sen. Obama.
But no candidate has attracted as much independent money as New York Sen. Clinton, who is also the target of $360,000 in such spending opposing her candidacy.
The high-tech, and high-price, campaign innovations employed in Iowa by EMILY's List reflect the unique place the group occupies in American politics.
Its name is an acronym for the slogan "Early Money Is Like Yeast" ("it helps the dough rise"). It raised $46 million for candidates in the 2006 election. It trained campaign personnel. And it has been a source of early cash for female Democratic candidates across the country who support abortion rights.
In addition to its own spending on Clinton's behalf in Iowa, the group has bundled hundreds of contributions directly to her campaign. It also has begun a separate effort encouraging New Hampshire women to support Clinton when their state votes Jan. 8.
Female voters are crucial to Clinton's success, but her relationship with them is complicated. She draws her strongest support from younger, blue-collar women who view her as a champion. Wealthier, college-educated women, surveys show, are drawn more to Obama.