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No matter the race results, Democratic veterans seem ready to rally around survivor

“November. November.

“November. November. November.”

It was a quiet mantra from 30 or so John Edwards supporters who gathered Thursday night in Golden Valley to watch results of the Iowa caucuses .These were people who for months have poured considerable effort into volunteering for the man they believe would be the best candidate at the top of the Democratic Party ticket.

At 8:30, when CNN announced that Barack Obama would win in Iowa, there was a collective groan. But there was little despair.

For starters, the Edwards crowd wasn’t quite ready to throw in the towel.

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“It’s still a three-person race,” said Ted Mondale, co-chair of the Edwards’ all-volunteer campaign in Minnesota.

Perhaps he — and the others — really believe that. And perhaps it’s even true.

But there was another reason there was only disappointment, not tears, among the Edwards supporters. They understand Iowa’s caucuses and all the primaries and caucuses that lie ahead quickly become yesterday’s news. The real prize comes in November. Eight years of George W. Bush means the one goal for these Democrats is to again make Minnesota a dark blue state.

Disappointment is just part of the primary process. You work for a candidate and if he — or she — falls out of the race you work hard for the candidate still standing.

“I was a (Howard) Dean supporter four years ago,” said Laura Nevitt, the volunteer coordinator for Edwards in Minnesota. “When he dropped out, I shifted to Edwards. It’s a little hard to shift, but it’s something you sometimes have to do. Shifting is a little harder for people involved for the first time.”

Political veterans used to switching candidates
But it’s something political veterans get used to. Four years ago, for example, people like Nevitt had to do a double-shift. Dean begat Edwards. Then, moments before the Minnesota caucuses were to begin, Edwards announced he was dropping out of the race, throwing his support to John Kerry.

“We (Edwards supporters) were supposed to have a big celebration after the caucuses four years ago,” she said. “We got to our caucuses and we hear this buzz, ‘Edwards is out.’ The celebration party wasn’t much fun.”

This time around, it doesn’t appear that candidate shifting will be very difficult for most Minnesota Democrats.

Most of the people at the Edwards’ gathering, for example, said they could move to Obama. A shift to Hillary Clinton would be a little more difficult, but given any Republican option that could be done, too.

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Old party versus new party
It’s Mondale’s belief that this year’s Democratic Party race pits “the old party versus the new.”

To his way of thinking, Clinton represents the old guard.

“I think what you’re seeing is Obama and Edwards splitting the vote of the new, grass-roots part of the party,” he said.

But by November, Mondale said, old and new guard will come together.

Javier Morillo-Alicea, president of Local 26 of the Service Employees International Union, was having the most difficult time accepting the Edwards’ defeat in Iowa. His union has endorsed Edwards. SEIU members in Minnesota made several trips to Iowa to knock on doors for Edwards. Edwards’ working-person message clearly stirs Morillo-Alicea’s soul.

Still, even he could find solace from the Iowa results.

“The big story tonight is Huckabee,” Morillo-Alicea said. “He drives a wedge right through the Republican Party. They’ve spent all these years courting that base and now the chickens have come home to roost.”

His point: There’s some disappointment among some Democrats. But there’s very little division because they’ve learned the hard way that the prize comes in November.