Like a lot of Americans, Michael Lafferty spent Christmas and New Year's days on an airplane. But he was drawn to Iowa not by family or friends, but by politics.

The 51-year-old computer consultant from Eugene is one of about three dozen Oregonians who signed up to scour nation's heartland in preparation for the first Democratic presidential caucus.

Iowans For Dean are expecting 3,500 Deanies, most from neighboring states, to converge on Iowa in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 19 election. The exodus to Iowa is another chapter of the Dean phenomenon, which, aided by the Internet, has galvanized unprecedented grass-roots success.

On Dec. 30, for example, Dean supporters rang in the New Year by throwing 1,400 house parties, which raised more than $500,000 in small donations. Oregonians hosted 103--second only to California--and raised $52,577 from the 1,336 guests.

The New Year's event was highlighted by a conference call from Dean himself, who fielded questions from four parties. Portland attendees were ecstatic that the innovation had enabled supporters to interact with a presidential candidate without the involvement of the mass media.

"This campaign is remarkable in how it's involving people like us," says David Sweet, who organized a party. "We haven't been deputized by this campaign, we haven't been trained. This campaign is organized by people ad hoc on their own."

Lafferty spent his week in Iowa knocking on doors, calling potential Dean supporters, handwriting letters to undecided Democrats and, on one occasion, accompanying the candidate himself on the campaign trail. While he didn't run into any other Oregon volunteers, he says the Dean camp is expecting them. "The staff is really excited about what's happening in Oregon," he says.