New Hampshire Primary
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JIM LEHRER: Gwen is with us now from Manchester, New Hampshire. Gwen, hello.
GWEN IFILL: Hello, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Look, you said in your piece that the closing commercials, everybody was being nice to one another. But some hostility broke out today between Dean and Kerry. What’s that all about?
GWEN IFILL: It’s about trying to get some traction. Howard Dean started criticizing John Kerry again for his vote against — in favor of the war resolution. And also, under the transom there’s been a lot of negative advertising going in people’s mailboxes, direct mail advertising. But what Howard Dean had to say today was that he didn’t trust the patience and judgment of someone who had supported the president on this war resolution. That is the question he was raising.
Clearly they all have been trying to avoid attacking each other because it went so badly in Iowa. I don’t remember ever having covered a New Hampshire campaign where there wasn’t slashing advertising in the last week, and I’m sure you feel the same way. This has been very different. But on the other hand, I think that for this last day, they thought they could risk a few digs, raising some questions about John Kerry because Howard Dean began to feel, according to his estimation, that maybe he was coming back.
JIM LEHRER: What effect if any has having Dean’s wife campaign with him had, at least that you can perceive?
GWEN IFILL: It’s been a big deal for Howard Dean. He is visibly more comfortable when he’s in public when she is there, she sits behind him, she’s clearly very uncomfortable and shy about this, but her smiling face gives him a little humanity, takes some of the edge off the harshness that some voters were telling us they felt coming from him. And the polls are showing, these are the polls the campaigns take for themselves as well as the ones in a million different media organizations have been taking up here, that he had been plummeting before, he’s flat lined out and they think a lot of this has to do with the presence of his wife and her softening impact on his personality.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of the polls, do you have any reason tonight to doubt the conventional conclusions of nine or ten of them thus far today that say that Kerry has a pretty good lead?
GWEN IFILL: I don’t see any evidence that that is anything but true. The only thing everybody is nervous about of course is we alluded to in the taped piece is that polls are always wrong in New Hampshire. Surprises always happen, these voters have a way of interfering with all of the conventional wisdom. That said, what we know is likely to happen is that John Kerry still by most of these measures in the double digit lead, Howard Dean says he’s closing fast, whatever that means, and that he could at least come in a strong second, and then the real fight begins after you get past the top two.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Tell us about that. Everybody is saying that’s where the real race is, the race for third place. Explain that, why is that so important?
GWEN IFILL: Well, what’s important is that John Edwards came out of Iowa with that really big bounce having placed an unexpected second. He’s getting as you saw huge crowds, very enthusiastic crowds, full of people who never knew who he was, who had never paid attention tom before, so you can’t discount him. He’s a very facile, very easy going speaker on the stump and people come a by liking and he seems positive and sunny. So that’s why John Edwards has to be looked at.
And them there’s Wesley Clark who spent all of his time in New Hampshire, and didn’t compete in Iowa, but seems somehow to be flattening out and not doing as well. The question is whether John Edwards will come out what was has been traditionally been kind of a fourth place position and outpace him. Then there’s Joe Lieberman, who nobody thinks is going to do much better than fourth in reality.
JIM LEHRER: All right. There’s another factor of course in any kind of election and that’s called turnout. Of course in New Hampshire that means is it going to snow tomorrow. Fill us in on the weather report and what are they talking about in terms of turnout tomorrow?
GWEN IFILL: Well, they’re talking about high turnout and snow. The two things don’t necessarily go well together. The secretary of state has said that he expects record turnout, more than any election since 1992 when Bill Clinton and Paul Tsongas obviously were locked into that comeback kid race. But they’re expecting it because they have four candidates who have gotten people’s attention.
They’re also expecting independents, who make up 38 percent of the vote here in New Hampshire to turn out in record numbers and if that happens no one knows who that helps. All that said, they’re predicting snow, they don’t no when the snow is going to start and snow in New Hampshire is not the same as snow in Washington, Jim, but still we’re thinking that if it snow as lot that if a lot of elderly voters may stay home and a lot of the more energized slash read Howard Dean voters might show up.
JIM LEHRER: So we talk about a large turnout, we’re talking about something about 185,000 people, is that the figure, is that about it?
GWEN IFILL: That’s a very good figure, Jim, that’s exactly what they’re talking about, and that’s far more than you would expect normally. Still, you know, anything could happen between now and then. The one thing that we don’t have happening this race is that we’ve seen in past races which affect turnout negatively and positive is last minute attacks, last minute digs.
You remember when Bob Dole said he felt somebody had been lying about his record, there was a flip flop ad. These little digs at the end sometimes keep voters home or bring them out. There hasn’t been anything that overt today.
JIM LEHRER: This thing today with Dean attacking Kerry is not in that category, is that what you’re saying?
GWEN IFILL: It is not in that category because he didn’t do it on television, he did it in a stump speech, but his word weren’t half as harsh as the negative advertising we saw in Iowa just last week.
JIM LEHRER: Hey, Gwen, terrific, thank you.
GWEN IFILL: Thank you.