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Suspense Builds in Iowa as Caucus-goers Weigh Choices

January 2, 2008 at 6:10 PM EST
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As Thursday's Iowa caucuses near and the nation takes its first step toward picking nominees for the 2008 presidential race, GOP and Democratic candidates made a final push to rally support and encourage voter turnout. Judy Woodruff reports from Iowa on the last-minute preparations of candidates and caucus-goers.
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JIM LEHRER: Closing the deal in Iowa. Judy Woodruff has our report.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: How’s your precinct going?

PRECINCT CAPTAIN: It’s going well.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Good. Good.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hillary Clinton greeted some of her Iowa precinct captains this morning in Indianola, giving them a pep talk ahead of tomorrow evening’s caucuses. The volunteers will be crucial in helping her get out the vote.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: We’re making history together, and we’re going to do it tomorrow night.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Clinton made her closing argument to the people of Iowa in a new, two-minute TV ad airing during newscasts throughout the state.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: If you stand with me for one night, I will stand up for you every day as your president. I’ll work my heart out to bring the country we love the new beginning it needs, and I will be ready to start on day one.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, rival Barack Obama, buoyed by positive poll numbers, told a crowd in Davenport he’s optimistic.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: You have vindicated my faith. You have exceeded expectations. You have come out in the blistering heat, and you’ve come out on mornings like this morning.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The third Democrat at the top of the polls here is John Edwards. Edwards was in Des Moines last night, rallying steelworkers at a phone bank…

FORMER SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), Presidential Candidate: Because of what you’re doing, every one of you, on Thursday night here in the Iowa, the Iowa caucus-goers are going to stand up, rise up, say, “Enough is enough.”

JUDY WOODRUFF: … and this morning with voters in Fairfield.

JOHN EDWARDS: What I’ve pledged to you to do is to fight for you with everything I have against these moneyed, entrenched interests, to restore the power in this country back to you, which is where it’s supposed to be, and to give you back the real Democratic Party, the White House, and America.

Republicans try to build support

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee
Republican Presidential Candidate
Tomorrow night, at 6:30, when those caucuses start, don't be caught sitting at home preparing for the Orange Bowl.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In the Republican contest, Mike Huckabee today tried a bit of humor to spur on his supporters.

FORMER GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R), Arkansas: Tomorrow night, at 6:30, when those caucuses start, don't be caught sitting at home preparing for the Orange Bowl, unless you're going to vote for one of those other guys, and then you need to stay home and watch that Orange Bowl.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Huckabee also hopes to get some laughs tonight, as he jets off to Los Angeles to appear with Jay Leno on NBC's "Tonight Show."

Mitt Romney, the other Republican frontrunner here, took a shot at Huckabee for leaving Iowa on the eve of the caucuses.

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), Massachusetts: I'm not going to run his campaign, but I guess he's focused more on the caucus in L.A. than the caucus in Iowa.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, Fred Thompson was in Mason City, portraying himself as the true conservative in the race.

FORMER SEN. FRED THOMPSON (R), Tennessee: I humbly submit that I'm that man.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And John McCain, who has surged in the polls in recent weeks, arrived back in Iowa this afternoon after several days of campaigning in New Hampshire.

While all the candidates are trying to energize their supporters, they're also still working on those undecideds, voters like Democrat Sandie Nelson, who turned out to see Barack Obama yesterday, but says she likes Bill Richardson and Edwards, as well.

SANDIE NELSON, Iowa Voter: Well, I guess it is such a daunting task to take on the Republican machine. And, you know, I want to make sure that whoever the candidate is, that they have the tools -- that I feel that they have the tools that they can take it on and win. I think it's so important that the Democrats win this fall that it's a very serious decision that we're going into the caucuses to make.

Some caucus-goers still undecided

Heidi Krabbe
Iowa Voter
I want to look at it from the issues. I want to look at it from soul-searching and say, "Why is it that I really support this candidate?"

JUDY WOODRUFF: Republican Ryan Krabbe came to a Huckabee event with his mother. It will be his first time caucusing, but he still hasn't decided between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney.

RYAN KRABBE, Iowa Voter: Originally, I was for Giuliani because I thought he would have a great deal of experience being a Republican. And I am more of a moderate conservative myself, and so I kind of like the way he tries to work with both sides, is kind of a moderate conservative himself, and he's more willing to see both sides of things.

Romney, though, I like his down-home traditional values, you know, things that he says, and I want to keep more track of him and see what he's made of, as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ryan's mother, Heidi, considers herself a staunch Republican.

But you're also looking at Democrats?

HEIDI KRABBE, Iowa Voter: Well, yes, I am. I want to be open-minded in this, and I don't want to just say that I am Republican because I have always been Republican. I want to look at it from the issues. I want to look at it from soul-searching and say, "Why is it that I really support this candidate?"

And truthfully, right now, I haven't heard enough about them. I have not read enough about them to have any real identified frontrunner in my own mind. So it's going to be an interesting couple of days of research.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Also at the Huckabee event was Mary Kate Carlson, a Democrat who might cross party lines, but in the end probably won't. She says she's seen all of the candidates at least once and says each one can be persuasive, including Chris Dodd.

So you were saying Dodd is your first choice?

MARY KATE CARLSON, Iowa Voter: Well, it's hard, because we saw him last night, and he was so personable and he made such good points. And then we saw Bill Clinton today, and he made even better points for Hillary.

So tomorrow night, I'm going to go see Hillary and make my final, final -- this will be my final decision. They all have so many different qualities and strengths. There are so many things about Huckabee that would be amazing in the White House, but there are also way a lot of things about Hillary that would also be amazing.

She could do the job. She's competent. I mean, I believe in Hillary. I have no doubt she can do it. And then there's Chris Dodd who could be a great vice president with Hillary. So it's just so confusing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It's tough.

MARY KATE CARLSON: It's tough. And then when you get there to the caucus, and you hear your neighbors talking about their opinions and ideas, and they're all trying to get you to go to their side, it's difficult.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The latest polls suggest a small but significant percentage of caucus-goers have still not settled on a candidate.

Undecided voters hold sway

Judy Woodruff
In this very close race, which on the Democratic side is showing is very close, and on the Republican side, these campaigns aren't taking any chances. That's why they are still reaching out.

JIM LEHRER: More from Judy now, and to Gwen Ifill.

GWEN IFILL: Judy Woodruff joins us from Des Moines.

Hello, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hi, Gwen.

GWEN IFILL: So that last voter you were talking to your piece, Kate Carlson, was telling you that she was thinking about Dodd and Huckabee and Clinton and that she was very confused. How undecided are voters really when they say this?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, she had to be one of the more interesting people we talked to, because she said at one point, "Yes, I could vote for Chris Dodd, but if he doesn't reach viability, not enough in that caucus, then I switch to Huckabee." But, of course, that would be a completely different caucus, because Huckabee is a Republican.

The truth is, Gwen, the polls are showing undecideds are really only about 5 percent of the voters right now. And so, you know, you could say, "Well, that's not enough for the candidates to worry about," but in this very close race, which on the Democratic side is showing is very close, and on the Republican side, these campaigns aren't taking any chances.

That's why they are still reaching out. At every Obama event, for example, he asks, "How many of you still haven't made up your minds? What do I have to say? What can I do to persuade you?" And all the candidates are doing a version of that.

Cost of campaigning

Judy Woodruff
These candidates may be spending something like $400 per voter to get maybe a total of 200,000, 225,000 voters to the caucuses tomorrow night. It's really mind-blowing.

GWEN IFILL: As these candidates are making their closing arguments, Hillary Clinton with two minutes on the air tonight in Des Moines news stations, Barack Obama doing the same thing, Mike Huckabee flying off to Los Angeles to be on Jay Leno, how much money are they spending to do all of this?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gwen, the numbers are mind-boggling. We've been putting together today -- I've been talking to all the campaigns, talking to people who watch this on the outside, and the best estimate I have is that the spending in Iowa -- Republicans and Democrats together -- over $100 million.

Now, most of that is Democratic money. I'm hearing the Democrats could spend from $70 million to $80 million. Now, that is compared to something like $12 million or $15 million they spent in 2004. So by magnitudes much, much larger.

If you do the math that I did on the back of an envelope, these candidates may be spending something like $400 per voter to get maybe a total of 200,000, 225,000 voters to the caucuses tomorrow night. It's really mind-blowing.

GWEN IFILL: Four hundred dollars a voter. I can't imagine that multiplied nationwide. But here's the question, though. We know they've raised the money. We know they're spending the money. What are they spending it on, Judy?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it's interesting. It's Iowa. They're spending it on everything from shovels, snow shovels. The Clinton campaign a few weeks ago came up with the idea of giving their caucus organizers shovels to shovel the sidewalks of people who were not able to do it for themselves.

They're spending it on babysitters for people or for elder care, anything they can do to persuade people to get up out of their homes, out of their kitchens and living rooms, into their cars and to the caucus place.

They're offering rides to them. A lot of that money is for paid staff. All of these campaigns -- on the Democratic side in particular -- hundreds of paid staffers who are going around this state, block by block, precinct by precinct, to get these people out.

It's really something to behold. The people you talk to in Iowa who watch politics say they've never seen anything like what they are seeing in this 2008 race.

GWEN IFILL: And in 24 hours, they actually get to cast a vote finally. Judy Woodruff in Des Moines, thanks so much.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We'll see you in New Hampshire in a day or two.

GWEN IFILL: OK.