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Candidates Celebrate the Fourth in Iowa’s Battleground

July 3, 2007 at 6:30 PM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: Next, to Iowa. There were 60 candidate visits there last month, and eight of them are there just this week. It must be Independence Day. With events in 10 cities and towns over four days, Hillary Clinton is hoping to jump start her lagging Iowa campaign.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: Hi, everybody.

GWEN IFILL: To do that, she brought along perhaps the nation’s most popular Democrat, her husband, Bill Clinton.

BILL CLINTON, Former President of the United States: You will never have a chance to vote for someone who will leave more people better off when she quits than when she started, who will make you more proud, and who will restore our country’s leadership for peace and freedom and prosperity. I hope the next president of the United States, Senator Hillary Clinton.

GWEN IFILL: In Des Moines last night and Iowa City this afternoon, the former president spoke for only a few minutes before turning the microphone over to his wife.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Thank you. And after six-and-a-half years of this administration, are you ready for change?

GWEN IFILL: Senator Clinton enjoys consistent leads in national polls, but not in Iowa, where 2004 vice presidential candidate John Edwards has made more than twice as many visits. Edwards ran strongly in Iowa in 2004 when he mounted his first presidential campaign.

Illinois Senator Barack Obama is also polling well there. The recently anointed fundraising leader went on the air with two new biographical ads last week.

OBAMA AD NARRATOR: Barack went to Harvard Law, but returned to the community to lead a voter registration drive.

GWEN IFILL: Obama campaigned through three southeastern Iowa towns today and will attend Fourth of July celebrations in three more tomorrow.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney has also spent the first half of the week in Iowa. The former Massachusetts governor barely breaks 10 percent in most national polls, but he’s leading the pack here, boosting his name recognition by spending money on early television ads.

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), Massachusetts: I’m going to work like crazy to go to Washington and bring change there.

A week of intense campaigning

Scott Brennan
Iowa Democratic Party
It was an excellent crowd, very enthusiastic. President Clinton, obviously, is the last Democratic president in the last 30 years, and so he's very popular in Iowa, and he's such a fine orator in his own right that people are very excited to see him.

GWEN IFILL: One prospect who has yet to even set a foot in Iowa, actor and former Senator Fred Thompson, is battling former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for second place in the latest state polls.

But Arizona Senator John McCain, whose campaign released disappointing fundraising numbers yesterday, has laid off staff here, including his campaign state director. McCain and Giuliani have both said they won't participate in the state party's August 11th straw poll, historically an early indicator of how candidates will fare.

Now, what Iowa's political landscape looks like to two people who have home court advantage. Scott Brennan is chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, and Chuck Laudner is the executive director of Iowa's Republican Party. Neither has yet endorsed a candidate.

First, I want to start with you, Scott Brennan. How intense is the campaigning this week?

SCOTT BRENNAN, Chairman, Iowa Democratic Party: It's very intense. We, in fact, have four of our Democratic presidential candidates in Iowa this week, Senator Biden, Senator Dodd, Senator Clinton and Senator Obama.

GWEN IFILL: Do they all expect to see you at all of their events?

SCOTT BRENNAN: There are only so many hours in the day. I did see Senator Clinton last night, and I will see Senator Obama tomorrow morning and Senator Dodd also tomorrow morning.

GWEN IFILL: So it sounds like you're squeezing a lot of them in. When you went to see senator and former President Clinton, what was that like? What was the crowd like?

SCOTT BRENNAN: It was an excellent crowd, very enthusiastic. President Clinton, obviously, is the last Democratic president in the last 30 years, and so he's very popular in Iowa, and he's such a fine orator in his own right that people are very excited to see him.

A large undecided contingent

Chuck Laudner
Iowa Republican Party
The Iowa Republican activist is going to attend the Iowa straw poll regardless of candidates. And I expect that this year there's going to be much more of an undecided contingent at the straw poll than in the years past.

GWEN IFILL: Chuck Lauder, let's go to the Republican side of the formula here. How intense is it for Republicans right now in Iowa?

CHUCK LAUDNER, Executive Director, Iowa Republican Party: Well, it's awfully intense. And the entire month of July is going to be, as we lead up to the Iowa straw poll. I think just about every candidate on the Republican side is going to be in the state sometime just in this last seven days.

GWEN IFILL: They're going to be in the state, but they're not all coming to the straw poll you just talked about, the kind of symbolic straw poll in Ames, Iowa. Does that change the level of activity that's been leading up to that normally?

CHUCK LAUDNER: Well, no. And the straw poll is still more than a month away, so there's still ample opportunity for them to come back and participate. But not every candidate was a participant in the last straw poll that was, you know, grew double over the one we had before that.

So the Iowa Republican activist is going to attend the Iowa straw poll regardless of candidates. And I expect that this year there's going to be much more of an undecided contingent at the straw poll than in the years past.

GWEN IFILL: Why is that?

CHUCK LAUDNER: Well, I don't have a sense that the field has ever been set. If you go all the way back to the winter, it was, is Newt Gingrich going to run? And then, is it Rudy Giuliani going to run? And now Fred Thompson. I think that there's a lot of folks that are sitting on their hands, maybe, because they don't feel like the field is set yet.

GWEN IFILL: Scott Brennan, let's talk about that unset field. Yesterday we heard a lot about the financial situations of a lot of these candidates, big money for Barack Obama, even though he's not leading in the polls in Iowa certainly. So does that sort of thing, the amount of money that we hear about -- $32 million this last quarter from him, another $27 million for Senator Clinton, I guess $14 for Senator Edwards -- does that make a difference in the amount of attention people actually pay to these candidates in this campaign?

SCOTT BRENNAN: Well, it's a staggering amount of money what these candidates have raised, but at least in Iowa, money really is not the be all and end all, because they're going to have to actually talk to Iowans who are engaged and answer substantive policy questions from Iowans.

Iowans take their position as first in the nation very seriously, and the candidates respect that. And I think they understand that they're going to have to answer those questions, and so money relates to television advertising, but at this point I think TV advertising really is not going to push the numbers that much.

Opportunities to meet candidates

Scott Brennan
Iowa Democratic Party
You certainly do have the opportunity to see the candidates if you're interested. There are always events going on and some very big events and some small events. And so you really do have a chance.

GWEN IFILL: So even though we've seen -- I guess we've seen Senator Obama on the air, we've seen Senator Edwards, I believe, on the air in Iowa, you're saying that that's kind of wasted money at this stage?

SCOTT BRENNAN: I don't think it's wasted. Certainly, Senator Dodd and Senator Richardson have also been on the airwaves, and perhaps Senator Clinton. I don't know offhand. But I just think that it's too early for the television advertisers to move numbers very much. Caucus polling is notoriously unreliable, and so we're really going to have to wait and see.

GWEN IFILL: OK, Chuck Laudner, let's talk about the flip side of this money equation involving the Republicans, and that's what we heard, that John McCain, with only $2 million on hand, has dramatically cut back his Iowa staff. Does that change the tenor of the campaign on the ground?

CHUCK LAUDNER: Well, it certainly does. John McCain had amassed an incredible ground game here in Iowa, and so the news about McCain's fundraising and the changes that they're making sent some shockwaves through the Republican political community, you know, and it's a relatively small community. Most people know everybody on the other campaigns.

And so, you know, it's a sad day for the McCain campaign, but, you know, everybody goes into these battles knowing that, you know, we're not all going to make it to the finish line.

So there's an interesting dynamic, as Chairman Brennan was talking about, with the money your report mentioned earlier in attributing Mitt Romney's success in Iowa to the TV ads he was running, and I would disagree. He's had an incredible ground game in Iowa, too. He has been here a lot.

And so you need money to get your message out. You've got to have a message to raise money. But Iowa has that extra burden of a time commitment. You have to be here. You have to spend time on the ground. People have to be able to shake your hand, look you in the eye, ask those questions, and get a sense of who the man is on the ballot. So Mitt Romney has done that, as well.

GWEN IFILL: And, Scott Brennan, is that what John Edwards has done, as well, on the Democratic side?

SCOTT BRENNAN: Absolutely. You know, he was the vice presidential candidate in 2004, and he's maintained an Iowa presence and has been here numerous times since then. And so I think that's reflected in what polling we've seen.

But, certainly, the other candidates are now starting to spend a lot of time here, too. So, right now, we're inundated with Democratic presidential candidates and Republican candidates, too.

GWEN IFILL: So tell me about that. On a typical day, anybody who really has the interest, who is an Iowa activist of either stripe, can basically go out and find a candidate down the street?

SCOTT BRENNAN: Iowa is a little bigger than that.

GWEN IFILL: Yes, metaphorically.

SCOTT BRENNAN: However, you certainly do -- yes, you certainly do have the opportunity to see the candidates if you're interested. There are always events going on and some very big events and some small events. And so you really do have a chance.

And you run into them at funny places. I know tomorrow Senator Obama and his family are going to be at the Iowa Cubs baseball game in the afternoon, which, you know, is a great time to spend some time with his own family and to actually, you know, take in something that's, you know, very popular with Iowans. Some of these other events, in coffee shops and places, are smaller events. And you run the opportunity of running across them there.

Interest in Fred Thompson

Chuck Laudner
Iowa Republican Party
And so I think it's more of a -- the field isn't set. And once the field gets set, then I think you'll start seeing the voters line up behind a particular candidate.

GWEN IFILL: Chuck Laudner, let's talk about the missing candidate so far, because he hasn't announced and hasn't said he's running for president. And that's Fred Thompson. Is he the reason so many Republicans as you see it are sitting on their hands?

CHUCK LAUDNER: Well, I think today that's the case. You know, from the time that he made his announcement that he was going to make an announcement, there's been a lot of talk around the water coolers in Iowa that -- they're intrigued by him, certainly. He's a well-known commodity, and they get a sense that he's got a conservative message.

They're intrigued by him. They want to meet him. They want to hear what he's all about. And I think he's going to have a nice, soft landing in Iowa when he comes, but then the burden will be on Fred Thompson to deliver that message.

GWEN IFILL: But I wonder whether this is a sign, as we keep hearing, that maybe the candidates are looking -- not the candidates, but the voters are actually looking for someone else.

CHUCK LAUDNER: Well, I've never really liked the argument that they were dissatisfied with the field. I made the comment earlier that the Yankee fans are dissatisfied with the team on their field, but they really like that Jeter guy. I sense that here in Iowa, is that there's -- our voters are deciding between two, three and four candidates, and maybe they're dissatisfied with one in particular, but they do like these guys.

And I would make a mention of those in the second tier, the perceived second tier, Brownback, Huckabee, Tommy Thompson, Tancredo. These guys are doing an inordinate amount of work on the ground, just like these other candidates. And that's one thing that they can be on par with the high-dollar candidates in campaigns.

They can have that time commitment on the ground, and they're doing all of the right things, saying the right things, saying them in the right places. And so I think it's more of a -- the field isn't set. And once the field gets set, then I think you'll start seeing the voters line up behind a particular candidate.

GWEN IFILL: Chuck Laudner, Scott Brennan, we'll see you in Iowa.

CHUCK LAUDNER: Thank you, Gwen.

SCOTT BRENNAN: Thank you.