GWEN IFILL: So how is all of this is playing in the first primary state? For that, we're joined by Adam Nagourney, chief political writer for the New York Times. Adam, you've been talking presumably to people about this all day long. Do you have any sense about how valuable they believe Al Gore's endorsement to be?
ADAM NAGOURNEY: Extremely valuable, for a whole lot of reasons. The most obvious one is that it ends or it addresses what has been one of Howard Dean's biggest problems, which is that people just don't take him seriously as a real electable establishment Democrat. And to have a guy who, "a," was the nominee last time, Democrats, some Democrats, would argue was the elected president last time, the endorsement is a huge advantage. Gore also brings, I think, financial help, if he wants to in terms of his own network of contributors, as if Dean needed more money. So I think by any measure, it is a real big deal for him.
GWEN IFILL: Adam, I have been scratching my head all day about why now? Why six weeks before the first vote is cast, why would Al Gore decide to endorse at this stage?
ADAM NAGOURNEY: I think that Gore has been making, from the moment he sort of said he wasn't going to announce himself, he's made it very clear that he wants to endorse and have influence on this race. Now as you can well imagine Gwen, there are all kinds of Machiavellian theories about why he did it, all of which I will be happy to talk to you about.
But I think a lot of it had to do with, if you want to have an impact, now's a good time to do it, and if he wants to make a difference, this is the time to do it. If Dean gets the nomination, we are going to look back at this moment as one of the critical reasons why he got it. And I think former Vice President Gore knows that.
GWEN IFILL: Why don't you talk about only those Machiavellian theories, which actually have a basis in reported facts. What do you know?
ADAM NAGOURNEY: Let me back down the standard a little bit. There are two main ones going out there. One is that what is going on here is a proxy war between the Clintons and the Gores over the future of the Democratic Party. I think there is an element of truth to that. I don't think we want to exaggerate that. But in a way, if Gore sees that the Clinton people are sort of backing Gen. Wesley Clark, and there is obviously some evidence of that, this is his way of sort saying, "Stop Clark. Let's do it with Dean." Let's pull the presidential race in my direction.
The second one, which is interesting, which is coming out of the Clark camp, is that it is a sort of cynical maneuver by Vice President Gore to endorse Dean with a full expectation that he will get walloped by President Bush in November. And the Deaniacs, which I mean that as a praiseworthy term, all the Dean supporters, will remember what Gore did and as one Clark person said to me, support him when he is running against Hillary Clinton in 2008. That's what makes politics fun.
GWEN IFILL: The last polls we've seen in New Hampshire, Adam, show that Dean is quite a distance ahead in this race. It is somewhat closer obviously in Iowa and in other states down the line. Do have you a sense that this kind of endorsement helps and seals things for Al Gore in New Hampshire -- I mean, for Howard Dean in New Hampshire?
ADAM NAGOURNEY: Yeah, I know. Let's talk about New Hampshire first. Normally if we were having this conversation, I would say you know, it's December. It's way before Christmas. The polls don't mean much. I'm telling you, it means a hell of a lot with Dean in this state. Dean's support here is broad, it is deep. It is- I have to say it's hard to see how anyone could overcome it. You go out there. I have been going to Dean events now for literally almost a year out here and you'll go to Dean events in the middle of nowhere and 300 people will show up. And I got to tell you, they go to show up to see him in the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire, they'll show up to vote for him. So I think he is already in very, very strong shape here.
Now, in Iowa the polls show it closer. I do think that the fact that Dean's voters are so enthusiastic and so-well organized, gives him... means that the polls are a little bit deceptive. He is probably doing a little better than we think. That said, Gore is a big help there. Remember, Gore won Iowa last time. He has got a lot of support there. And I think that if Dean needed any more help getting ahead of Rep. Richard Gephardt, who I think is his main opponent in Iowa, this surely helped.
GWEN IFILL: Now, Al Gore said
ADAM NAGOURNEY: Beyond that --
GWEN IFILL: Go ahead, go ahead.
ADAM NAGOURNEY: I'm sorry. Obviously if Dean wins Iowa and New Hampshire, which at this point, Gwen, obviously we are still way out here, but if he does that, it is hard to see how the party stops him. I think that somebody will emerge on February 3, which is the next round of primaries after New Hampshire, as the sort of anti-Dean, you know, either General Clark or maybe Joe Lieberman-- maybe-- or maybe John Edwards, but somebody will do that. The race will be re-cast a little bit, but that said, right now it would be hard to say they could stop Dean at that point.
GWEN IFILL: And Gore said all the candidates should coalesce around one early front-runner, but he also seemed to criticize others for not being very negative against the war. Do you think that that is going to resonate with Democrats?
ADAM NAGOURNEY: Well, two things. One is this morning in Harlem, Gore talked about...evoked the Republican Party's 11th Amendment-- which is thou shalt not speak ill about a fellow party member-- which might be the most ignored commandment of them all -- I stress might be Gwen, I don't want to get too close on that. And I would have to say Howard Dean has ignored it as much as anyone else. That was the most interesting event of this morning, people think of Gore as being generally hawkish. And, in fact, he was part of the movement that helped the Democratic Party move to the center, particularly on foreign policy issues during the '80s and '90s. He supported the Gulf War resolution, as Dean says would have if he had been around in 1991, 1992, whatever year that was.
But we sort of passionately heard Gore talk about the war and from what I told, that was really one of the killer issues as far as he was concerned in rejecting Joe Lieberman, who has been a very, very, very strong advocate of the war in Iraq. Some -- Dennis Kucinich and some other people, there are some, shall we say, nuances in Howard Dean's position on the war and perhaps some inconsistencies, but the fact of the matter is he has defined himself from early this year as being an anti-war candidate, and I think that really, really appealed to Gore in a very deep way.
GWEN IFILL: Okay. Adam Nagourney, thank you very much.
GWEN IFILL: Now a look from within the party at how today's endorsement could affect two other key primaries in the coming weeks, in Iowa and South Carolina. We are joined by Jean Hessburg, the executive director of the Iowa Democratic Party. And Don Fowler, a current chairman of the Richland County Democratic Party in South Carolina, and a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Welcome to you both.
Jean Hessburg, the very first thing that Al Gore and Howard Dean did today was get on a plane and fly to Iowa. Obviously they are thinking they may be able to get a couple of votes from this endorsement. Are they right?
JEAN HESSBURG: Oh, that remains to be seen. Isn't that the million dollar question? I think there are no short cuts in politics and there are still 41 days left until caucus night, and whether or not Art Master and Waverly Ward Four [ph] go out on a cold winter night in January and caucus on behalf of a candidate based on an endorsement remains to be seen.
GWEN IFILL: Now we know that endorsements... that these caucuses are kind of notoriously difficult to poll. It's hard to know what people are really going to do, but do you have any sense in the latest surveys of where candidates stand, particularly how Howard Dean has been doing prior to this endorsement?
JEAN HESSBURG: Well, I read the polls like everybody else does in the papers, and I certainly talk to a lot of folks. I think more important than the polls right now are the upwards of 30 percent of the caucus-goers are still undecided. And 41 days can be a lifetime. I think we will see the campaigns all working the phones very hard, trying to get their support committed, their hard ID's done, and they should continue to do that regardless of the endorsements.
GWEN IFILL: Don Fowler, how valuable is an Al Gore endorsement in South Carolina?
DONALD FOWLER: Well, I think it would be naive to think that endorsement is not helpful to Governor Dean. But if I may draw a quip from the world of sports, it ain't over until it's over. We've had two polls here in the last two weeks, both from very reputable companies, and they show very different results. So I think it's very much an open question here in South Carolina. But it's pretty clear that a lot of people respect Vice President Gore, and his endorsement will be meaningful to a fair number of people here in South Carolina.
GWEN IFILL: What are the very different results those two polls are showing?
DONALD FOWER: Well, one poll showed that Senator Edwards was on top, and the other poll showed that Governor Dean was on top. And the people in second and third place were all mixed up as well. It's difficult to know how two respectable polling entities could come up with such different results, except-- and this is what I think is accurate-- that people here in South Carolina have not quite focused on this race yet, and I think it will be after Christmas and perhaps even after Iowa before we really begin to think thoroughly about how we are going to vote here.
GWEN IFILL: And the voting there of course is on February 3.
DONALD FOWER: February 3.
GWEN IFILL: Right. Jean Hessburg, what does a Democrat have to do to break through right now in Iowa? Obviously your voting comes first. People are focusing, spending a lot of money on commercial advertising in Iowa, Dr. Dean certainly among them. What do they have to do to break through at this stage?
JEAN HESSBURG: Well, conventional wisdom goes out the window, I think, in caucuses. Commercials... while many of the candidates are airing commercials, hit all Iowans rather than the just the select few caucus-goers. You know, 100 to 125,000 Democrats on caucus night will go out, which is a smaller portion of the larger electorate. I think what the candidates need to do right now is focus on the hard count, focus on their committed, and make sure they get those folks out to caucus night.
GWEN IFILL: Does that mean an endorser like Al Gore has to, what, go door to door with Howard Dean in order to break through to Iowa voters, or is it enough to put something in everybody's mailbox saying "Hi, Al Gore is my guy and he's mine"?
JEAN HESSBURG: Well, the nice part about Iowa is that Iowans they're very serious about the caucuses. And they study the issues and they read the mailers and they go to the all of the events. It certainly would be helpful, perhaps, to have Al Gore come out and go door to door. It would never hurt, although it's mighty cold and we are in the middle of a snowstorm right now. So I'd feel badly for him.
GWEN IFILL: Well, in South Carolina, Don Fowler, what do the candidates have to do to break through?
DONALD FOWER: Well, several of the candidates are on television now, and that's raising the level of awareness for Senator Edwards, General Clark, Dick Gephardt. Governor Dean has not begun his television efforts yet, but as I understand it, he will soon. But television right now is important. The candidates are here. They're going to the churches. They're meeting with people in the local communities, and it's gradually building, but I do believe it will be after Christmas.
Now, there will be some other endorsements coming this week on behalf of other candidates I think will help. I'm not in a position to say exactly what those are. I don't want to steal anybody's thunder, but this endorsement by the vice president is not the only meaningful endorsement that will come this week in South Carolina, and we've got a long way to go, and it will be an interesting result here.
GWEN IFILL: And you won't tell us who that is, will you?
DONALD FOWER: Well, it's not exactly a secret, but I don't think it would be appropriate for me to say at this point. But let me say that the people in South Carolina are very serious about this race. We're going to have a good primary and the Democrats in South Carolina are going to use this primary to build the party, and we will be in good shape for the general election. And we, we are grateful to all of the candidates and the media people who are coming here to help us revive and invigorate the Democratic party. It's a great treat for us. The people in Iowa and New Hampshire are familiar with it and appreciate it and are accustomed to it, but it's new to us, and we genuinely are glad to have this experience.
GWEN IFILL: Well, Jean Hessburg, the old hand at this, today we saw Vice President Gore saying -- talking about the quagmire in Iraq and saying that he was endorsing Howard Dean, in part, because he felt he was the only major candidate who had consistently been against the war. Does the antiwar rhetoric, speechifying, does that resonate in Iowa?
JEAN HESSBURG: Well, I certainly think Governor Dean has been able to capitalize on a movement. Again, getting those people to caucus on a cold winter night is what this is all about. So whether or not a candidate focused on an issue and gains popularity on that issue, it all comes down to the numbers on caucus night. And I know any one of the top candidates has been working the last eight months on the phones, and knocking doors themselves. So I guess that's the million dollar question.
GWEN IFILL: And finally, to both of you, but starting with you Jean Hessburg, the other thing Al Gore said today, he thinks the Democrats need to close ranks quickly, not attack each other and settle on a candidate early. And he's saying this almost 60 days before the first votes are cast. Does that make sense to you?
JEAN HESSBURG: Well, there is no question that any one of these candidates is in stark contrast to George Bush. All of us are united around beating George Bush. I think that will happen naturally. I don't think there's any reason for any of our caucus-goers to make a decision based on whether or not they want to close the gap early or late. I think folks will make their own individual decisions, and in the end, we will all coalesce against George W. Bush.
GWEN IFILL: Don Fowler, should South Carolina voters be interested in closing ranks quickly?
DONALD FOWER: Well, I think we'll have a candidate by the end of February, if not before. After Iowa and New Hampshire, we'll have two or three people still in the race. What I think we want is someone who's committed to a peaceful world, to a prosperous nation, and a healthy nation and a clean environment, and we have the candidates to do that, and one of those people will win and we'll beat George Bush. That's our aim, and we're looking forward to a great 2004 here in South Carolina.
GWEN IFILL: Don Fowler and Jean Hessburg, thank you both very much.