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What the winning Iowa campaigns say about the battle ahead

February 2, 2016 at 6:35 PM EDT
Gwen Ifill talks with Joel Benenson, chief strategist for the Hillary Clinton Campaign, and Rick Tyler, spokesman for the Ted Cruz Campaign, about how their candidates pulled off wins in Iowa and how they see the battle for New Hampshire voters.

GWEN IFILL: And so we turn now to two top advisers to last night’s winners.

First up, Cruz campaign spokesman Rick Tyler. He joins us from New Hampshire.

So, Rick, in a nutshell, you managed to turn around expectations, as we just heard them say, and come out with a big victory in Iowa last night. How did that happen?

RICK TYLER, Spokesman, Ted Cruz Campaign: It took a lot of hard work and a lot of time, a great team in Iowa that put together a — what really was a traditional ground game, but it was driven by data.

We just had an exceptional candidate who has an exceptional message, and that people are sick and tired of Washington and they want a change. And Ted Cruz is the only candidate who has shown that he’s willing to go to Washington and stand up to the establishment, and even stand up to members of his own party, and he’s built a reputation on that.

And so we have seen everybody has — all the Americans are really looking toward the outsiders, but Ted Cruz is really the original outsider, the proven outsider. And so when we went to look for supporters and volunteers to help, it was like they were waiting to be found.

So we ended up with 12,000 volunteers in Iowa, and we had them doing stuff every day. We were knocking on 2,000 doors a day, making over 20,000 phone calls a day. And people were really excited to be part of it.

GWEN IFILL: And many of them were evangelicals, who obviously make up a big part of the caucusing vote in Iowa. But you don’t have that same demographic in New Hampshire. How do you plan to pull the rabbit out of the hat a second time?

RICK TYLER: You know, I think one of the best headlines I read was actually here in New Hampshire that said, “Ted Cruz brings religious message to secular New Hampshire, and it’s working.”

And it’s part of what I heard Reid say, is that there’s five people basically competing for the moderate vote, and Ted Cruz has a real opportunity with the conservatives here, and not just evangelicals, but the pro-life conservatives, pro-family conservatives, pro-gun conservatives, and pro-growth conservatives.

They have all formed something called the 603 Alliance. And they have all gotten behind Ted Cruz. And when conservatives come together and the rest of the field is fractured — and, by the way, it’s usually the other way around. The establishment has one well-funded candidate, and the conservative has a lot with no money.

This time, we’re the well-funded candidate, and the establishment, there’s a lot of them, and they don’t have the money. So, we’re very well-positioned. I’m not predicting a win here in New Hampshire, but we’re going to fight hard here.

GWEN IFILL: I didn’t expect you would.

So you’re saying that if, say, John Kasich, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush divide the establishment support, and maybe a little bit of Donald Trump as well, that allows you to sneak in through the middle?

RICK TYLER: I think that’s right.

And we saw today, even today, as you saw with Chris Christie, who is calling Marco Rubio the boy in the bubble because he doesn’t often take press questions and is a little bit standoffish with the press.

And so, look, they can — they’re — for most of them, it’s do-or-die. Our expectations here are rather low. And we will go on the South Carolina. And then you have the SEC primary, where you have all these states from South Carolina to Georgia to Tennessee, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. These are all 50-percent-plus evangelical states.

So, you have 11 of them total that will go before March 15. And they favor Ted Cruz. And so if you’re running against Ted Cruz, it’s going to be a gauntlet to go through with all that support that we have now proven we can get.

GWEN IFILL: So, it sounds, to you, it’s OK if you come in second or third in New Hampshire, as long as you have that long game headed toward the South in mind?

RICK TYLER: I would be thrilled with second place in New Hampshire. And I would — and third would certainly be acceptable.

GWEN IFILL: OK, Rick, I just helped you set your expectations lower. So, you can say thank you.


GWEN IFILL: Thank you so much for joining us tonight.

RICK TYLER: Appreciate it, Gwen. Thanks.

GWEN IFILL: Now turning to the Democrats’ side, we’re joined by Joel Benenson, chief strategist for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Joel, I’m going to ask you the same question I just asked Rick Tyler, which is, in a nutshell, how did you pull it out, very narrow win in Iowa?

JOEL BENENSON, Chief Strategist, Hillary Clinton Campaign: Well, I think we pulled it out with a really strong message.

I think Hillary Clinton was really closing very strongly talking about the need and the choice to elect a president who can make real progress, who can make a real difference in their lives and get things done.

And I think then we had a ground game that was great. You know, all going into this caucus in Iowa, the Sanders campaign had predicted they were going to win. They said if the turnout was higher than 170,000, that would be their turnout. And they got that turnout. And it turned out that that was good for Hillary Clinton.

A lot of talk about enthusiasm and energy on the Sanders side of things, but what we learned last night is that there was a lot of enthusiasm and energy for Hillary Clinton and her candidacy and her message of being the progressive who likes to get things done and who will make a real difference in people’s lives.

And so it was close, but a win is a win, and we take it. And we’re here in New Hampshire now ready for another contest in just a few days with a debate coming up. And we’re looking forward to it. We have been to New Hampshire before.


GWEN IFILL: When you worked for Barack Obama in a similar role in 2008, you went through a slightly different outcome. He won in Iowa, but then he lost in New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton.

What did you learn from that which informs what you will do this time?

JOEL BENENSON: Well, I think, you know what, you learn is that — and this is the case as you go through most of these states — is that no two states are exactly alike.

And you have to really focus in on what’s unique in each state. New Hampshire is a fiercely independent state. You know, the state’s motto is live free or die, very strong anti-tax sentiment, a wide-open primary here. You know, independents can walk in and vote in either the Democrat or the Republican primary on either day.

That’s very different than that caucus environment on the Democratic side, where you have to show up at a specific time, you caucus right on the floor, and you’re competing for delegates to the convention.

What’s true here, though, is folks are very focused on their economic lives. This is a state that really appreciates and values small businesses and entrepreneurs. And I think that’s why having a president who can do all parts of the job is going to be important to them. That’s part of the message that Hillary Clinton is going to bring here, because I think folks in New Hampshire know that that’s how you create good-paying jobs, is investing in small business, giving those folks a chance to export their goods, get the loans they need from the Export-Import Bank.


GWEN IFILL: Pardon me, Joel.

But you’re running against someone who is leading way ahead of you in the polls in New Hampshire, in part by saying he’s the true progressive. And she’s lately been saying, I’m a progressive who can get things done.

Are you really — I just asked about setting expectations with Rick Tyler — are you really thinking it’s possible to break through that bulwark which Bernie Sanders seems to have built for himself in New Hampshire?

JOEL BENENSON: Well, you know, he may have mentioned it on their side of the race, but what we know historically is New Englanders do very, very well here. They almost always win when there isn’t an incumbent president or vice president. I think there is only one time in about 40 years where that didn’t happen.

So, you know, we know we’re playing in his backyard. He’s from a state right next door west of New Hampshire, obviously borders Vermont. And he is showing that kind of hometown strength.

So, we’re playing on his home field. We got to win a road game here. We have got a week to go, and she’s out campaigning hard every day. She’s been all over the state. Hillary Clinton…


JOEL BENENSON: … debates.

GWEN IFILL: Pardon me.

Will she be in South Carolina between now and New Hampshire primary night?


I think, right now, we have got a lot coming up. We have a town hall scheduled for tomorrow night. We have got a debate on Thursday. So we’re going to be focusing right here, come out of New Hampshire after the primary. And then we look forward to a period after New Hampshire to the end of March where there are more than 1,000 delegates that are going to be contested.

As you just mentioned, Gwen, you go to Nevada, South Carolina, then Super Tuesday. So, you will have over 1,000 delegates that are going to be decided in about a six-week period. And that’s really going to be kind of the heart of the contest, I think.

GWEN IFILL: And we will be following along with you.

Joel Benenson, chief strategist for Hillary Clinton, thank you very much.

JOEL BENENSON: Thank you, Gwen.