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Amy Walter and David Yepsen on Iowa caucus trends

The first primary contest of the 2020 presidential primary has arrived, with nearly 1,700 caucuses taking place across Iowa. Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and David Yepsen of Iowa PBS join John Yang in Iowa to discuss early results, the latest poll numbers and how much the ongoing impeachment trial of President Trump has shifted attention away from the Democratic primary race.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Back to tonight's first-in-the-nation caucuses in Iowa.

    They are not only the kickoff to the Democrats' presidential nominating process this year, but also the start to a jam-packed week of political events.

    John Yang is back at his outpost in Des Moines. And he picks it up from there.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, on the agenda this week, tonight's Iowa caucuses, tomorrow night's State of the Union address, and Wednesday's verdict in the Senate impeachment trial.

    And that's also the agenda for tonight's Politics Monday with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of "Politics With Amy Walter" on WNYC Radio and longtime Iowa political reporter David Yepsen. He's the host of the program "Iowa Press" on Iowa PBS.

    Amy, David, thank you very much for joining us.

    We don't have official numbers. We won't have official members from the Iowa Democratic Party for some time.

    But we are getting indications through the Associated Press VoteCast survey of Iowa voters, which has been going on for six days before the — before these contests.

    Amy, you have been looking at those numbers. What have you seen that interested you?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, what we're looking at is the demographic breakdowns. Who's showing up? Are there new voters showing up, older voters, younger voters? What percent of the electorate do they make up? And how are they dividing themselves among the candidates?

    And so what we had seen and — from the VoteCast system is, among the very liberal voters, for example — and I don't know if we're able to bring that up — but among very liberal voters, Bernie Sanders doing very well, as you can see, he and Elizabeth Warren accounting for about 75 percent of all of the people who define themselves as very liberal.

    Now you get to the liberal voters, and, once again, it's Sanders and Warren who are leading the way, but with Buttigieg breaking into the top three here.

    And this isn't that surprising, of course. But what is surprising is the next slide, which is moderate voters. This is the group of voters that Joe Biden has been going really specifically at. It's part of the reason why he's doing as well in national polls, is his hold on those people who kind of define themselves as moderate to moderate conservative.

    And you see here that, at least from this VoteCast data, that that vote is getting split pretty evenly with Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg.

    And that can tell us something about tonight, which is, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren really dominating among very liberal voters, and the half of the voters who are coming into the poll saying they're moderate splitting their vote three ways.

    It makes it more likely that you will see someone from the liberal camp into the top of the — of the caucuses.

  • John Yang:

    We don't have official numbers.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • John Yang:

    But we just had a report from…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • John Yang:

    … David Yepsen's wife, who stopped by tell us the results from her caucus here on the campus of Drake University.

    This is your precinct, David.

    That Elizabeth Warren — the top three finishers, Elizabeth Warren, followed by Pete Buttigieg, followed by Amy Klobuchar, and then Senator Sanders and Joe Biden just barely above viability. In fact, Klobuchar — the Klobuchar caucusers sent two of their members over to the Biden camp in order for Biden to reach viability.

    What do you — obviously, one precinct out of many, but tell us, what do you think…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Yepsen:

    Well, I'm glad you're covering my spouse, and that I'm not, let the record show.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Yepsen:

    But it squares with what Amy was just saying.

    What we're seeing is moderates. This is a blue-collar precinct. This has students in it. This has middle class, upper middle class, a nice combination of people.

    And the fact that Bernie Sanders was kind of trailing in the back, I think, was a sign that he's a little too hot, a little too liberal for some of these people. They're more — they're more pragmatic.

    And I think Joe Biden's performance here is probably pretty telling too, that a lot of people were worried about him, how dynamic he would be. Is he past his prime?

    So, you know, what I should have done is just count the yard signs on my way to work here today.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Yepsen:

    Because that's what — the yard sign count would indicate too.

  • John Yang:

    And Amy Klobuchar's strength?

  • David Yepsen:

    Coming up, right?

    This is — this is — she's the one that could get the big boost out of Iowa, if this repeats itself elsewhere around the state. I'm not sure she can. The fact that she's been pinned down in the Senate impeachment trial has really limited her ability to be on the road, doing events here, at a time when she is thought to be gaining.

    So she could be a big winner here, but she — impeachment may make her stumble.

  • John Yang:

    You know, Amy, so much of Iowa is sort of expectations, whether you meet expectations, exceed them, and sort of the momentum effect.

    Given the fact that we have the State of the Union address tomorrow night, we have the Senate impeachment vote Wednesday, is it going to mute the effect of Iowa, do you think?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, it's a good — it's a very good question, because, again, normally, at this time of the year, Iowa has the entire political focus on it.

    And folks would have been here for two weeks broadcasting every little tiny movement in the state. Now it's has had to compete with this attention. The cable news networks have been filled with impeachment, not with Iowa.

    Now, tomorrow morning, people are going to wake up. And there will be a winner of the Iowa caucuses. And that's going to have some influence on voters across the country as they start to — Democratic voters start to think, who — hmm, who do I like? Who should I vote for when the primary comes my way?

    But for New Hampshire, where it is only a week from now that they will go to the polls, you're not getting that big buildup and the big — and all that talk about expectations. So it may sort of blunt some of the momentum, or, if you didn't do as well, blunt some of that, uh-oh, you're going to have to be — you're going to be desperate in New Hampshire.

  • David Yepsen:

    Yes, I think that's — I think Amy's right.

    I think the impeachment thing really has muted the Iowa megaphone here, not just in New Hampshire, but around the country, which may mean the old adage about there are three tickets out of Iowa, the top three finishers, may not hold true.

  • John Yang:

    More people — more candidates could be able to keep going. They…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Yepsen:

    That's right. They have their money.

    They have already got organizations there. It may not — it may be not as pronounced as it has been in the past.

  • John Yang:

    You know, it's not just the numbers we're getting.

    We're going to get three different numbers tonight. What effect is that likely to have or could that have?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, we were waiting to see.

    Now there's — basically, the division in Iowa looks a lot like the national vote, where there's a popular vote and there's an Electoral College vote.

    Here in Iowa, it's the total number of votes first cast by voters when they walk in for a candidate. That number is going to get reported for the first time ever.

    But there will also be, at the end of it, the number of delegates that are awarded to these candidates. Those numbers may not be the same. Like the Electoral College, Iowa prizes being able to be geographically diverse, having your support spread out around the state.

    So, those candidates will be rewarded with delegates, but they might not get the most candidates, because, in population centers like here in Des Moines, you could get a big number.

  • John Yang:

    Amy Walter, David Yepsen, and David Yepsen's wife…

    (LAUGHTER)

    (CROSSTALK)

  • John Yang:

    … That's Politics Monday. Thanks a lot.

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