New poll figures show former Vermont governor Howard Dean, Senators John Kerry and John Edwards and Congressman Richard Gephardt in a virtual four-way dead heat three days before the Iowa caucus. We speak with The Nation magazine’s John Nichols. [includes transcript]
One candidate drops out at the last minute. Another surges from third place to catch the leaders. Another closes quickly on the outside.
The race for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination is in full swing and the outcome of the first round in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination is more uncertain than ever.
New poll figures coming out of Iowa show former Vermont governor Howard Dean, Senators John Kerry and John Edwards and Congressman Richard Gephardt in a virtual four-way dead heat three days before the state’s caucus.
- John Nichols, the Washington correspondent for _ The Nation_ magazine and the editor of the editorial page of Madison, Wisconsin’s Capital Times. He has been reporting from Iowa recently on the state’s caucus which will be held on Monday. He the author of two books: It’s the Media, Stupid and Jews for Buchanan.
AMY GOODMAN: We go to John Nichols, who’s been spending a lot of time in Iowa, the Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine and the editor of the editorial page for the Madison, Wisconsin, Capital Times. Welcome to Democracy Now!, John.
JOHN NICHOLS: Good morning, Amy. I’m glad to be with you.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s good to be with you. Tell us what’s happening in Iowa right now.
JOHN NICHOLS: A lot. It’s amazing and probably a little frustrating for most of your listeners because virtually all of American electoral politics is centered in one rather small state at this point. But yesterday the big news of the day was that Carol Moseley-Braun dropped out quite unexpectedly, and threw her support to Howard Dean. What’s significant about this is not that Carol Moseley-Braun was a frontrunner, in fact, even her own campaign manager, Patricia Ireland, admitted she wasn’t going to get the nomination, but her jumping to Dean at this point provides him with some cover, frankly, against the charges by Al Sharpton that he is not particularly sensitive to minorities, and also a good boost at a time when, frankly, his campaign has lost a good deal of its poll position. The polling that is coming out, which I would warn folks is not all that reliable—caucuses are very hard to poll, but the polling that’s coming out particularly from MSNBC and the Zogby group, they’re doing a daily tracking poll, suggests that Dean is — has lost about a quarter of his support from a week ago. Richard Gephardt has also lost a substantial amount of support, and it appears that that support is going to John Kerry, and most surprisingly, perhaps, John Edwards, the senator from North Carolina, who’s had a tremendous rise in the polls in the last two weeks.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m here with Juan Gonzalez as we talk with John Nichols of The Nation who’s been covering the Iowa caucuses.
JUAN GONZALEZ: John, even though the polls are showing, as you say, and they’re not extremely reliable, they’re showing the candidates in a dead heat, the reality is that a lot is going to depend on the ability of these organizations to bring voters out, and in that sense, both Dean and Gephardt, who have huge union support are going to have some kind of advantage on the ground. That’s usually worth several percentage points. What do you see in terms of the organization that Kerry or Edwards have in Iowa?
JOHN NICHOLS: They certainly don’t have equivalent organizations to what Dean and Gephardt have. Kerry has poured a lot of money into the state, but this is one of the good things about the Iowa caucuses. Money only goes so far in this game. You can buy millions of dollars of TV ads and do all sorts of stuff, but ultimately, it is about organization on the ground. There are more than 2,000 caucuses. This is not the equivalent of a primary, one big event that operates at the same time with the same rules. The caucuses occur in people’s living rooms and basements and union halls, and just all these unexpected spots. It really involves getting people out of their homes to come spend three hours, usually, with their neighbors, to lock in a choice for a particular candidate. What we know is this: There’s no question that Gephardt has brought in a tremendous level of labor support. There are expected to be more than 1,000 union staffers and activists from around the country in Iowa on Monday doing this caucus vote polling. And these are not just, you know, grassroots union activists. Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., the president of the Teamsters has been in the state very actively working for Gephardt. So is George Becker, former head of the steelworkers and lots of other folks who have really come in and put in an aggressive push on. On the Dean side, his support is — certainly has some union support, as you have written about, Juan, coming out of the 1199 and the SCIU and AFSCME, but he also has something that many listeners might recall as an equivalent to the “Clean for Gene”, Gene McCarthy, 1968 Youth Power thing. There are literally hundreds — I would argue even into the thousands of young people from around the country from as far away as New York and California who have come to volunteer their time for Dean. They say, and I think it’s probably accurate, that by caucus day on Monday, there will be more than 3,000 Dean volunteers who have come in from out of state. When you combine that with Dean’s in-state organization, and when you remember that Monday’s caucuses fall on Martin Luther King day, a day that public workers, and Dean is endorsed by the strongest public employee unions, AFCSME and SCIU, have that day off, I think it’s arguable that Dean’s probably going to have the best on-the-ground organization, although Gephardt is certainly very strong.
AMY GOODMAN: And we just have a minute, and I don’t think we can possibly understand how exactly the caucuses work in that minute, but could you explain, John — can you try to lay out how the vote actually takes place in these living rooms, basements, union halls, cafeterias, wherever?
JOHN NICHOLS: I’ll do my best, Amy. The thing that listeners ought to remember is that even Iowans have a hard time figuring it out. The key is that Iowa has thousands of precincts. These are the places—the local jurisdiction in which you vote. Caucuses are organized at the precinct level and what happens is that at about 7:00 on Monday night, people from —- you know, a neighborhood or in a small town from that town, will gather in a particular spot. There may 50, 75, 100 or even more of them. In that room they will divide up into different corners. There will be a Gephardt corner, a Dean corner, a Kucinich corner, a Sharpton corner. People will go to their corner and look at whether they have enough votes, 15% of the overall turnout in the room, to register for delegates for that candidate. If they don’t they start horse-trading. They start uniting with people from another group. Maybe the Kucinich people will join the Sharpton people to try to get to that 15% threshold. Once the votes are registered at that precinct level, then they’re all amalgamated into a total. You find out who got delegates out of every precinct. Tuesday morning, those are the numbers that will be announced. The winner -—
AMY GOODMAN: But I don’t understand, if you had Kucinich and Sharpton folks joining together, what would that count as?
JOHN NICHOLS: They would have to join together between one of the candidates.
AMY GOODMAN: Kucinich and Sharpton or someone else?
JOHN NICHOLS: Or someone else. Let’s say, Amy, the best way to understand it is if 100 people show up, to register out of a precinct, you have to have 15% of those who show supporting a candidate, right? So, if seven Kucinich people show up and eight Sharpton people show up, they’re going to have to go in a corner together and say, we are both really anti-establishment, we both want to get delegates out of the caucus, so what are we going to do? Maybe they would agree, there’s one more Sharpton person so we’ll unite as the Sharpton vote here and cast 15, 16 votes for Sharpton. If it’s a very arcane, very complex procedure. It bodes very well for those who are well organized, because let’s say that the Dean people have, you know, a really good crowd of folks who show up and there’s only two or three Kucinich people in the room. The Dean people will make an appeal to the Kucinich people will say, come on over and join us, because at least you will cast a vote for somebody who, while not as anti-war as Dennis, is at least titularly against the war.
AMY GOODMAN: Well on that note, John Nichols, I want to thank you for being with us, and we will certainly follow what takes place on Monday and bring folks the results on Tuesday. You are watching and listening to Democracy Now!.