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Iowa Progressives Weigh Clinton vs Sanders as One of Whitest U.S. States Kicks Off Presidential Race

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The road to the White House begins in Iowa today with the opening contest of the 2016 presidential campaign. Polls show tight races on both sides. Republican front-runner Donald Trump holds a small lead over Texas Senator Ted Cruz. In the Democratic race, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has rallied to close what was once a 40-point deficit behind Hillary Clinton. Iowa is one of the whitest states in the country. But as the first to vote on presidential hopefuls, the Iowa caucus plays an outsize role in the election cycle. Presidential campaigning now starts a year before the opening Iowa contest—that’s nearly two years before the actual Election Day in November 2016. Voters have been treated to months of visits from candidates and more than $150 million in political advertising. We are joined from Des Moines, Iowa, by Ed Fallon, host of the radio show “Fallon Forum” and former member of the Iowa General Assembly; he is backing Bernie Sanders in the race. We are also joined by Wayne Ford, co-founder and co-chair of the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum and a backer of Hillary Clinton. He is a former Iowa state representative and Iowa’s longest-serving black legislator.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The road to the White House begins in Iowa today with the opening contest of the 2016 presidential campaign. Voters will gather at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time to select their picks for the Democratic and Republican nomination. The Iowa caucus is different from a normal presidential primary: Party members gather and discuss their preferred candidates before ballots are cast. Caucus sites include homes, churches, gyms, halls, libraries, taverns and grain elevators.

As the caucus gets underway, the campaigns are watching an approaching winter storm that could hurt voter turnout. Polls show tight races on both sides. Republican front-runner Donald Trump holds a small lead over Texas Senator Ted Cruz. In the Democratic race, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has rallied to close what was once a 40-point deficit behind Hillary Clinton. Now they are neck and neck. On Sunday, Clinton told Iowa supporters she is the more qualified choice.

HILLARY CLINTON: But it is true, when you go to caucus tomorrow night, you are selecting not only the next president, but the next commander-in-chief. And I feel strongly that our country must continue to lead in accordance with our values, to further our interests, to advance our security. I know what it takes, because of the incredible experience that I’ve had over the years, to see the kind of challenges that come to the president that only the president can decide.

AMY GOODMAN: Sanders’ surge in the polls has been fueled by an influx of young voters and rallies drawing huge crowds. On Saturday, the Sanders campaign said it had raised $20 million in January alone. Speaking to NBC’s Meet the Press, Sanders said he’s drawing voters fed up with the status quo.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Let me just say this. As you well know, when we began this campaign, we were at 3 percent in the polls. We were 50 points behind Hillary Clinton. Today, as you’ve indicated, we’re neck and neck. I think we have a real shot to win this, if there is a large voter turnout. And it’s not just young people. It is working people, it is middle-class people, who are sick and tired of status quo politics. That’s true in Iowa. It’s true in New Hampshire. It’s true all over this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Iowa is one of the whitest states in the country. But as the first to vote on presidential hopefuls, the Iowa caucus plays an outsize role in the election cycle. Presidential campaigning now starts well over year before the opening Iowa contest—that’s nearly two years before actual Election Day in November of 2016. Voters have been treated to months of visits from candidates and more than $150 million in political advertising.

For more, we’re going directly to Des Moines, Iowa, where we’re joined by two guests. Ed Fallon, host of The Fallon Forum, which airs on two radio stations in Iowa, he served as a member of the Iowa General Assembly from '93 to 2006. He is backing Bernie Sanders in the race, just came out and announced that. Wayne Ford is co-founder and co-chair of the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum and a backer of Hillary Clinton. He's a former Iowa state representative and Iowa’s longest-serving black legislator, having served for 14 years from 1997 to 2010.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Wayne Ford, let us begin with you. Give us the lay of the land. I mean, you have Iowa, one of the whitest states in the country, behind, what, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire—which is the next primary state—West Virginia, and then Iowa. It is determining—it is setting the stage. I mean, the person who wins is not necessarily the one who will win for president, but it really sets the tone for the entire presidential race. Can you talk about your state?

WAYNE FORD: Yes, I can, Amy. First of all, I’m very proud that we were the state that had got President Obama started, although we are the fifth whitest state. But just by electing the first black president means that people in Iowa, we look at the message, not the color. When Jesse Jackson ran in 1988, I had a meeting with him. I said, “Jesse, won’t you put your headquarters in Des Moines?” He said, “Wayne, I don’t want to be in Des Moines. I want to be in Greenfield, Iowa.” So he went to a white community, set up, and to this day, they still talk about Jesse Jackson. So, if you move a color issue and put it on message, since 1976, when Jimmy Carter came here and said, “I’m just a peanut farmer, I’m from the South”—so, I hear you, and plus we’ve got the highest voter turnout during presidential elections in America. We’re at almost 70 percent. So there’s no other state that can say during a vote time that high a percentage vote, although we’ve got a small population, Amy. I’m very proud of what we have done as a state by keeping these candidates on message.

AMY GOODMAN: What are some of the key issues that Iowans care about, Wayne Ford?

WAYNE FORD: From my perspective, when Hillary said criminal justice—we’re not too far from Ferguson, Missouri; Minneapolis; Kansas City. We’re in the Midwest. We have a lot of challenges here when it comes to race. Criminal justice is the issue that people are telling me—talk to me about. I’ve got young black men in innercity Des Moines who are saying, “Wayne, I’ve got a terrorist problem in my neighborhood. I don’t need to go overseas. I’m scared to walk across the street.” So whether it’s Minneapolis, whether it’s Chicago or Ferguson, you have a lot of black people in this part of the world who are really concerned about criminal justice. Lady Justice, she needs to be color blind, but many times she’s not. We’re one of the highest-ranking incarceration of black men in the country. We’ve got some challenges. Hillary said that will be her number one priority, reforming criminal justice, once she gets to—once she gets in office.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, I didn’t plan to get right into it. You two have both just recently endorsed candidates. Wayne Ford, were you with the Clintons this weekend?

WAYNE FORD: Yes, yes. I was very happy. But I didn’t make my endorsement until after the Brown and Black Presidential Forum. The Brown and Black Presidential Forum is the oldest minority forum in America. And I made a decision many years ago that I would never make a decision 'til people come to my forum. I was on the front row. I got a good example to listen to everybody. But when she mentioned criminal justice, when she mentioned from the grave—not to the grave, but when she mentioned from birth to college and to the cradle, I understood that. So she mentioned some things that were very exciting to me, and that's why I was very happy to be with the Clintons this past week.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to go to some of the clips from that forum, but I want to bring Ed Fallon in, radio host who has just recently endorsed Bernie Sanders. First, Ed, talk about what you think is most important for people to understand about Iowa, and then we’ll have a little debate, discussion, about who you’re both endorsing.

ED FALLON: Well, Iowa is more diverse than most people think, and we are more urban than most people think. But rural issues obviously are very, very important here. One thing I’ve been very interested to see is the growth in interest about climate change. That issue has gone from very little conversation to quite a lot. There’s been a whole bunch of nonprofit organizations that have been helping to push that issue along, including The Climate Mobilization, which just staged a Climate Emergency Caucus, which Bernie Sanders won hands down. He cleaned up at it. I mean, I think there’s a real strong sense that Sanders is the best candidate to deliver the emergency economic transformation we need to fight climate change. And so that’s why I—that’s why I came around to endorsing him after that event.

But the other issue that’s of a particular interest to me is this proposal for a new pipeline across Iowa. You know, with the Keystone pipeline dead and the oil industry still wanting to get that Alberta tar sands oil to market, they’re trying to build a pipeline through Iowa. And that has united libertarians, environmentalists, landowners, farmers. And at first, like a year ago, you wouldn’t hear any candidate mention it. And now Bernie Sanders is in fact running advertisements about his opposition to it on the radio. He’s got fliers. He’s talking about it in every speech he gives. So, to me, it’s really encouraging to see that at least one candidate on the Democratic side and actually Rand Paul on the Republican side have both come out against that issue, because that ties so strongly into not just the issue of climate change and water quality, but also of land rights. You know, to think about how the government would have to approve eminent domain for a private oil company in order to take the land needed, it’s so wrong, and it riles people up in the state. About 75 percent of Iowans polled are against the use of eminent domain for that pipeline. So I’m actually surprised more candidates haven’t come out against it. We haven’t heard a word from Hillary Clinton on it, by the way.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to break, and then we’re going to come back to this discussion. Wayne Ford is with us, co-founder of the Iowa Brown and Black Forum. He has just endorsed Hillary Clinton, where—he’s in Des Moines and former state—he’s also a former state legislator. And Ed Fallon, the radio talk show host, who served in the Iowa General Assembly has just come out and endorsed Bernie Sanders. We’ll be back with them in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: “Be Careful” by Sunnyland Slim, here on Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. It is Iowa caucus day. Tonight, 8:00 Eastern Standard Time, people will be going to the polls in Iowa to discuss and debate their choices. I want to turn to a clip of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum last month. She was asked how her administration would prove that black lives matter.

HILLARY CLINTON: I’ve met, as you probably know, with a very dynamic group of young Black Lives Matter activists and have heard directly from them. And there’s a broad agenda that we’ve got to address. Let’s start with the most contentious issues—criminal justice reform, policing reform, incarceration reform. And I believe strongly that this has to be the highest priority of the president. President Obama’s policing commission has some very good suggestions that I would want to build on. But we have to do everything possible in reaching out and listening directly to communities that are being affected, whose trust has been betrayed and broken, whose families are desolated by the large numbers of missing men in the communities.

And I have a very specific set of recommendations about what I would do. When it comes to arrest, we’ve got to have a much clearer set of standards, because African-American men and Latino men, in particular, get arrested more quickly for doing the same thing as a white man does. And then it continues through the process—more likely to be charged, more likely to be convicted, more likely to be incarcerated. And the figures don’t lie.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is Hillary Clinton at the [Brown and Black] Forum when one of the audience members asked her about what white privilege meant to her.

HILLARY CLINTON: It is hard when you’re swimming in the ocean to know exactly what’s happening around you, so much as it is when you’re standing on the shore perhaps watching. For me, you know, look, I was born white, middle-class in the middle of America. I went to good public schools. I had a very strong supportive family. I had a lot of great experiences growing up. I went to a wonderful college. I went to law school. I never really knew what was or wasn’t part of the privilege. I just knew that I was a lucky person and that being lucky was in part related to who I am, where I’m from and the opportunities I had.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Hillary Clinton at the [Brown and Black] Forum of Wayne Ford, who co-founded it. He’s in Des Moines right now. The significance of what Hillary Clinton said, Wayne Ford?

WAYNE FORD: Well, Amy, it meant so much to me. First, I want to knowledge my co-chair, Mary Campos, who is the co-chair of the Latino component to the Brown and Black. And I want to thank Fusion TV for doing a wonderful job. When she talked about white privilege, I was watching the audience. I mean, it was our show. And everybody got quiet, because to ask a white person how they feel about white privilege, coming from a Latino. The way she answered that, I mean, I watched Hillary grow to what—how she delivers, how she deals with her crowd. As you and I both know, Black Lives Matter, earlier in the session, there was a little confrontation. But Hillary has learned along this journey to work with people. And that question, she was very calm about it. So, besides that and criminal justice, when she talked about those two issues, that’s when I decided to put my support behind Hillary.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about a quote of Michelle Alexander, who just posted this on Facebook this week, the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. She said, “If anyone doubts that the mainstream media fails to tell the truth about our political system (and its true winners and losers), the spectacle of large majorities of black folks supporting Hillary Clinton in the primary races ought to be proof enough.” She said, “I can’t believe Hillary would be coasting into the primaries with her current margin of black support if most people knew how much damage the Clintons have done—the millions of families [that were] destroyed the last time they were in the White House thanks to their boastful embrace of the mass incarceration machine and their total capitulation to the right-wing narrative on race, crime, welfare and taxes.” And she goes on from there. Your thoughts on this, Wayne Ford?

WAYNE FORD: People have a right to say what they want. I’m from Washington, D.C. I’m well aware of the criminal justice system, the crack cocaine problem that was in my community, the gangs, the killings in the street. Black leaders went to Congress and asked them, “We need help. We need help.” President Clinton was president at that time. They put the package together. Most of that—some of that package was supported by black leaders in my hometown of Washington, D.C. But let’s talk about timing. FDR was the right president at the right time. President Obama was the right president at the right time. With all the issues we’ve got challenging America now, we need someone with experience. My support goes behind Hillary Clinton.

AMY GOODMAN: Bernie Sanders held a rally in Manchester in eastern Iowa Saturday in one of his many tour bus stops around the state.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Are we a poor nation? No, we’re not a poor nation. We are the richest nation in the history of the world. But the vast majority of the American people don’t know that, because they’re working too hard and they’re struggling too hard to keep their heads above water economically, while almost all of the new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent. Why? Why do we allow that to happen? Why do we accept that? That is what this campaign is about. And it is saying that the status quo is simply not acceptable. We are going to make fundamental changes in our economy and in our political life.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Bernie Sanders in Manchester, Iowa. Ed Fallon, talk about both what he said here, continually addressing this issue of inequality, as well as why you feel Hillary Clinton does not address this in that way.

ED FALLON: Well, Sanders is right on so many issues to me. I mean, he’s nailing all the top issues. He understands the urgency of climate change. He understands the importance of fighting for—fighting against income inequality. And he understands the importance of getting money out of politics. That’s a huge concern for a lot of people, is the big money that Hillary Clinton has taken and continues to take in her campaign, her very cozy relationship with Wall Street. And we need somebody who’s going to fight Wall Street, not go along with it. And unfortunately, that’s what’s been happening. Even the reforms that happened after the last crash, those aren’t doing anything for the average person. So, you know, we really have to look at who has been the fighter for rank-and-file Americans all along.

I mean, Secretary Clinton, as much as I might respect her, she has changed her positions conveniently all the time. I mean, the things we hear her saying now during the campaign, I do not think she’d be saying anything about opposing the Keystone pipeline, for example, or calling herself a progressive or all these other things she’s talking about. I think that’s happening because you’ve got Senator Sanders pushing her in that direction. And it’s a direction, again, that—you know, experience is great, but if your experience also means you make the wrong decision a lot of times, like on the Iraq War, again on Keystone, on Glass-Steagall—I mean, you know, Sanders is for the movement to get the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Senator Clinton is not. And I can’t think of a better program to help lift people out of poverty than a minimum wage that is actually a livable wage. And that’s a huge distinction right there.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask each of you, since you came out only recently in endorsing your candidates. Wayne Ford, was it a tough decision for you? Could you support Bernie Sanders?

WAYNE FORD: Last time I was in this situation, I supported President Obama. And before that, I supported—I mean, I can go back—go from Mondale, Jimmy Carter. I’ve been doing this for a very long time. I’ve always waited to make the right decision. But let me be candid. Whoever the nominee is—I’m a Democrat—I will support the nominee. But as of right now, my thought pattern was: I will make my decision once I look at the Brown and Black Forum. I had a front row seat. I watched faces. I watched the emotion. I’ve been doing this since 1984, so it’s kind of hard to fool me. And each time I’ve done this, I’ve chose the person who I thought meant that much to me to make America more safer, and I think president—you know, a President Clinton would be the person that can do that.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Ed Fallon, would you support Hillary Clinton if she were the candidate?

ED FALLON: Well, I would, but I can’t promise that all of Bernie Sanders’ supporters would. See, that’s a big concern that I have. I mean, if you look at the polling itself, against Trump, Cruz or other Republican nominee possibilities, Clinton does not do as well as Sanders. Sanders beats them by greater margins. And I think part of that is, there’s a lot of folks who are coming into Bernie Sanders’ campaign who are new to this, who have never felt empowered by a candidate before, finally somebody who is speaking their language. I mean, here’s a guy who’s in his early seventies speaking to young people. Young people are rallying behind Sanders by a huge margin here in Iowa. And I think some of them are going to feel discouraged and probably not want to vote, and that would hurt Senator Clinton’s chances in the general election. So, you know, I will certainly support her, but I can’t say that all the Sanders supporters will.

AMY GOODMAN: Ed Fallon, can you talk about those who are saying they’re deciding between not Clinton and Sanders, but Trump and Sanders?

ED FALLON: Yeah, I understand that, because Donald Trump, for all his insanity, is—is pegging himself as outside the establishment, which is actually remarkable, because I can’t think of a more establishment candidate than Donald Trump. But he is appealing to some of the same anti-status quo sentiment that Bernie Sanders is raking in. And I think the more people see and hear of Trump, you know, the less likely they are to continue to support that. But with Sanders, it’s sincere, it’s long-held. I mean, his consistency throughout the decades is incredible. And, you know, with Trump, again, like Clinton, you see positions being taken, statements being made, that are fairly new to that person’s rhetoric. And I think at some point the majority of people are going to start getting tired of that, again, especially with Trump. I mean, I don’t to compare Trump with Clinton to any great extent, because obviously she’s got a much more encouraging track record than Trump. But I think people are going to get tired of that really soon. I don’t know how far he’s going to get. What happens tonight is going to be fascinating to watch.


ED FALLON: But I think at some point that that support he has is going to be seen as just very, very shallow.

AMY GOODMAN: Wayne Ford, can you talk about the Trump phenomenon, that’s even surprised Trump himself, who said recently that he could go out and shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still win?

WAYNE FORD: Amy, let me talk about that statement. Young people come to me all the time. My nonprofit, Urban Dreams, is 30 years old. I’ve had so many young black people come to me and said, “Wayne, if we made that statement, they will put us in jail.” That’s what I’m kind of talking about. Now, America has to make a decision. Millennials—I got that. I know Bernie is doing well with college campuses and all that. But let me be candid. Here is what I’m hearing. Here in Iowa, since we’re the first people who are going to call this, I’ve heard more millennials who got in contact with me and said they’re going to support Hillary, because she has the experience, and she has the season. Some of these people can’t even pay rent. They’re living with their parents. Now, bottom line is, in their generation, they were told it’s going to live less than us baby boomers, that’s going to make less money than us baby boomers. I’ve got young people saying, “If I walk around saying I was going to kill somebody, I’ll be put in jail.” America must make a decision. We need somebody serious. And that’s why I’m excited, I’m so excited, to support Hillary, just on the question you just asked. We need to start getting real. My son said, “Daddy, I’m not going to live long as you.” That bothers me.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of the evangelical vote, talk about how significant it is. Is the evangelical population actually decreasing in Iowa? And what are the concerns of evangelicals?

ED FALLON: Did you want to hear from me on that?

WAYNE FORD: Who are you talking to, Amy? Who do you want?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ed Fallon.

ED FALLON: OK, the—it’s hard to say. I mean, the evangelical wing of the Republican Party has been very effective at electing—at choosing a candidate that represents that position. I mean, we had Santorum last time and Huckabee the time before. But I think that wing of the party, Republican Party, tends to get really tired really fast. If you don’t win the first time, you’re out. I mean, Santorum and Huckabee are polling at 2 percent here. Cruz is the new, I think, candidate of the day for that wing of the party. But, you know, about 40 percent of Iowa Democrats caucus; about 20 percent of Iowa Republicans caucus. So we have twice as much participation. If more mainstream-type Republicans were to participate, that element of the Republican Party would probably be a lot less influential. What’s going to happen tonight is hard to say. I mean, it very well could be a Cruz victory, given the fact that evangelicals tend to be rallying behind him. But I do think—to the real crux of your question, I do think, overall, we’re beginning to see a little bit of erosion of the centrality of that element within the Republican Party.

AMY GOODMAN: And that issue of the big storm coming in and how much—well, how important, Wayne Ford, voter turnout is, and how you maximize it?

WAYNE FORD: Well, good question, Amy. But I’ve been doing this—my first presidential forum was in 1976, when Jimmy Carter, Birch Bayh and Sargent Shriver sent their surrogates to the innercity. I was a young kid. I was at Drake University. It was a storm back then. When Vice President Biden ran, he took a private plane to get to my event. Mondale missed it because of a storm, but he got a—he got a plane and came in later. Whether it storms or not, we lead the country. We’re number one. And I think Iowans will do their due diligence. I mean, we will do it. This is not the first storm. I mean, I see the weather getting just as much as attention as these presidential candidates. Let me be clear: I’ve been following this since 1976. We have the oldest process, the best process, and a storm is not going to stop us. We will support—we will be out there tonight. And I’m just excited to be involved.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and bring on some new guests in Des Moines. I want to thank Wayne Ford, co-founder of the Iowa Brown and Black Forum, former state legislator; Ed Fallon also, radio host who served in the Iowa General Assembly. Ed endorsed Bernie Sanders, and Wayne Ford endorsed Hillary Clinton. This is Democracy Now! Yes, today is the first of the presidential nominating contests, and it’s in Iowa. We’re talking to folks in Des Moines. Stay with us.

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