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After Dead Heat in Iowa, Will Clinton Move Further Left to Stop the Sanders Surge?

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With Iowa out of the way, the presidential contest now shifts to New Hampshire, which holds its primary a week from today. Then come contests in Nevada and South Carolina, followed by the delegate-rich “Super Tuesday” primaries on March 1. Although Bernie Sanders was able to tie Clinton in Iowa and leads her in the New Hampshire polls, he’ll face a tougher challenge as the contest moves to the Southern states. And Clinton already has a big advantage away from the voting booths: the support of several hundred “superdelegates,” who vote based on their own preferences, not their party’s state results. We discuss the Iowa results and look ahead to what’s next with two guests: Ellen Chesler, a longtime supporter of Hillary Clinton and senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, and John Nichols, political writer for The Nation, which has endorsed Bernie Sanders, and author of several books, including the newly updated “The 'S' Word: A Short History of an American Tradition…Socialism.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: With Iowa out of the way, the presidential contest now shifts to New Hampshire, which holds its primary a week from today. After New Hampshire comes contests in Nevada and South Carolina, followed by the delegate-rich Super Tuesday primaries on March 1st. Despite a turnout of only a few hundred thousand voters and being one of the whitest states in the country—the fifth-whitest, to be exact—Iowa plays an outsize role as the first contest in a lengthy campaign that now begins two years before the eventual winner’s inauguration. Although Bernie Sanders was able to tie Clinton in Iowa and leads her in the New Hampshire polls, he’ll face a tougher challenge as the contest moves to the Southern states. And Clinton already has a big advantage away from the voting booths: the support of several hundred superdelegates who vote based on their own preferences, not their party’s state results.

To discuss the Iowa results and look ahead to what’s next, we’re joined by two guests. Here in New York, Ellen Chesler is with us. She is a longtime supporter of Hillary Clinton, a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. And in Des Moines, Iowa, John Nichols is a political writer for The Nation, which has endorsed Bernie Sanders. An updated version of his book, The “S” Word: A Short History of an American Tradition…Socialism, has just been published. His other books include Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex Is Destroying America.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! But, John, you are in Iowa right now. Describe what took place, on both sides of the aisle.

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, I don’t know if you’ve got a couple hours, but a lot took place. It was really quite a remarkable night. And the important thing to begin with is the kind of disarray of the Republican race. It’s fascinating what happened there. As of Monday morning, virtually everyone was talking about the likelihood of a Donald Trump win. Now we end up with not only Donald Trump not winning, but him, Trump, almost falling into third place. The Cruz win is a big deal. It has established him as the leading purer conservative, for lack of a better term, the guy who will go hard to the right and likely attract the support not just of Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, but ultimately, depending on how this race goes forward, someone like a Ben Carson.

But the interesting thing about what happened on the Republican side is that you didn’t get rid of all the kind of mid-ticket candidates. If the results hold—and there’s still some sorting out to do, but if the results holds as expected, Ted Cruz will win delegates; Donald Trump will win delegates; Marco Rubio, who ran far better than expected, will win delegates; Ben Carson will win delegates; and Rand Paul and Jeb Bush will win at least one delegate each. So, I mean, it’s a very, very kind of ripped-up field. I think a lot of people are going to go into New Hampshire. I think a nasty, nasty race—and it was ugly, very expensive and negative ads to the last minutes—will go on in New Hampshire, and perhaps a good deal beyond.

On the Democratic side, you had something that was very different: you know, a smaller field, to begin with, and a pretty clear race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, with Martin O’Malley really running a noble effort, touring the state, working hard, but never quite getting traction. O’Malley has now dropped out.

But as you got to that final result, I can just tell you that I was in precincts last night, and it was a remarkable thing to watch. You had traffic jams, lines pouring out of those precincts, and people of, you know, kind of every background showing up. Now, I was in Des Moines, the most diverse city in Iowa, and—or at least one of the most diverse, and so I did see a real mix of people. I went to a precinct in an African-American neighborhood, and I saw immigrants, longtime residents, as well as students from nearby college. There were long lines, but people really were getting along with each other. I saw Hillary Clinton people helping Bernie Sanders people fill out their registration forms. And so, the caucuses themselves were long and functional.

The result, however, was wild. And I was in the headquarters of these candidates last night. It was a fascinating thing to watch, because you just don’t have this very often in politics, where, you know, as the night goes on, you have a clear front-runner—and Hillary Clinton was the clear front-runner early in the evening. She had a four- or five-point lead. It looked like it would hold to what the polls had suggested. But as the night went on, it got closer and closer and closer, ’til you ended up with this razor-thin result, which might go, you know, by a tiny bit to Hillary Clinton, but I think I would suggest The Des Moines Register headline, “Dead Heat,” is a pretty fair one.

And what’s significant about that, how it worked—and this will be the last bit of report I’ll give you, at least on the caucuses themselves—is that the caucuses are complex. You can vote and revote. If things are uncertain, you can reshuffle who’s in them. And in some of these caucuses, that were literally packed with people, especially new people—a lot of students, a lot of low-income folks, working-class folks, a surprising number, at least in some of these places, immigrants, who were participating for the first time, 17-, 18-year-olds from high schools who are participating because they’ll be old enough to vote in November and thus, under the Iowa rules, are allowed to be a part of it—all of these people, you know, just took time to make this all work. And you came down to this very close result. One of the reasons why Sanders closed the margin at the end, why it got closer and closer through the night, is that it was the precincts that had this incredibly boosted turnout of new voters that took the longest to count, because you often had a lot of forms to fill out, a lot of details to go through.

But at the end of the night, you ended up with a situation where—fairly, I think—both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders could claim a victory—at least a victory of sorts. And it’s important to note Hillary Clinton is the first woman to win the Iowa caucuses. This is a—this is a major breakthrough for a state that has not seen women get elected to some high offices even to this point. And then also it’s important to note that on the Republican side you had children of immigrants—Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio—running first and third, almost knocking out a billionaire, in the second place. So, pretty interesting results across the board.

AMY GOODMAN: So there are a lot of interesting numbers. I think the Republican figures are 182,000 Republican caucusgoers turned out, breaking the record of 122,000 in 2012. I mean, by my calculation, that’s 50 percent more people came out and voted in the Republican. And those votes are counted individually. We watched them, you know, counting their paper ballots.


AMY GOODMAN: Now, the Democrats are different. They don’t count paper ballots. They caucus, and they choose delegates. Now, when you talk about this being extremely close, a virtual tie, can you explain, John, in six of these caucuses, they actually flipped a coin? And in every one of those—


AMY GOODMAN: —Hillary Clinton won? I mean, luck be a lady tonight.

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, in fairness, at the caucuses I’ve seen—and I’ve been a caucuses going back for a quarter-century—what happens is, you let one campaign call it, right? And they call. And in these different caucuses, some places the Clinton person called, some places the Sanders person called. And then, you know what? If they get it, they get it.

You know, the problem of doing it any other way, Amy, is that they don’t do that right away. When you get to the coin toss, you have allowed the campaigns to make their pitches, to talk to one another. This is not like voting. It’s not like some secret process in the classic sense. Candidates—or, campaigners walk across the room. If you’re a Hillary Clinton backer, you go to a Bernie Sanders backer. You say, “Hey, you know, really, don’t you want to come over and be with us? I know you”—because these are in neighborhoods. They all go to the O’Malley backers and try to get them to come across. They then count who they’ve got. And maybe, you know, the Clinton people have got 41, the Sanders people have got 41. They say, “Hey, does anybody want to change?” They allow for more debate. That’s why some of these caucuses took a couple hours. And at the end of the day, if they cannot get people to break from their commitments, they flip the coin. It is an imperfect system, but frankly, people generally walk away accepting it.

The one final element I will throw into this, Amy, is that in these caucuses, these people really do know one another. They are friends and neighbors. And interestingly enough, by and large, they’re people who work together on campaigns in the fall. And so, I think, from the outside, a lot of people might expect a great deal of bitterness—and sometimes there can be that—but when I’ve been on the ground in these caucuses, and certainly last night, I saw people, you know, arguing issues really passionately, arguing electability really passionately, but, generally, accepting the results.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring in Ellen Chesler to this discussion. Ellen, you’ve been a longtime Hillary Clinton supporter, just had a party for her. You’ve had parties for her at your house, supporting her, fundraisers.

ELLEN CHESLER: Years ago, not this cycle, but—

AMY GOODMAN: Ah. Talk about this razor-close finish—the campaign has declared victory, but clearly this is a virtual tie—and what it means.

ELLEN CHESLER: I think it means that Hillary Clinton actually did quite well in Iowa, a state and in a process that rewards insurgency. You had a situation where she came in as the front-runner, the, quote-unquote, “establishment candidate”—although let’s remember that Bernie Sanders has been in government for 25 years, as long as she has, and that kind of makes him part of the establishment, too, as he defines it. But he clearly was the unknown. He’s never passed a bill, doesn’t have the kind of record. She’s the international figure of renown and the one who’s been attacked for 25 years, too—let’s remember that. I mean, this is a woman who has been the subject of the attack machine on the right—and to some extent, from the left—for a quarter of a century. And she more than held her own.

And she held her own—and I put an emphasis on much of what John said—in a situation where the real divide—and this is what’s fascinating to me; I’m Hillary Clinton’s age, so I’ve been around a long time—the real divide is a generational divide here. He did well because he brought in a whole lot of new voters. The Times reported 171,000 caucusgoers on the Democratic side. They don’t cast ballots, so you don’t know exactly if that number is true, but in that ballpark. He brought in a lot of new people under, you know, the age of 25. And that’s a great thing for our democracy, and as somebody, you know, who’s at the end of my political career and started when I was that age myself in the 1960s, I really see the value of that, and I know the Clinton campaign does, as well. And they voted, you know, nine to one, and similarly—for Bernie, and similarly, people of my age and even, you know, 45 to 65, voted eight to one for her. And that divide was even greater than the gender divide or the class divide or whatever other divides.

And I think that’s a really interesting and cautionary tale—I mean, certainly for the Clinton campaign, which now needs to move forward and try to win over some of those supporters. And I think the positive tone of the campaign is really all about that. It’s all about not antagonizing anybody. I mean, after all, we’re choosing between two progressive candidates here. One may be more progressive, more clearly defined between the haves and have-nots, between Wall Street and Main Street—in his definition of it. But if you actually look at her platform, as The Nation itself said in Michelle Goldberg’s cover story, in which I was quoted a couple of months ago—is it already?—this is the most progressive platform a Democrat has run since, you know, Lyndon Johnson.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, Hillary Clinton called herself a progressive last night when she spoke. John Nichols, do you think Bernie Sanders has had a major effect on Hillary Clinton’s platform?

JOHN NICHOLS: There’s simply no question of that. And that’s why you have primaries. I really share a lot of Ellen’s views here. And I think that, you know, the one thing I would bring up very strongly is that there was a generational divide. And it’s clear that these young folks were coming to vote for Bernie Sanders. I would be—I warn a lot of the national pundits that they weren’t necessarily coming to vote against Hillary Clinton.

Sanders made a remarkable connection with folks in Iowa, and it was rooted in a tremendous level of actual campaigning, something like 150 stops across the state. And part of that connection is an interesting one, which I don’t think we begin to cover well at the national level. You’ve got to get pretty down to the grassroots to hear this. But when I talked to these young folks who were coming, and also to just generally a lot of the folks who were backing Sanders, they were backing him not merely because of what has happened. It wasn’t merely because of the economic downturn or the history of recent years, many of the economic concerns that we know about. There was also a great deal of concern about the future. And again, this went up, you know, not—above many of the young folks. And it was a concern that in an age of automation, in an age of radical transformation of our workplaces and our work life, that it was going to be pretty hard to have a future that will be as defined, or maybe even as prosperous, as their parents or grandparents. And so, what I heard from an awful lot of folks was that they wanted someone in presidency, in a position of power—they wanted someone at least at the lead in our politics—who was going to watch out for them, who was going to make sure that the decisions made in those moments would be on behalf of the new immigrant, of the person working a $10-an-hour job or the single mom, of a whole bunch of folks who have been really badly harmed by our economic system. And what I heard was Sanders hitting that very, very early on, really connecting with a lot of that.

But I also heard Hillary Clinton taking in a lot of these messages. And she’s—remember, she’s worked on some of this stuff for decades, but also beginning to hear and connect with a lot of this, as well. I think that the Iowa race has had a real impact on Hillary Clinton. I think her final speeches in Iowa were very populist, very economically focused. And my sense is that she did well, not merely because of her past, but because she, too, was listening and connecting and hearing. And as this race goes on, I would love it if one of these additional Democratic debates—and there will be additional Democratic debates—I would love it if one of them was just about the future, not about the past, because, I can tell you, in Iowa, that’s what an awful lot of these, especially the young, voters were voting on.

AMY GOODMAN: Ellen Chesler?

ELLEN CHESLER: Well, I—again, John and I are in agreement on a lot of things. In addition to the generational divide, if you looked at the analysis this morning, those who were more practically focused, who are policy wonkish, are the Clinton supporters. And young people, who are idealists and who want a very sort of starry-eyed definition of the future, tended toward Sanders. And I think what’s going to happen now is a much more deeper dive into how Sanders believes he can realize his promises for the future. And that’s going to play to Hillary’s advantage, because she’s the one who’s actually been there working things out.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, that’s clearly what she’s saying. She’s saying, “Well, it may all look nice on paper, but how do you achieve it?” But, John Nichols, this question of whether she is a progressive, having voted for the war in Iraq, was on the board of Wal-Mart for years, and most recently going after Bernie Sanders, saying he would take down Obamacare, when Bernie Sanders was saying he wanted single payer. Last night, she started talking about universal healthcare, so I think he’s having an effect there.

JOHN NICHOLS: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.


AMY GOODMAN: But talk about that label “progressive” and what exactly it means.

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, I mean, again, how many hours do you have? Because the label “progressive” has been polled in an awful lot of ways. I’m from rural Wisconsin, and so I grew up with an understanding of progressivism as something that was to the left of liberal. It was a point of view that really did emphasize a lot of economic justice, that tended to be very antiwar or skeptical of wars. That’s the Robert M. La Follette progressivism. And frankly, I think that’s a place where Bernie Sanders would put himself, at least, historically, as well as with a little bit of the New Deal FDR vision.

ELLEN CHESLER: But again, John, where’s the meat?

JOHN NICHOLS: And so, I—yeah. What? Well, this is—that’s a great old question. And I am not—you know, I’m not going to begin to suggest to you that I know exactly where this campaign will go, but I would caution—I would caution on suggesting that Bernie Sanders will necessarily present himself as starry-eyed. I think that Ellen is right. In these next weeks, Bernie Sanders is going to have to lay out specifics. He’s going to talk about budget issues, and he’s going to talk about agenda and ideas. But at the core of what he’s talking about—and we talked about this in The Nation editorial, or the editors did—is this concept that, you know, you really do have to change our politics a lot. It’s not just changing our governing. It’s getting a very different politics that brings a lot of new people in. I think that’s been Sanders’s point.

I think that Hillary Clinton is also recognizing that. And so, my sense is that this campaign has already changed a great deal. I think it’s moved immensely from where it began. And my sense is that the debates that come, which will be one-on-one debates because you’ve lost Martin O’Malley—which is too bad, because he was actually a very wise contributor—but these debates that come, I think, are going to go deep into those economic issues, they’ll also focus a good deal on foreign policy, but as they do, I don’t think it’s going to be starry-eyed idealism versus, you know, hardtacks veteran experience. I think you’re going to see two people who have some different views. And I hope that moderators of these debates, and people that tweak it out and cover it, will encourage them to explore those differences, you know, not with bitterness or anger, but with a really deep debate about where the Democratic Party ought to go in the next decades.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break for a minute.

JOHN NICHOLS: And that’s an open question. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’re going to bring Lee Fang into this conversation. We’re talking to John Nichols, political writer for The Nation, which has endorsed Bernie Sanders. Ellen Chesler is with us, a longtime supporter of Hillary Clinton, senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Stay with us.

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