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The Iowa Caucuses: State of the Race a Week before Iowa Goes to the Polls

David Yepsen, former chief political writer for Iowa's Des Moines Register, current Director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale
Des Moines, IA
January 25, 2016




3:00 P.M. EST

MODERATOR: Hello, everyone. On behalf of the Foreign Press Center I want to welcome Mr. David Yepsen, former Chief Political Writer of the Des Moines Register, and currently the Director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. He’s going to talk about the state of the race in Iowa a week out based on his vast experience in political reporting in Iowa.

I just want to thank you for joining us and I’m glad we can all be here despite the closure of the government today.

I intend, if technically I can do so, to send the audio and the transcript of this call sometime in the next 36 hours. So if you want a transcript we’ll do our best to get it to you.

But without further ado, here’s David Yepsen. He’ll give brief remarks on Iowa and then we’ll move to Q&A which will be moderated by the AT&T operator. Thank you.

MR. YEPSEN: Thank you, Andrew, and thank you all for calling in. I regret the storm prohibited me from being able to be present but I don’t feel so bad since the whole government is shut down because I gather nobody else can move around in that city.

As Andrew mentioned, I spent 35 years covering politics in Iowa for the Des Moines Register which is the largest newspaper in the state. In the course of doing that I spent probably a year out of every four covering presidential politics. Caucuses are an important political story in the state, and I spent a great deal of time with that.

A caucus is different than a primary election. A caucus is a neighborhood meeting. The best way to understand what it is is people gather in neighborhood churches, schoolhouse lunch rooms, any public facility to express a preference of who they want to be the next President of the United States. Republican activists will gather and they will cast what we call a straw vote. They’ll simply write a name on a slip of paper and turn it in and those will be calculated and those results reported.

The Democrats are a little more complicated. They break the crowd down into what are called preference groups. Hillary Clinton supporters will get in one corner; Bernie Sanders people will get in another corner. Mark O’Malley people will get in yet another corner, and they will vote for delegates to the county convention. And based upon that, the party will record results based on the percentage. It will be the percentage of delegates to the state convention that each candidate has won. So it’s a little more complicated system on the democratic side, but the goal is the same and that is to allow individual citizens who are active in their party to show up at their neighborhood meeting, register to vote as a Republican or as a Democrat, and then express a preference.

This is a very interesting election and I think a significant one. Both American political parties today are searching for what their direction will be in a post-Obama era. Republicans have an argument over the direction of Washington and so do the Democrats. It’s the strength of what we once thought were protest indices in Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders, is truly amazing.

Additionally, many of us who observe American politics thought these two candidacies were protest candidates and were simply there to make a little noise, get some publicity and try to influence the direction of the campaign.

While both of them now are in a position where they can win Iowa and win the New Hampshire primary that occurs a week later. And what has been powerful, and the anger that many Americans feel, anger over a variety of things. From the Democratic side it’s anger over income inequality, the shrinking middle class in America. A lot of people are being left behind in the nation’s prosperity and they are upset about it. Many of them are also unhappy, the Democrats are also unhappy with President Obama because he has not been as progressive as they wanted him to be on issues like health care.

On the Republican side, immigration is a big issue. Donald Trump, all Republicans are giving voice to the concerns that many in America have over the large number of immigrants and undocumented people who are coming into this country. That is obviously a huge issue in much of the world, but it is certainly driving a lot of what is behind the Trump candidacy. And the Ted Cruz candidacy. The state of the race right now is, the latest polls, I would encourage you to go to realcareerpolitics.com and look at their web site. They do the best tracking of political polls that I know of. Particularly their rolling average. You can see there, in their polling in Iowa, that both the Democratic race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is a statistical tie; Donald Trump has been in a tie with Ted Cruz and now he is thought to be opening up a little bit of a lead here.

And finally, that is certainly no prediction because even voters who are expressing preferences to pollsters are perfectly capable of showing up at those neighborhood meetings and after having talked to their friends and neighbors, changing their mind before they cast a vote. So there’s a lot of those potential caucus goers who can be persuaded to change their mind and saying that they will not make a final decision until they get there that night.

And all that assumes that pollsters are successful in reaching potential caucus goers. It’s difficult enough for pollsters to poll general elections. It’s more difficult to poll primaries. It’s even more difficult to poll caucuses. So you take these polls with a grain of salt.

With that, Andrew, I think I’d just like to open it up the questions people may have.

MODERATOR: Okay, let’s go ahead with questions.

AT&T OPERATOR: Our first question comes from the line of Celia Cernadas, Catalunya Radio, [Spain]. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello. Thank you for being with us on this snowy day. Since I’m completely new to the presidential race, I’d like some advice for the journalists who are going to be there for the first time in Iowa. Some tips on how to cover this caucus because it’s a completely [inaudible] that we are used to. And where can we go, how to follow the name that we can trace over, or the towns [inaudible] to follow some things about this. Thank you.

MR. YEPSEN: There is a recording in the press center that has been established in a building called Capitol Square in downtown Des Moines. They are credentialing media people there to have access to that on caucus night. There will be quite a good turnout of reporters. So you might want to make sure you check in there because a lot of newsmakers and political types will be hanging around, and to provide some background information and various perspectives and spin.

There are any number of, you can pick any number of towns. You might pick a smaller town, maybe 10 or 15 or 20 miles in any direction from Des Moines. Or you can just stay within the city limits of Des Moines and the central Iowa area and find one of these neighborhood meetings to attend.

There will be people at this press center, or people at the prospective state parties. The Iowa Democratic Party, the Republican party of Iowa, who can give you some guidance on caucus sites, depending upon what you’re looking for. Obviously if you want a good Republican town, that’s going to be different than a good Democratic town or neighborhood. So that would be my suggestion.

QUESTION: Thank you.

AT&T OPERATOR: The next question comes from the line of Laura Saarikoski, Helsingin Sanomat, [Finland]. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: I, Thanks. I will be going to Iowa for the third time now. But could you shine a little bit of light on this one, on the previous results? How representative the Iowa results have historically been? I understand that the evangelical voters are a far stronger growth in Iowa than in the rest of the country. So how many times has Iowa selected the winner of both sides?

MR. YEPSEN: That’s a good question. The Iowa caucuses historically have served two purposes. One, they can elevate a candidate out of obscurity as they did in 1976 with Jimmy Carter who was an unknown, came to Iowa and won, and he made it clear to the White House. George Herbert Walker Bush wanted the Iowa caucuses in 1980, but Ronald Reagan officially won the nomination. Mr. Bush became Vice President and later won his own term.

So that gives an example of somebody is elevated out of relative obscurity into the national limelight. In 1984 Gary Hart came in a distant second to Walter Mondale in the Democratic contest, but it was good enough to elevate him to a point where he could win the New Hampshire primary.

So you have what I call the elevation of a candidate’s stature, and I think it’s important to watch who doesn’t win, but who comes in second or third, because oftentimes, sometimes those people will run again.

The second thing Iowa does is that it winnows the field. It reduces the size of the field of candidates. If you don’t, as a candidate do not run well, if you don’t finish really in that top three, what tends to happen is your campaign donations will dry up. Supporters will go elsewhere. You will be seen as having lost.

So you’ll hear the phrase that there are three tickets out in Iowa. First, second and third place. And historically, the eventual nominee of either party will come out of those first three finishers. It may not be the winner. It could be the candidate that finished in second or third place, but they will go on and win subsequent contests.

The only exception to that would be in 2008 on the Republican side, John McCain finished, tied for fourth place. So he’s an exception to that rule. So that’s why it’s important to watch, because it does have consequences.

It is true, to the second part of your question. It is true that Iowa as a state is not very typical of the nation as a whole. Iowa is probably 94 percent white and that has always been a criticism of the Iowa caucuses, that it starts in a state that is not reflective of the country. However, the people who show up at a caucus are different than the state’s population as a whole and they do tend to reflect the activists in their respective parties. You have three million Iowans. You’ve got 600,000 Republicans, 500,000, 600,000 Democrats. And of those, of that number, you will have anywhere from probably 80,000 or 90,000 to 250,000 in each party who will show up.

The record attendance at a caucus from the Democratic side in 2008, I think the exact number is 240,000 that they thought would show up. That was the year Obama and John Edwards were running against each other. And on the Republican side it’s about half that, 120,000. Those people do tend to reflect their respective parties.

So for example on the Republican side you will hear it said well, the evangelicals have a lot of strength. The fiscal conservatives have strength, and defense conservatives have strength, and yes. But I submit guess what? That’s what the Republican Party looks like. And so you look at the kind of people that show up at an Iowa Democratic or Iowa Republican caucus, do look an awful lot like people you will see on the floor at the National Conventions. They do reflect their parties.

And that’s one of the challenges that both parties face. Can they nominate candidates who are electable? On the Republican side, that’s a big argument. Is Donald Trump electable? Is Ted Cruz too conservative? And the same is true on the Democratic side where you have the argument that Hillary Clinton is making that Bernie Sanders is just simply too left of center. Too liberal. He’s a former Socialist. And that this in fact would be unelectable in a general election. So that’s a big argument that’s going on in both parties right now. You’ll hear that argument at your caucus on caucus night, whichever one of those you go to, that activists will be arguing among themselves over who can win and who won’t.

You have some in both parties who will say we have to be toward the center to win, and you have others who say no, we have to be more conservative, or we have to be more liberal to win.

So I hope that answers your question.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you.

MR. YEPSEN: Thank you.

AT&T OPERATOR: The next question comes from the line of Yashwant Raj – The Hindustan Times, [India]

QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. You said briefly in your reply to the previous question about, talked a little bit about the evangelicals. And I’ve been trying to understand who these people are and do they primarily vote Republican or are there some Democratic? And what kind of role do they play in Iowa and outside Iowa. If you could take those aspects of this too. Thank you very much.

MR. YEPSEN: Certainly. Evangelicals are Christian conservatives. They tend to be people who interpret the Bible in a very literal sense. And they, important to them that their candidates share those religious values. They are, they have, most of them are pro-life. That is, they are anti-abortion. They want government to do things to restrict abortions. They also oppose gay marriage and they want to reverse the Supreme Court decision authorizing gay marriage. But I think those are probably the two most visible issues. But they care a great deal about the character of a candidate. It is important that they trust and feel that whoever they stand up for shares their religious values, which is why Republican presidential candidates spend a lot of time going to church and to these religious groups courting their support.

They’re very well organized in Iowa. They’ve been active in Iowa Republican politics really since 1988 when they held, Pat Robinson finished in second place in the Republican caucuses that year. And they’ve been active in other races, and they’re active all over the United States. They are an important political movement and this will, if you’re coming here, will be an opportunity for you to see for yourselves the kind of impact that they have.

Many of them, incidentally, tend to be very strong supporters of Israel. Their interpretation of the Bible is such that they feel that the United States, if it honors Israel it is following the word of God. That is their interpretation, that God will bless the United States in return for doing that. So they also have very strong support for Israel and you can see that showing up in their statements about support for Israel as well as their stance on other issues in the Middle East.

So I hope that answers your question.

QUESTION: I do, but if I could ask, follow it up. How are they on Trump, who has not been a very religious person, and if you’re now saying he went to church yesterday and he’s trying to show himself as a religious man, but he has been for most of his life apparently, and how are they responding to him? Evangelicals?

MR. YEPSEN: Well, that’s a very good question and it’s something that we’ll have to wait until the votes are counted to see what happens.

Donald Trump is getting some support from Evangelicals. Other candidates are getting more support. Ted Cruz is probably getting the most support. And much of the argument going on between Cruz and Trump has been an argument over courting those Evangelical voters.

So I can’t give you a precise percentage until we see some results, but the fact is Donald Trump is getting some of those votes. Ted Cruz, certainly Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum are trying to get, and Marco Rubio, are trying to get a share of those.

I wish I could give you a better answer about the percentage, but I don’t think it’s possible to forecast that.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

AT&T OPERATOR: The next question will come from the line of Damir Fras – Berliner Zeitung, [Germany]. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you very much for doing this. Actually, two questions.

The first one would be the fact that both front-runners on the Republican side are anti-establishment candidates. Does that resonate in the Iowa voters?

And the second question would be how important is the endorsement of the Des Moines Register which actually did not endorse the front-runners, but Marco Rubio? Thank you.

MR. YEPSEN: I’ll take the second question first. The Des Moines Register’s endorsement probably has some impact on Democratic races, and probably very little impact on Republican races. Historically the Register has been a left-of-center newspaper, a progressive newspaper, liberal newspaper. So it has credibility with Democrats, whereas Republicans just find them too liberal and don’t look to them for a whole lot of guidance.

Although Marco Rubio did say he was gratified to have the endorsement, and it has helped him with his appeal in arguing that he has a broad enough base of support that he can bring together all the different factions in the Republican party -- the Evangelicals, the tea-partiers, establishment Republicans, and could present a unified party to the American people. We’ll see. I think that was part of the factor in the editorial which you can call up on line and see for yourself.

So some impact. Newspaper endorsements generally in America don’t mean that much anymore, they’re kind of a throw-back to the old days of the American press, but they create some buzz. The individual who gets them gets a little publicity for a day or two and there’s a race who’s on.

The first question you asked, I mean it is not good to be an establishment person in either party. The anger that people feel in this country right now is deeper than a lot of us thought. It shows up at Democratic rallies and people who can’t get health care, who can’t get a full-time job. You know, American prosperity has not been shared equally by all and they’re angry about it.

The same is true on the Republican side. There the concern is more about immigration. I imagine most of the people on this call know what that issue does in their own countries. And it’s true here. There’s a great deal of antipathy toward illegal immigration and the country, the United States has not been able to come to some consensus on what to do about it.

So being against the establishment which is seen as people who have failed to deliver in both parties is a popular sound. And I think it will have an effect on the fall campaign because one or both American political parties are going to chart a little bit different direction than the one they had been going in and that will have consequences for policy-making later on. It’s pretty clear to me the Republican Party is moving more to the right. They’ll have a President who looks more like the Republicans in Congress. And the same is true at the opposite perspective. We’re going to have Democrats who have moved to the left. And Hillary Clinton is having trouble negotiating that. She wants to be effective, yet Sanders is simply saying that she has not been progressive enough in her proposals. That’s the argument there.

Does that answer your question?

MR. YEPSEN: Absolutely. Thank you very much.

AT&T OPERATOR: The next question comes from the line of Adrian Morrow with Globe and Mail, [Canada]. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: David, I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what was the craziest caucus you covered, or if there’s sort of any particular I guess kind of memories that would stand out, whether it was time when there was a 15-way race or something for one party or the other. Or another time where, as you say, the sort of neighbors convincing neighbors things really did tip the results in someone’s favor. If you can think of maybe a couple of the craziest, your own sort of craziest caucus war stories.

MR. YEPSEN: It does change. On the Democratic side, for example, in 2004 Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean got into a big fight publicly and they wound up diminishing themselves and that enabled John Kerry to win. That’s significant in terms of what’s happening on the Republican side, that Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are going at it and that may in fact help Marco Rubio.

I've seen these events go from literally being meetings of a handful of activists who meet in someone’s living room or in their kitchen and meet with candidates, to events that are now huge.

When I started covering politics, you literally could hop in the back seat of a car and drive across the state with a presidential candidate and a driver. You had all kinds of time to talk to them. I went to a Jimmy Carter press conference one time and I was the only reporter that showed up. And it was much more intimate. It was up close and personal.

Now these events are, they’re just huge inside. You’ll have hundreds if not thousands or people that show up at some of these events. If you’re coming out here what you’ll find if you try to travel with a candidate or tail them around, most of the time there will be more reporters than there are voters. So that’s changed and the events have lost some of their intimacy.

My favorite memory of the caucuses, it comes from 1987. I was traveling with then Senator Joe Biden and an aide and we arrived in a little town of about 8,000 people and went to check, it was around midnight. Went to check into the hotel and we were all hungry and Senator Biden asked the clerk if he could, if there was a restaurant open, some place he could go get a bite to eat. The clerk said well, there’s a Godfather’s pizza house not too far away. So the aide said well, I’ll call a cab. The clerk said you’re not going to find a town in this town at this hour at night. The clerk reached into his pocket and took out his car keys and handed the keys to Senator Biden and said here, take my car, but be sure to be back by midnight because I’ve got a date tonight.

So off we went down the streets of the city with Senator Biden at the wheel of this car, which was sort of a roadster, sports car. Went to this pizza place, ate quickly, and Senator Biden was very concerned about getting back on time. Took the guy a, we raced back; Biden took him a pizza, handed him the keys and handed him the pizza and said thank you.

Now that’s something you don’t see anymore. I wrote that little story about a year ago and got a call from a reader who said I just read that column you wrote, and I was that clerk. I wound up marrying that gal.

So I don’t know, it was kind of an interesting, heart-warming little story.

QUESTION: Just as a quick follow-up, can you tell us a little bit about sort of how the, I understand the caucus has been in place since the 19th century. I’m just wondering if you have any sense of the history of how it got started then, but also how it got positioned in the ‘70s to become the first in the nation thing that it is now.

MR. YEPSEN: Precinct caucuses have always existed in Iowa, I think since the mid 1900’s. They’re just local units of government that are organized and people, parties would meet in these precinct or townships to organize themselves, to elect local party officials and raise a little money and find out who could knock on doors for the candidates and what the party should say in its platform.

That changed beginning in 1968. In 1968 the Democratic Party tore itself apart at the Chicago Democratic Convention over the Vietnam War. After Hubert Humphrey went down to defeat Richard Nixon, the Democrats came out of that election and said we’ve got to change our party. The party had to open itself up to enable more people to participate. You had all these anti-war activists who were very diseffective and angry with the outcome of the election and the nomination process. The party wanted to avoid more riots in the street. So in the course of, over a period of two years they studied their party and they decided they would have more opportunities for people to participate, to propose resolutions, to run for delegates, to participate in party affairs. And in Iowa the Democrats here sort of did a line of reasoning like this. If we’re going to have the national party convention in August we really have to have our state convention in June. And then we have to have our congressional district convention in May. And then we have to have our county conventions probably in April. And then we have to have our precinct conventions are going to have to be, my gosh, in February or late January. Just in order to allow people to come and learn where the meetings are held and participate in campaigns for delegates and for party offices.

What happened, the Democrats in doing that, it meant that Iowa Democrats became the first state, the first place in the country where rank and file party activists would express a preference for who ought to be their party’s nominee. And Senator George McGovern of South Dakota was running for President. His campaign manager was a young man named Gary Hart who later went on to get elected to the Senate from Colorado and mount his own presidential campaign. They were looking for a state to go where they could win a few votes and get some media attention going into the New Hampshire primary. So they came to Iowa, campaigned, organizing anti-war activists, and on caucus night they, Senator McGovern had a good second place showing against Ed Musky. And Musky then later on went on to lose the nomination, McGovern won the nomination. He later lost in a landslide. But after the ’72 elections the media and the political community said, you know, the Iowa Democrats were telling us something. They were telling us about the strength of the4 anti-war movement. They were telling us that we had, that Ed Musky was a weak front-runner. So we should pay more attention to this Iowa process.

Jimmy Carter, obscure Governor of Georgia and his campaign manager, Hamilton Jordan, picked up on that and built their whole campaign around that same premise. Win Iowa, do well in Iowa. That gets you some media attention, that gets you money and helps you in subsequent races.

After that it was cemented in place as an early event.

I could go through the rest of the history for you, but that was how it got started.

QUESTION: Thank you.

AT&T OPERATOR: The next question comes from the line of Gary O’Donoghue with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), [United Kingdom].

QUESTION: Hi, David, and thank you very much for doing this. A couple of quick questions, if I might.

In your experience how important is the sort of, we’re entering the last week now. How important has the last week been? How fluid are the caucus-goers in terms of their support on each side? Does the actual meeting with themselves on the day, on the night, make any difference? And finally, for those of us on a purely practical selfish point, for those who are going to be on air overnight, how quickly do things get counted? Presumably we get precincts that are nearer. The bigger urban centers the results come in more quickly. And what should we be careful of in terms of that skewing the picture early on?

MR. YEPSEN: Well, I wish I had a better answer for you on this one because the parties have had a problem in one or both parties every cycle with a messed-up count. Some controversy about the count. And in 2012 Mitt Romney was declared the winner, then they found some other uncounted balance that put Rick Santorum, was counted the winner.

There was a lot of outrage over that because it really denied Santorum the victory. So both parties went to elaborate ends to create a whole new reporting system.

Microsoft is running it. There are apps that people can put on their smart phones. And basically it’s a system of last words and reporting results. People in each precinct will log in and after the counts are taken, put in their results, there will be paper trails, they’ll be checked. And if it works the way it’s supposed to, it should be very quick and very accurate. That’s what they’re trying, that’s the goal they’re trying for. And it’s important because I think if Iowa is going to have these events then they’ve got to provide the country and the world with fast, accurate results.

So I wish I had a better answer. We’ll see. I’m hoping that these events, they start at six and seven, people gather, and if there’s a large crowd it’s obviously going to take longer to just process people than if there’s a small crowd. If you have 240,000 people showing up at the Democratic caucuses and 120 to 150,000 on the Republican side, that’s a lot of people to count, get registered to vote, break in the preference groups. And especially if you have those big counts that will mean there will be a lot of first time people there. They won’t know what they’re doing. That will take longer.

So I think we’d be lucky to have something definitive by 10 p.m. and probably more closer to 11 p.m. central time.

QUESTION: Does the process, the meetings, do they make a difference in your experience? Do the speeches switch allegiances? How much fruit is there?

MR. YEPSEN: I think there is, sorry, I’ve forgotten your first question now. There is a great deal of fluidity in both parties right now. And that’s always been somewhat true.

These are activists. These are people who both parties know what they’re doing is going to have an impact on who the next President is. And they take it pretty seriously. I mean they’ve been told so often how important they are, and they’ve come to believe it, and they want to be very careful. So you have some of them who won’t make any decisions until they walk into that caucus site. You have a Democratic town meeting tonight. You’ll have a Republican debate I think it’s on Thursday. And they’ll be watching. They’ll be paying attention to that. In seeing, checking, listening to the closing arguments.

Bernie Sanders has a very effective ad that’s gone on, the Simon & Garfunkel singing America. A very uplifting sort of ad. So now is the time in this last week we have what are called closing arguments in the campaign. And the activists are paying attention. And they will go to those meetings and they will talk to people.

We know that what your neighbors and friends think about an issue is one of the determinants of how you think. If I go to my caucus and you’re going in the caucus with me and I have a lot of respect for you and I think you know something about politics and I say, I’m for Candidate X, and you say no, Candidate Y is much better. I might be persuaded right there to change my mind.

Even these polls are showing that you have large numbers of undecided’s and even those who have a preference for a candidate say they could be persuaded to change their mind. And it gets even more complicated because then you ask them well, who would be your second choice? And on the Republican side, that’s where I think Marco Rubio has had some strengths. He could surprise on caucus night if enough people are convinced that he would be a viable alternative.

QUESTION: Could I ask just one more quick follow-up? Just again on a practical level. Do you have to be a registered Democrat or Republican ahead of time to attend the caucus, or can you become registered at the site? What’s the sort of, how much organization does there have to be in that?

MR. YEPSEN: There is on-site registration. Iowa has, a few years aback passed a same-day voter registration. So you simply show up, present yourself, and register to vote.

QUESTION: And if you don’t, is there a mechanism to stop people, you know registering for one part and another party. Is there a way of people kind of moving around?

MR. YEPSEN: Anecdotally there might be a few people who try that. Historically, Iowa doesn’t have a big tradition of that. Both parties especially this time will be having their own meetings. We’ve never found very many examples of outright fraud. If you were going to fraudulently move people into vote, that would be quite a conspiracy and people would learn about it pretty quickly.

The other thing is, if you think about it, these are neighborhood meetings. So if you’re in there with 75 people and there’s 30 people who show up that nobody has known or ever seen before, somebody’s going to say hey, wait a minute. So it does have kind of a self-policing mechanism to it.

QUESTION: I guess we’re just a bit suspicious from Britain because of the kind of wholesale membership drive in the labor party, elected a candidate no one thought would get elected. But thank you, David.

MR. YEPSEN: We in America are suspicious too. That’s especially true after the 2000 presidential election. Votes and counting them and so forth, it’s very important to Americans today.

AT&T OPERATOR: Morten Bertelsen – Dagens Naeringsliv (DN), [Norway]. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question.

I’m just curious what you said about the way of Iowas, the first, second and third phase. Do you think the person who chases the herd would become the de facto establishment candidate?

And my second question is, if I may, it’s about Donald Trump. He has broken all the rules, hoping that you will stand with him, and other nationalities.

But he also used options for political opportunities, or, he doesn’t hardly have a ground game. He has even a [inaudible].

It could somehow deprive you about his rights in Iowa. Thank you.

MR. YEPSEN: Well I’m surprised at Donald Trump’s success, and frankly, I think most American observers are surprised too. You’ll recall when he started his legacy it was kind of to see, it was viewed as a joke and it’s clear that he has tapped into something that some of us didn’t realize was there. And these crowds are just phenomenal that he’s turned out.

I think he does have something of a ground gait. They don’t act like, they don’t brag about it very much, but he’s got some pretty good operative working for him behind the scenes here in Iowa and they are making an effort to capture the names and emails and contact information or all those people that show up. Then follow up with them to make sure they know where to go on caucus night.

At first I thought well, first-time caucus goers, people are just showing up because he’s an entertainment or he’s a celebrity. They’re not going to go out in bullet form. This is just somebody to gawk at, to look at, to laugh with. But if you’re willing to stand outside in cold weather for a couple of hours to see Donald Trump, it makes sense to me that you’re going to be willing to, a lot of them anyway, will be willing to go to a caucus and stand up for him.

I think some of that same phenomenon is at work on the Democratic side. When Bernie Sanders said he was running, we all sort of chuckled and said he’s a Socialist. He doesn’t have a chance of getting the Democratic nomination. Well, it’s a measure of the anger on the Democratic side that he’s doing as well as he is.

I didn’t hear the first part of your question. Would you repeat that?

QUESTION: Sure. That was related to the GOP and whoever wins the third place, comes in third place, right? So do you think he or she, if it be Carly Fiorina, do you think he or she will become the de facto establishment candidate? A person that the quasi-establishment will rally behind?

MR. YEPSEN: Yes, I do. And I say that Marco Rubio is probably in the best position. He’s already in third place. As I mentioned earlier, he gets some support from tea party Republicans, from Evangelical Republicans, from establishment Republicans.

And if he finishes in third place I think you’ll see a lot of Jeb
Bush’s supporters and donors that will say it’s over. And many of those people will gravitate towards Rubio.

I mean if you’re an Iowa Republican you’ve looked at Donald Trump, you’ve watched him, you’ve thought about him. If you’re still, if you’re not for him and you’re someplace else, I doubt that Trump kicks up much of the loose change that would be left by other candidates who drop out of the race. Rick Santorum, my cut could be Jeb Bush. I just don’t see them moving in that direction. In fact, Trump has a very high number of activist Republicans who say they could never support him for the nomination.

So I think you’re right. I think whoever comes in third is likely to become the person who rallies the so-called party establishment.

AT&T OPERATOR: The next question is Sabrina Buckwalter – France 2 TV (TF2), [France ]. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi David, thanks again for doing this today and to Andy for arranging.

My question actually has pretty much already been answered, but if I could sort of take this opportunity to find out a little bit more about the nuts and bolts about how counting goes. I know you talked about the improvements with Microsoft taking this over, but maybe you could talk a little bit more about how we might find things at some of the pocket centers, how the counting is going to go. Our reporting is going to focus a bit of the counting process and the fact that it will be sort of a paper process. So if you can shed any more light on how things go from sort of start to finish.

MR. YEPSEN: Well, from the Republican side they take a slip of paper and they mark who they’re for and they put that in a hat and then they tabulate those results. Those results are then plugged into the Microsoft app and reported.

The Democrats, much more complicated. You have, everyone walks into the caucus and as I said, the Clinton people are in one corner and the Sanders people are in another corner, and the O’Malley people ae separate. And they figure out, you’re going to have to have, how many people they have. You have to have at least 15 percent, 1-5 percent of the total number of people participating in order to get any delegates to the next convention. And if you don’t, then your people have to move to some other candidate. That’s called realignment. That’s where the Sanders people would argue to try to persuade the O’Malley people to join with them. The Clinton people would try to persuade them to join them. That’s called realignment.

Then they count up and they add up everybody, the apportion the delegates based on mathematical formula, who’s got how many delegates we have divided by the percentage of people that are left standing to support the two candidates left.

It’s complicated. It’s done that way because the Democrats believe that the purpose of the nominating process is to win over the field, is to produce a winner. So if a candidate doesn’t show enough viability as a candidate to get more than 15 percent, he or she is declared non-viable and their supporters have to go someplace else. That’s why Democrats work that way.

I hope that answers your question.

QUESTION: It does. Thank you.

MR. YEPSEN: You might check the party web site. It will also have information that tries to explain the process a little bit more.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

AT&T OPERATOR: The next question comes from Conrad Chaffee – Tokyo Shimbun, [Japan]. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

My question is a little bit related to, it’s already been, these centers and Trump phenomenon, the fact that they’re getting a lot of people, support from people who haven’t been previously involved in politics. As you noted, you do have to be registere4d to participate in either party’s caucuses. I know that there is [inaudible] registration. But as of the beginning of this month, I believe that there hasn’t been any unusual uptick in the official voter registration numbers in Iowa. So do you think that’s good news for Clinton and Cruz that these first-time voters aren’t already out registering?

MR. YEPSEN: No. I don’t. I think they can, since they can register, many of them will do it that night. It doesn’t matter that they aren’t registered now. They wouldn’t necessarily be going out and registering. And there’s been no organizational effort by the Sanders campaigns or Trump to start prior, really push registration now. So I don’t read too much into that.

If we don’t have anyone else, I’ll take one more question. My voice is starting to give out here a little bit, if you couldn’t tell.

AT&T OPERATOR: We have another question from Celia Cernadas – Catalunya Radio, [Spain]. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello again. One last question.

You already mentioned that Iowa has been [inaudible]. So I’d like to know whether you think that Iowa will be [inaudible] in the years to come [inaudible] the minorities will have in the future in the voting. Also take into account to what extent immigration is becoming a very important issue in the election. Thank you.

MR. YEPSEN: Immigration is a very important issue, particularly on the Republican side. And I think that we’ve seen that all over the world, the illegal immigration, undocumented immigrants, and it’s altering the politics in many of our countries. So yes, I do think that’s going to be an issue for some time to come.

There are a lot of Americans who will argue that we’re a nation of immigrants, this is part of our tradition. And there are others who say yeah, but our ancestors came here legally. And these are people coming now who were not here -- That’s the debate.

It’s an open question whether Iowa continues to hole a dominant position in the nomination context. Every four years somebody says this will be the last time that Iowa would do this.

But what happens is, people say this will be the last time Iowa has this position. Well, a couple of things keep Iowa going. Number one is the country can’t agree on an alternative way to do this nominating process. A regional primary, a national primary. There’s just no consensus on -- On a big one there’s a difference day.

The process does evolve each cycle. It changes a little bit so you have Iowa and New Hampshire, and now the two parties have added South Carolina and Nevada. It’s sort of the lead-off state that have an early say. And the idea there is to create diversity there. Different regions, different electorates, large African-American electorate in South Carolina. Larger Latino electorate in Nevada.

But there’s always adjustments that get made. What generally happens is there will be a lot of angst about Iowa and why this state has such a disproportionate influence, but the campaign will move on to New Hampshire and then will move on to all the other contests, and they’ll wind up with an actual convention that produces a nominee. And invariably what happens at each convention is, people will get up and say we need to change our nominating process for next time, four years from now. And the nominees and the party people say wait a minute, first things first. We’ve got an election to win in November. And let’s not mess around with what the process is going to look like in four years. That would be divisive. We don’t have an agreement on it. Let’s get through November.

And by the way Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada are generally considered to be toss-up states in a general election.

So we know, neither the Republican nominee nor the Democratic nominee is going to want to alienate those states in any way because those are going to be battle ground states in the fall. Yeah, there’s only a handful of electoral votes in those three states, but, as Al Gore proved, one electoral vote is pretty important. So it just moves on. Then we’ll start the next cycle and somebody will have won the White House and that person generally has said, why do I want to change the rules of the game I just won? And the party out of power does have an argument over the process, but even here you will have people who will say I just ran, I’ve got a new organization in Iowa and in New Hampshire. I don’t want to change the rules.

So if Hillary Clinton gets elected President, Marco Rubio is not going to want to change the nomination rules because he will come through this race in pretty good fashion and will run again. And the flip side is true. If the Republicans win, I doubt that Martin O’Malley and his supporters are going to want to change the rules because he’s got a campaign infrastructure here. Like Mitt Romney ran twice and didn’t want to change the rules the second time.

So that’s sort of a long-winded explanation for how Iowa and New Hampshire and some of these early states just keep going. It’ political inertia.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MR. YEPSEN: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, David. Thank you for taking so many questions. WE really appreciate you doing this. If there are no further questions, this event is now concluded.

Thank you all very much.

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