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Diplomacy in Action

The Iowa Caucuses: State of the Race as Iowa Goes to the Polls

Simon Conway, talk show host for WHO News Radio 1040 Des Moines
Washington, DC
January 29, 2016

1:00 P.M. EST


OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Conway Iowa Caucuses Conference Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, we will conduct a question-and-answer session. Instructions will be given at that time. If you should require assistance during the call, please press * then 0. As a reminder, this conference is being recorded.

I would now like to turn the conference over to your host, Andy Strike. Please go ahead.

MODERATOR: Hello, everyone. I want to thank all the callers and Simon on behalf of the Foreign Press Center. Today we have for you Simon Conway, the talk show host for WHO News Radio 140 in Des Moines, Iowa. He’s going to discuss the state of the race as Iowa goes to the polls. And without further ado, here is Simon. He’s going to give a few opening remarks, and then we’ll open the – we’ll open up to question and answer, which you can get in the question queue by pressing *1 on your phone. Without further ado, here is Simon.

MR CONWAY: Hello, everybody. Thanks for joining us. I hate to do this, Andy; I’m the Afternoon Drive host on News Radio 1040 WHO, 1-0-4-0 WHO, an iconic radio station where actually President Reagan used to work. He worked here for five years even before he became an actor and moved out to Hollywood. So there you go, that’s the radio station.

You can possibly tell – those of you who might be picking up an accent can possibly tell I wasn’t born in the state of Iowa. I was, in fact, born in London, England, but I am a naturalized citizen of the United States. And when my State Department asked me if I would serve my nation in this very small way, it did not take me very long to say yes. This is, in fact, the second time I’ve done this. I did this four years ago as well. So that’s who I am. I host Afternoon Drive on WHO between 4:00 and 7:00 p.m. every weekday afternoon. I also host a morning show on our sister station out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa on 600 WMT between 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. And I get to see a lot of people that want to be our president about once every four years or so. And in fact, today on today’s show I will be talking to three of those candidates. And I’m sure on Monday I’m going to be talking to six or seven of those candidates as well. So that’s who I am and what I do.

In terms of how this whole thing works, well, Iowa is the first in the nation to get a say in who will be President of the United States. I strongly believe that President Obama would not be our President if it wasn’t for the state of Iowa and the reason being that there are much larger states that would love to have the position that Iowa has in being the first to cast an opinion. And the reason that Iowa, I believe, is important is because it allows lesser known candidates, candidates with less money – to be perfectly honest with you – to get known and to get on the radar of other people.

See, if you started this in something like the state of Florida – a big state, huge population – it would not be done in the way it is done here in Iowa. In a huge state, it will be done with a lot of money being spent on radio and TV and maybe a few big events that draw big crowds, but there would be no meet me in the coffee shop and ask me a question directly, which is what we here in the state of Iowa get to do once every four years. And Iowans take this duty very seriously, and they do indeed go to an awful lot of these events. They meet an awful lot of candidates from both parties, and they ask them important questions for them, questions that are important to them. And that’s why I believe this process is very important and why I believe Iowa is also very important. A small state, large enough that it means something. And in fact, if you look at the record of Iowa on election night – on general election night, the ultimate result of our general election is very, very closely mirrored by what takes place in the state of Iowa, not right now but come November. When we vote in November in the general election, you will see that the Iowa result closely resembles the national result.

Both parties like it – that’s the other thing. It’s rare in this day and age that we can get the Republicans and the Democrats to agree about very much at all, but they do seem to agree that Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status is something that is worth keeping. So we have this unique role on WHO – a 50,000-watt radio station, an iconic radio station, the most decorated radio station in American history I might add, with 13 Marconi Awards to our name. We have a very important role to play. Just this week I’m trying to remember everybody we’ve had on. We’ve had Hillary Clinton on the radio station. We’ve had Ted Cruz on the radio station. We’ve had Donald Trump on the radio station. We will have Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum. We had Jim Gilmore on today. We’ve had Jeb Bush on today. These candidates understand that if you want to reach Iowans, WHO is the best way to do it on a mass level.

So those are my opening remarks. This is really a facility for you to ask questions, maybe how it works in a physical sense, what the mechanics of it are, and anything else you may wish to know. So with that, Andy, I think we should probably open it up now to questions from our assembled journalists.

MODERATOR: Okay. AT&T and Operator, you can go ahead with the Q&A session.

OPERATOR: Thank you. And ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press * then 1 on your touchtone phone. If you’re using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing those numbers. Once again, it’s *1 if you would like to ask a question.

We’ll go to the line of Inger Arenander with Swedish National Public Radio. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi Simon, thanks for doing this.


QUESTION: We’re hearing a lot about religion and evangelicals, but I am wondering is there anything in Iowa or Iowans to say about Bernie Sanders doing so good in the state competing with Hillary Clinton?

MR CONWAY: Wow, I’m not quite sure the two things are related to each other. But yeah, there are certainly – there is certainly an evangelical vote in the state of Iowa, but right now you’re talking to the Jew in the Bible belt. I’m Jewish and my audience doesn’t have any kind of problem with my religion.

In terms of Bernie Sanders, I think there’s a lot to do in my opinion – all this is my opinion, remember that’s all you’re getting from me. I think it’s less about Bernie and more about a distrust of Hillary Clinton. That is shown in poll after poll after poll. And if it isn’t Hillary on the Democrat side, then who is it? Well, it seems to be Bernie. He’s certainly saying things that maybe appeal to people in Europe, but if you cost them out we will have, in my opinion, a very large national debt, larger than the one we currently have.

QUESTION: Yes. May I ask a follow-up?

MR CONWAY: I don’t mind if Andy doesn’t mind.

MODERATOR: No, no, follow-ups are fine.

QUESTION: Well, I’m asking because I read that, for instance, Iowa was early abolishing the slavery, Iowa was early accepting same-sex marriage and things like that, that there’s a kind of radical streak in Iowa. Is that something that you –

MR CONWAY: I don’t know that that plays into this. I mean, if you ever come to Iowa, you will find some extremely nice people. It’s very interesting because the nation’s press descends on Iowa once every four years, and some of them have done it on a regular basis and some of them are here for the very first time. And they turn around and say, “I really didn’t want to come here.” You’ll get that really from New York, from California. “I really didn’t want to come here, but now I don’t want to go home because everybody is so nice here. Why are you guys so nice?”

QUESTION: All right, thanks.

MR CONWAY: Thanks a lot.

OPERATOR: And next we’ll go to the line of Claudia Trevisan with O Estado, [Brazil]. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. In the Republican side, which candidates do you think have most at stake in the Iowa caucus?

MR CONWAY: Most at stake, do you mean?

QUESTION: Much at stake.


QUESTION: Like Ted Cruz – what if he loses Iowa? Is it a tragedy for his campaign or not? How important it is?

MR CONWAY: No, Ted Cruz doesn’t have to win Iowa to maintain. If Ted Cruz came – I don’t know – eighth that would probably be a disaster for Ted Cruz if he came in eighth, somewhere down there. That would not be good. He would have to re-evaluate a lot. He is extremely likely to lose New Hampshire based on all the polling that we are seeing. If he did not do well in Iowa, lost New Hampshire and then South Carolina after that, it could mean the end of him.

QUESTION: And – but if he ends up in second place would be a good result?

MR CONWAY: Oh, that is not an issue for – if he came second, third, and even a close fourth, Ted Cruz would still keep going. That would not be a disaster, no. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: And next we’ll go to the line of Marta Torres with La Razon Newspaper, [Spain]. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello and good morning. I would like to know what do you think on Donald Trump’s strategy of skipping the debate yesterday and going to Nashua today if, as you said, Iowa is so important?

MR CONWAY: Well, Donald Trump will certainly be back in Iowa over the weekend and probably will stay here for the duration. The skipping of the debate, with his supporters that played very well. With the people that had already decided they were going to support Donald Trump, that played very well. They felt he was being pushed around, and they like it when he refuses to be pushed around. So it played very well. He also did something that I think was very smart, not in the not attending; that’s for other people to weigh in on. But having decided not to attend, he put together an event for our veterans. Veterans are very important in the state of Iowa. They get an awful lot of respect in this state. They make up a big chunk of our population, a really big chunk of the population here. And to hold an event for veterans – 22 charities benefited; last I saw, it was over $6 million – that is a huge deal and a lot of people would have liked that. The fact that he didn’t go to the debate I don’t think hurt him at all. The fact that he is not in the state today I also don’t think hurts him. He will be here over the weekend, and I believe he is staying for the duration.

QUESTION: Can I ask another question?


QUESTION: What do you think on Bush’s strategy? What is going to happen to him if he doesn’t perform, if we can say, in Iowa on Monday?

MR CONWAY: Jeb Bush does not have an Iowa strategy. Jeb Bush’s strategy is definitely a New Hampshire strategy. He doesn’t expect to do well. He’s playing down what his chances are in Iowa. There is an establishment vote. I believe that vote is split. I don’t think he’s going to do that well here in the state of Iowa. It’s more important for Jeb Bush to do well in New Hampshire. If he has a bad, bad time in Iowa and New Hampshire, he could be done.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR CONWAY: You’re welcome.

OPERATOR: And next we’ll go to the line of Ole Nyeng with Danish newspaper Weekendavisen. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Hello, Simon.

MR CONWAY: Hi, how are you?

QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. Ole Nyeng from the Danish weekend newspaper Weekendavisen in Copenhagen. I will ask you: Is there any local issues which plays a role into this election in Iowa? That was the first one.

And a bit practical one, at last.

MR CONWAY: Well, hang on to the practical one. You get to ask a follow-up. Because the first one is long and complicated.

QUESTION: Okay, I’ll hang on to that.

MR CONWAY: Okay, so come back with the second one when I’ve finished.


MR CONWAY: But the simple answer is yes, and what is that thing? Well, it is ethanol.

QUESTION: Ethanol.

MR CONWAY: It is fuel made from corn. It is a big part of Iowa’s economy. There is something called the mandate, whereby every state has to have a certain percentage of ethanol in their gasoline. There is the mandate. There are subsidies for some other forms of ethanol. I’m not going to get into the science of it, because frankly that’s above my head. But biodiesel I believe still gets a tax credit, and I believe there’s something called cellulosic ethanol that still gets a tax credit, but I could be wrong about that. But it is a big part of what we do.

Now, are we seeing pandering from some of the candidates with regards to renewable fuels? I think we are. But I also think some people genuinely believe that the Renewable Fuel Standard is something that we should keep because the problem is that other parts of our energy industry are also subsidized. Oil is subsidized. So I would like to see – personally, I would like to see all the subsidies for all forms of energy disappear. I’m a great believer in capitalism, and the United States was born out of capitalism; it has thrived through the years out of capitalism, and the market will decide. And when it comes to putting gas in your car, the way the market decides is: Who can give me the cheapest gas and make my car run? So it’s not very complicated. But right now the market is skewed by the government’s interference. This is not about this President. It’s not about the previous President. This is both parties that are involved in this.

And so you’ve got some people that are definitely talking about ethanol being important; you’ve got other people saying what I just said, that all subsidies for all forms of energy should be removed over a period of time. Nobody is suggesting it gets done overnight. And so that plays big here and it depends who people believe and how important it is to them when it comes to voting.

QUESTION: And how Mr. Cruz that is not in favor for this subsidize?

MR CONWAY: Well, Ted Cruz, who I actually spoke to this morning – Ted Cruz has been largely misunderstood about this, and this is not a new position. I’ve known Ted Cruz for about four years now, and his position has been consistent with me over that period of time, and that position is the one I just described: all subsidies, all mandates for all fuels should be removed. The market should decide the result of this. But again, he doesn’t want that to happen overnight because you would put a lot of people out of work and a lot of industries would shut down. I believe the last time I spoke to him is he wants a gradual removal of these things.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the practical one, very practical – are we journalists actually allowed into the caucuses to see what’s going on?

MR CONWAY: Yeah, if you get – if you get media credentials, I believe you are allowed into a caucus. I’ve never been, because the caucus starts at 7:00 p.m. and my show does not end until 7:00 p.m., so I’ve never been to one. But I am neither a registered Republican or Democrat; I am an Independent, and I wouldn’t go anyway, because only the registered Republicans and Democrats can go.

But yeah, media is allowed.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR CONWAY: Thank you.

OPERATOR: And next we’ll go to the line of Alexander Panetta with Canadian Media Press. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello. Thanks so much for doing this.

MR CONWAY: You’re very welcome.

QUESTION: Okay, so might have superseded part of my first question by – because I was going to ask you for a description of the caucuses. But perhaps maybe you can take a stab at it. And the second question I wanted to ask you was about religion, about Evangelicals. First one --

MR CONWAY: Let’s deal with the – you want the mechanics of how the caucus works, yeah?

QUESTION: A little bit of the mechanics --


QUESTION: -- but also maybe your opinion on the pros and cons to the system?


QUESTION: And then maybe just ask you about Evangelicals and --

MR CONWAY: All right. Well, the Democrats and the Republicans caucus in entirely different ways, okay. So the mechanics are really important. So for the Democrats, as an example, you would walk into a caucus at the Democrats – there’ll be either a bunch of people gathered around a table or maybe a sign for Hillary Clinton and there’ll be another table or another sign for Martin O’Malley, another one for Bernie Sanders. And then the Democrats carry out some kind of mathematical equation to make sure that all the candidates are what they would term “viable.” And it’s quite likely that in a lot of caucus places, Martin O’Malley’s candidacy – if the polls hold up – will not be regarded as viable. At that point, the O’Malley supporters, they will redistribute themselves amongst the two remaining candidates – Clinton and Sanders – or they’ll just go home. And then they count up how many each candidate has got. So that’s how the Democrats do it.

The Republicans do it in an entirely different way. So the Republicans, you go in, you sit down – they’re actually doing all kinds of other things. They’re talking about their party platform, the policies that are important to them; they’re electing delegates to district conventions and state conventions. And then you get to write the name on a piece of paper of the presidential candidate you want to be president, and those are all collected. It is kind of a secret ballot, although you are sat next to your neighbor in theater-style seating when you do this. So I guess they could look over your shoulder. But there’s no polling booth where you go in and pull a curtain behind you and cast your vote. You do it in your seat, and then those pieces of paper are put into the general place. They count them all up and they figure out who’s got how many votes, and they repeat that – I believe it’s more than 1,600 precincts across the state of Iowa. All those are collected on a statewide basis and they come up with the answer.

So the Democrats and Republicans do it in an entirely different way. Do I like caucusing? Would I prefer to see a primary, where you get 14 hours to go to the polls? I think more people would be involved if it was a primary. But I do quite like the caucus process, where you’re there with your friends, your neighbors, maybe parts of your family, and you maybe stood on opposite sides of the room, and staring each other down and making a mental note to talk about it round the Thanksgiving table. I quite like that. But you know, I like sport. That, to me, is sport. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: And about Evangelicals. So if history’s any guide, almost 60 percent of the caucus electorate is Evangelical Christian. Do these people tend to believe that a thrice-married, casino-owning, beauty-pageant-running billionaire – (laughter) – is actually a Christian, or do they just basically look past it and just kind of ignore it? And if I can ask you about the relationship with Evangelicals.

MR CONWAY: (Laughter.) Okay. Man, that sounded like you got an agenda, I have to say. (Laughter.) It made me laugh. The percentage of Evangelicals – I think you’re wrong. I don’t think it’s as high as you just suggested it was. I believe it’s somewhere in the 39 percent range, not the 60 percent range, so I think you need to get that right.

With regards to Donald Trump, Donald Trump has brought something entirely new to this process that we’ve never seen before. He’s not PC, he says what he thinks, whatever comes into his head, he rarely has a prepared speech, he speaks from his heart, and a lot of people like that. A lot of people who have never been to a caucus before intend to go caucus for him. I know Independents that intend to go caucus for him. I know Democrats – dirty secret – who intend to go caucus for him. I do.

The question is – the question when it comes to Donald Trump is, “Will they?” Because the thing about the caucus is you don’t get 14 hours to decide to go to the polls. You have to turn up at 7:00 p.m. at a specific place and you have to give at least an hour, sometimes two hours of your time, to this process. Will they? Do they have the ground game? Well, the guy who’s in charge of the Trump campaign in Iowa has tremendous experience, and so from that perspective you would think that he might actually get them to show up. But so many of these people are new to caucusing that I’m not sure how much that will play into it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: And next we’ll go to the line of Son Taek Wang with YTN TV, [Korea]. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Thank you very much for the wonderful event. I have a couple of technical questions, getting some kind of understanding whole picture. How many delegates are selected on Monday night? It is about 10,000 delegates each side, or 1,000 or something? So I want to get some kind of idea.

The second: How many voting places are there? My understanding is that there are 1,700 – about 1,700 precincts on each side, but is it similar – the similar number with the voting – actual voting places?

And lastly, how many people are participating in the event in terms of percentages – 10 percent or 20 percent? That’s all. Thank you.

MR CONWAY: Okay. Well, let me try and remember all that. I think you’re right, it is about 1,700. I don’t have the exact figure in front of me, but it is about 1,700 precincts that – across the state of Iowa where people will go at 7:00 p.m. and sit down for an hour.

In terms of the number of people, well, the only people that can go, first of all, are registered Republicans or registered Democrats. And you go to different places depending on which one of those you are. The thing in the state of Iowa is you can register on the day. You can register at the event. I pointed out I am an Independent. I could go to a Democrat caucus or a Republican caucus and register. I’m a registered voter in the state of Iowa. I could register to vote – to become a registered Republican or a registered Democrat and then take part in the caucus process. So those things can happen.

How many of the Democrats and Republicans actually show up in percentage terms? I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that question. I believe that’s all you had. Hopefully I answered it. So thank you very much for the question and we’ll move on to the next one.

QUESTION: Excuse me, the first question was the number of delegates who are elected or selected on Monday.

MR CONWAY: I don’t believe that happens on the night. They go through – as I said earlier on, they – one of the things they’re going to do is elect district representatives to their district conventions; and then the district conventions, they elect delegates for the state convention, and that’s how it works.

QUESTION: Oh, so on Monday night, they do – what they do is just voting for the presidential candidate, not selecting or electing delegates?

MR CONWAY: No, they’re doing both things. They are doing both things. They are indeed selecting delegates. Remember, Iowa, in terms of how many Electoral College votes that we ultimately get to have, it’s six. That’s it – six. And it’s based on the number of representatives we have in our United States Congress. That’s about as far as I can go with that one, but thank you very much for your question.

Let’s move on to the next one.

OPERATOR: Thank you. And next we’ll go to the line of Sabrina Buckwalter with France 2 Television. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks both to Andy and Simon for this event today. My question is: As a radio host, you have a unique position in interviewing all the candidates in that medium. And with that said, what have you heard from them that is geared towards an Iowa audience that we don’t usually hear in a national address?

MR CONWAY: Do you want the funniest one?


MR CONWAY: The funniest one – okay, so college football is very important here in Iowa, and indeed in the United States. So college football – that’s NFL-style football, American football, not the football that I grew up with in London – and the Iowa team – the Iowa Hawkeyes from the University of Iowa, they made it to what some people still regard as the most important college football game of the year even though it’s not the national championship – that’s called the Rose Bowl. And they were playing the school where Carly Fiorina went to. And she sent out a tweet, and her tweet said, “Even though I love my school, I’m rooting for the Hawkeyes today.” That is the ultimate piece of pandering that I have seen in this process because Iowans are not that shallow, and frankly, who roots against their own school? So that’s the funniest one I’ve seen.

QUESTION: Wow, okay. (Laughter.)



MR CONWAY: You’re welcome. Next question.

OPERATOR: And next we’ll go to the line of Celia Cernadas with Catalunya Radio, Spain. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello, good morning, and thank you for this wonderful conference. I just wanted you to talk a little bit about what’s happening between Hillary Clinton – you already mentioning at the beginning but a little bit more about this – the relationship between Hillary Clinton and Iowa. We have to remember what happened in 2008, and she may – she may lose this caucus again. So why is that? What happened with her?

MR CONWAY: Yes, she may well lose this caucus again. It seems to me, again, you have to look at the polling. Remember polling is less important here than elsewhere because here, it is about your ground game. You have to get your people to turn up at 7:00 p.m. on Monday. It’s really that specific. So Hillary Clinton could well lose it; you are absolutely right. She could. And I believe she will lose New Hampshire.

And so then, you start looking at all of that and you think, wow, this looks exactly like 2008 all over again. Hillary Clinton has a trust problem. People don’t trust her. That’s viewed in poll after poll after poll. You can see that pretty much all around the country. They don’t trust her. And so they’re often looking for elsewhere.

The other thing is Americans don’t like coronations. So – I know Spain is now a monarchy. We don’t like having a monarchy here. We don’t like a – somebody being expected to win. “Oh, Hillary Clinton’s running, therefore she will be the next president of the United States.” Americans tend not to like that. On a far more local level, last – in 2014, we had an election here to the United States Senate and the Democrats put up one candidate who was not challenged by his own party. I believe the Republicans had six – again, looked like a coronation, and that particular individual from the Democrat side lost, and I think it was in no small measure due to the fact that it looked like a coronation. We don’t like that as Americans, and I think there’s a little bit of that playing into it, but I think far bigger for Hillary Clinton is this trust issue.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR CONWAY: You’re welcome. Give my love to Spain. Haven’t been there for a while.

OPERATOR: And once again, if you would like to ask a question, please press * then 1. We’ll go to the line of Raquel Sans with TV3 [Catalunya, Spain]. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello, good morning. Thank you so much for the conference. I would like to know, talking about the turnout – because usually they say that on primary elections, the turnout is not very high – and considering what you were saying, that people really need to be there at 7:00 and see if they – well, if they turn out and vote, do you think that Trump and Sanders will be able to move new electors to the caucus and that the turnout is going to be important? Or that otherwise, the turnout is going to be low as – generally speaking?

MR CONWAY: I think – well, again, it’s not a primary. It is a caucus.


MR CONWAY: It is different. And I don't know. It’s – it is really a great unknown because from the Republican side of things, we’ve really not seen anything quite like this before. We just haven’t. But if you can get a big turnout – let’s say 200,000 voters show up – that actually probably would help Trump over Cruz. On the – current estimates are suggesting that we’re going to see about 170-180,000 caucus-goers, and we – remains to be seen. I can’t really answer it. It is a great unknown, perhaps more unknown this time than at any time before because there are all these new caucus-goers and we just don’t know if they are actually going to go.

QUESTION: Can I do some follow-up, please?


QUESTION: No, because I think that somewhere – we are reading so many things these days – I think that at some point I read that registration from either Democrats or Republicans was not that much. I mean, there was not this big increase that supposedly should be, considering the attraction of Sanders and Trump, so – in the sense that they were saying that maybe if the registration was like other years, we shouldn’t be expecting something really big this time.

MR CONWAY: Well, remember, caucus-goers can register on the night.

QUESTION: Oh, you’re right. Mm-hmm, okay.

MR CONWAY: So I wouldn’t expect a lot of the new voters, Independents, people that may be switching parties – I wouldn’t expect them to do it in advance, to be honest with you.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you so much.

MR CONWAY: You’re welcome.

OPERATOR: And next we’ll go to the line of Yashwant Raj with Hindustan Times, [India]. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: In reply to an earlier question, you said don’t trust polls too much in Iowa, because in the end it all boils down to the ground game – if you can get people to come to the caucus and actually (inaudible). So should we or should we not believe these numbers which show Trump up by four points – I think he’s leading Cruz by four to six points – and should we trust these numbers or not?

And the second question would be about Trump. He is drawing huge crowds, but do you think these guys will also turn out and spend – give him those two hours that you talk about, actually go sit, caucus, and do all the things needed for them to vote for him, to get him out of Iowa?

MR CONWAY: Four years ago, the winner of the Iowa caucus was polling in single digits two weeks before caucus night – single digits – and he won. So the reason I say you can’t trust the polls in Iowa – I actually rarely trust polls at all anymore because, in all honesty, in the United States there aren’t that many landlines left and that’s how they do the majority of the polling. So I don’t have a landline; I exist entirely on my iPhone. I do not have a landline, and I don’t know too many people that do have a landline. So it exists entirely that way. That’s why I don’t trust them.

It is about ground game, and in terms of Donald Trump, it is a huge unknown. I can’t answer that because I believe there are a lot of first-timers, and I don’t know if they show up. I don’t know. If they do, I think the polls may well stand up. There does seem to be an awful lot of enthusiasm. He gets big crowds, and if those turn into actual people at caucus, yeah, he could win.

QUESTION: Who do you think has the best ground game among the Republicans and among the Democrats, if you can measure --?

MR CONWAY: Among – among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton probably has an excellent ground game, to be honest with you, but amongst the – the Democrats, Hillary Clinton. The Republicans, there’s so many unknowns: First of all, there’s a very big field; secondly, you’ve got, as an example, Rand Paul. His father did very well here four years ago. If Rand Paul has inherited his father’s ground game, he will absolutely do better than he is polling right now. He could be as high as third. So there are so many ifs and buts, and that’s why Iowa is unique, and that’s why you certainly need to be paying attention on Monday night.

QUESTION: So one last follow-up question: When you say last – four years ago the man who was polling in single digits actually went on to win, that was Rick Santorum, right? (Inaudible.)


QUESTION: And so that’s the peculiar thing. The result – Iowa result was known much after they had moved on to New Hampshire, and I think after four or five days it came out Rick --

MR CONWAY: Yes, you’re right.

QUESTION: How (inaudible) happen? I mean, how does that happen?

MR CONWAY: Well, hopefully it won’t happen again. It happened because of – it depends who you ask. Some people will tell you it was deliberate because Rick Santorum was a conservative and Mitt Romney was very much the establishment, and the party was in the control of the establishment and they wanted the establishment guy to win. So they had Romney winning by eight, Santorum a very, very close second. The actual result, I believe, in the end, was Santorum won by 34. If Santorum had been declared the winner on the night, I’m not sure how much difference it would have made. So he did go on and win another 11 states, I believe it was. Santorum – he won 11 more states after that. Would he have won enough to get the nomination? I don’t know. Mitt Romney, again, when you get out of Iowa, you do have to look at who’s got the biggest checkbook, and certainly, Mitt Romney was able to outspend Rick Santorum all over the place.

So it might have helped him. He may have picked up another one or two states. I don’t know. We really are into the realms of massive speculation at this point, and frankly, it’s history.

How it happened – you ask the people that believe it was simply a mistake and not deliberate, then it was a human error.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

MR CONWAY: You’re welcome.

OPERATOR: And once again, if you would like to ask a question, please press * then 1. We’ll go to the line of Marta Torres with La Razon Newspaper, [Spain]. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello. Just – your last comment made me think of this question. Do you see maybe – this is a question for the general election. Do you see Trump being the Republican candidate? And if you say yes, what do you think the establishment and the GOP party would do?

MR CONWAY: Well, if Trump wins Iowa, I believe he will win New Hampshire, I believe he will win South Carolina. So then he’s won the first three. It’s hard to see at that point how they stop him. So he could easily be the nominee, and at that point, well, the establishment are going to have to back him. Because if they take him down, they’re effectively saying we want the Democrat to be president, and I don’t see that happening in the United States. I really don’t see one of the two major parties rooting for the other guy.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR CONWAY: You’re welcome.

OPERATOR: And next we’ll go to the line of Hans Klis with NRC [Media, The Netherlands]. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Simon. Thanks for having us today and answering all our questions. I have a question on gun control, and – well, because it’s been an issue in the election so far, especially since the executive order by President Obama earlier this month. I was wondering how does this issue resonate in Iowa and how have we seen – or how have you seen the response on the Republican and Democrat side and how they approach this subject?

MR CONWAY: Well, the United States Constitution seems very, very straightforward. The Second Amendment is the only amendment where we double down. So we have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, which enables you guys to come here and exist. I used to be a newspaper journalist, so very, very important stuff. And you just have that right. You have the right in the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms, and then we doubled down. We said that right shall not be infringed. It is very important to a lot of people, myself included, so I am declaring my bias here, that I am able to defend myself and my family should the need arise. And I do not want the government getting in my way if that’s what I choose to do.

There is a – there’s a Danish girl who was attacked. I saw this story this morning. She was attacked and she used pepper spray on her attacker – a 17 year-old girl. She used pepper spray on her attacker and she is the one who is facing charges because she wasn’t supposed to have pepper spray – it’s illegal. That stuff is crazy to people like me.

In terms of how it’s playing, there does not seem to be a Republican who thinks that we need to restrict gun ownership any further, and there does not seem to be a Democrat that wouldn’t take away another gun given half a second’s chance. And unfortunately – and Andy may want to shut me up here and he’s welcome to do so if he wants to. Unfortunately, the big problem, I believe, in our nation is one of mental health and we are not dealing with the real problem, which is mental health in this country. We’re just not dealing with it, and that’s where some of the crazy stuff happens. But the crazy stuff and the terrorism are two entirely different issues, and so we need to focus on what’s important. And you can tell my bias there, but I declared it.

QUESTION: And – but I was wondering specifically in Iowa, has this been, like, a big issue?

MR CONWAY: Yeah, it’s important in Iowa. Look, gun control in Iowa means hitting what you’re aiming at. That’s what it means.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Yeah.

MR CONWAY: Iowans are – Iowans – a lot of Iowans own guns, and hunting is very important here to a lot of people, firearms safety is very important here to a lot of people. We hear about the gun show loophole. It is something that I truly believe doesn’t exist. It is – it’s – it is a very, very hot political topic, and unfortunately, it is divided largely on party lines, and nobody, because of that, will talk about the real issue, as I said.

In the aftermath of a mass shooting, we hear the people who are pro-firearms say, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people,” and they are correct. And we hear the people on the gun-grabbing side saying, “We need more gun laws,” which we don’t. And neither side says, “Why is this crazy person shooting up a shopping mall?” No one says that. And we need to address that.

Back in the 1960s – again, Andy, feel free to shut me up anytime you want – back in the 1960s, we discovered that the mentally ill in the United States were kept in appalling conditions and places you wouldn’t want to put your worst enemy. And so we went about the process, quite rightly, of shutting them down. In my opinion, the overreaction then was we need all the mentally ill – and I am only talking about the severely mentally ill, by the way. I’m not talking about people with eating disorders, post-partum depression, anything like that. I’m talking about the severely psychotic. We need places to lock them up, and we do not have enough places to lock them up. So the answer is they shall live amongst us and they will be fine as long as they stay on their meds until they don’t stay on their meds. We need to address mental health on this issue. We lose sight – in this country – we lose sight of that because everyone is so entrenched in their gun position.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you very much.

MR CONWAY: You’re welcome.

OPERATOR: And next we’ll go to the line of Marta Torres with La Razon Newspaper, [Spain]. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello again.

MR CONWAY: Hello again.

QUESTION: What do you think – what do you think that has happened in the country during these four years in the Republican GOP or among the Republican voters given the difference between the two candidates? I’m talking about Mitt Romney. As you said, he was the establishment candidate. And now the frontrunner, Donald Trump, is totally the opposite.

MR CONWAY: Mm-hmm, and he is, and of course, the second guy is Ted Cruz, who’s very much a – the guy polling second is Ted Cruz, very much a strong conservative.

There is an anger in this country and it’s actually from both sides. It’s on both sides. We’re seeing it with Donald Trump being at the top of the polls on the Republican side, Bernie Sanders being at the top of the polls on the Democrat side. We’re seeing this anger. And what’s the anger about? It’s about nothing ever seems to change. No matter what we the people do, nothing ever seems to change.

So as an example, in 2014, we the people of the United States – we gave the Republican Party a wave election victory in the midterms. Republicans have more members of the United States House than they have had at any time since the Civil War. That is a long time. And what did they do with it? The simple answer is nothing. A lot of people, if they looked at what they’ve done, would still believe Nancy Pelosi was in charge of the House. Nothing ever seems to change. And we feel – we the people feel we have been lied to repeatedly and we are angry.

It also explains Bernie Sanders on the Democrat side, because whether you agree with Bernie Sanders or not, you believe he is telling you the truth. And what the people, I believe, are seeking this time is that truth, because they feel they’ve been lied to too much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR CONWAY: You’re welcome.

OPERATOR: And once again, if you would like to ask a question, please press * then 1. And we’ll go to the line of Pirkko Pontinen with [YLE] TV, Finland. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello, good afternoon. I have a question not concerning only Iowa, but I wonder, how is it possible that Mr. Bloomberg can possibly make his announcement for GOP candidate as late as in March? Is there not any deadline for announcement?

MR CONWAY: Yes, there is, but he would not run as a Republican. He would run as an Independent because you’re right, in terms of primary states, an awful lot of the deadlines have already passed and he would not be able to get on the ballot in those states in primaries. But in terms of being elected in the general election, those times still exist. He would still be able to get on the ballot.


MR CONWAY: So if he decided to run, he would do so, I believe, as an Independent.

QUESTION: Okay, good, thank you. Thank you.

OPERATOR: And next we’ll go to the line of Raquel Sans with TV3 [Catalunya, Spain]. Please go ahead.

MR CONWAY: Ah, Raquel’s back, excellent.


MR CONWAY: Just a quick note for Andy. We’ve got about five minutes left, Andy, just so that you know. Yes, Raquel.

QUESTION: Okay. Sorry, I missed the first five minutes, so I don’t know if what I’m --


QUESTION: I’m sorry, I was confused about the way to getting in contact with you. (Laughter.)

MR CONWAY: It’s fine. I’m just playing.

QUESTION: So I don’t know if you’ve already talked about that, but I got that you were saying that the results in Iowa are very important for several reasons. But I read some articles saying that Iowa is not that important, that it’s more like the media moving and starting to play in this election cycle, which is very long, and they are important because they are the first ones. But at the end of the day, when you look at the data historically, Iowa has not picked a lot of nominees neither presidential candidates.

MR CONWAY: How important is Iowa? I truly believe Barack Obama would not be President without Iowa.

QUESTION: But when you --

MR CONWAY: That’s how important it is. I actually don’t believe Jimmy Carter would have been President without Iowa either, by the way. Iowa is very important. And the pundits, unfortunately, they come from New York and they come from Washington, D.C., and they don’t like coming out into what I like to call “real America.” They like to stay in their nice big cities, which has very little to do with real America. And when they get out here, they actually change their minds, but they don’t like the idea of coming out here and they don’t like the idea of little Iowa having all this power. But as I say, I genuinely believe without Iowa you would not have heard the words “President Obama.” I just don’t believe he would have been President. Yes.

QUESTION: But you just look at the numbers and it’s true that Iowa has not picked a lot of either nominees or Presidents.

MR CONWAY: Well, I – it picked Obama, it picked Carter. I just named two. I believe it picked George W. Bush. So I’m not sure that you’re 100 percent right.

QUESTION: No, I mean, I’m just referring to an article on that I read. There were like two out of three --

MR CONWAY: Oh, it was on the internet? It must be true.

QUESTION: Two out of three or three out of six or something like that. I think --

MR CONWAY: It was on the internet, it has to be true. Iowa isn’t necessarily about picking the nominee anyway. Iowa is about thinning the field. And you will see on Monday night, Tuesday morning, you will see the field thinned. You will see people drop out of the race on Tuesday after the Iowa caucuses.

QUESTION: Okay, can I ask you a last question?


QUESTION: How would you define the profile of the voter of Iowa?

MR CONWAY: American.

QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.)

MR CONWAY: All right.

QUESTION: That’s pretty simple. Thank you so much.

MR CONWAY: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Thank you. And once again, if you would like to ask a question, press * then 1. And we have time for one more question. We’ll go to Marta Torres with La Razon Newspaper, [Spain]. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Well, this is a follow-up on Raquel’s question. Could you please develop a little bit more on what you said about “without Iowa President Obama wouldn’t have been President Obama”?

MR CONWAY: Yeah, sure. Back in 2008, the – we were kind of where we are right now. Everyone said Hillary Clinton was going to be the nominee. Hillary Clinton, therefore, would be our next president. That’s what everybody thought was going to happen. Hillary Clinton came to Iowa. She held big events. Barack Obama came to Iowa and went around restaurants and coffee shops and held lots of small events and was here for a very long time, just as Rick Santorum was four years ago. Barack Obama won in Iowa. That’s what started the momentum towards him defeating Hillary Clinton and, ultimately, becoming our President. Without Iowa, I don’t believe that happens. If you start in Florida, if you start in California, the election is decided by huge money and ad spends on TV and radio. And he quite simply didn’t have the money that she had eight years ago, and so she would have won it essentially because not many people would have got to know who he was. So that’s why I believe without Iowa there would not be a President Obama or a Jimmy Carter, by the way.



QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, yes.

MR CONWAY: You’re welcome.

OPERATOR: And I have no questions in queue. I’ll turn it back to you for any closing remarks.

MODERATOR: Okay, excellent. I want to thank all of our callers. And I want to thank Simon for his generous gift of his time and his thoughts. I should also say that his remarks are his own and do not reflect the U.S. State Department.

MR CONWAY: Absolutely.

MODERATOR: Thanks again to all. We appreciate it. We’ll have a transcript of this event, if possible, in the next day or so. Thanks again and goodbye.

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