David Yepsen, the chief political columnist for The Des Moines Register, has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years. With Iowa’s corn already well-trampled by the herd of Republican and Democrat presidential candidates hoping to win the mysterious Iowa caucuses in January, and with the important Republican straw poll coming on Aug. 11, we thought it was a good time to ask Yepsen who’s winning and losing out there in the Hawkeye State. I talked to him by telephone on Thursday, July 26.
Q: What’s the most significant difference between what’s going on in Iowa this election cycle and in past years?
YESPEN: I think the intensity on the Democratic side compared to the Republican side. Democrats are far more enthused about this election than are Republicans. Democratic crowds are bigger and the enthusiasm level of those crowds for their candidates is much greater. If you put a decibel meter on Democratic events, it would register better than one you had on Republican events. I think Republicans are very down; they are very discouraged. They are not happy with their candidates. This is borne out in polls and in financial disclosure data. I don’t know if you saw The Wall Street Journal piece a couple days ago on how Democratic candidates for Congress and president have raised $100 million more than Republican candidates. It’s never happened before in political history. I think that tells me an awful lot.
Q: What’s it take to win the political support of Iowans?
YESPEN: The normal issues that the campaigns are all talking about -- Iraq, health care, the economy, terrorism -- are being talked about. But the one wrinkle that is true in both parties that is not probably true with the electorate nationally is the question of electability. Caucus-goers are party activists. They are people who care about their party and understand they are surrogates or stand-ins for similar people around the country, so they take pretty seriously the notion that they’ve got to pick somebody who can win in November. I think the question of electability is something that’s on the minds of caucus-goers from both parties -- can a candidate win? You find a lot of people who say they like one candidate or another, but are not going to support him because they don’t think he or she can win.
Q: For the Democrats, who needs to win the most in January -- Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards?