In N.H. and Iowa, the Week in Politics Looks a Little Bit Different

Jul 14, 2015

Even when most Americans regard the next presidential election as a distant rumor, people in New Hampshire, with its first-in-the-nation primary, and Iowa, with its even-earlier-than-that caucuses, are attentively tuned to the twists and turns of the campaigns. 

Watching with interest these days are Anna Backstrom, who oversees political coverage for Iowa's Des Moines Register, and Dan Barrick, senior editor for politics and policy at New Hampshire Public Radio.

NPR's Robert Siegel spoke to both editors about this week in politics, and how the enormous GOP field is - or isn't - diminishing the role of early state contests.

Transcript via NPR.

We just heard about the speech Hillary Clinton gave outlining her economic vision. She took a strong stance on the need to rein in out of control financial institutions. Anna, how does that resonate in Iowa, and how's she doing there in the polls?

Well, the most recent Iowa poll that we did was in May, and she was clearly the frontrunner there. But we also pulled on what both parties' caucus-goers think is the top issue. And Democrats here really want their candidate to focus on domestic policy, so energy policy and income inequality, specifically. So I think today's speech is really hitting on what Iowans want to hear from Democrats.

And in New Hampshire, Dan, how is the message playing there?

I'd agree. I mean, I think you talk to voters who are showing up at the early campaign events and rallies by the Democratic candidates, and domestic policy, economic equality is really at the top of the list for a lot of early primary voters.

It appears the most successful challenger to Hillary Clinton these days is Democratic Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. Is he doing well in New Hampshire because he's from next-door in Vermont, or is it the message that's resonating with people there?

I think there's a little bit of both. As you said, he comes from right across the river in Vermont. Most polls put him, you know, anywhere between 10, 15 percent behind Hillary Clinton, which is a lot closer, I think, than most people anticipated at this time. And in part, his message is one similar to the economic speech Hillary Clinton gave today about the importance for Democrats to focus on economic opportunity and income inequality among middle-class Americans.

And, Anna Backstrom, how is Bernie Sanders doing in Iowa these days?

Well, he, you know, a couple weeks ago, drew a crowd of nearly 2,500 in Council Bluffs. And sort of what we've heard from voters is twofold. So they really like what Bernie talks about, and they feel that he's maybe more or less beholden to special interests than Hillary might be. But on the flip side, the Clinton voters or people who have shown up at Clinton events have said that they feel more confident that Clinton could execute that plan and actually get something done on some of those policies.

Well, let's turn to the Republican side now. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker officially announced today. That makes 15 Republican candidates in the race. I want to play a snippet from the video that his campaign released this morning.

Watch Scott Walker's campaign video:

"For too long, they've said we have to compromise our principles to win. Scott Walker showed the path to victory is to run on our principles - conservative, bold, decisive."

I'm not sure who "they" are, but I think he's referring to the party nominating a Mitt Romney, a John McCain, somebody who's - who moves toward the center. Does Scott Walker have some appeal with that argument, Anna, out in Iowa?

I think where we have seen people really attach to him is they believe that he'll follow through. So when he took on unions and did what he did in Wisconsin, Iowans really like that. But where we might see issues - can he appeal to both the moderate right wing of the party and maybe the more conservative party, and will he be able to keep both sides happy for long enough to win the caucuses?

Scott Walker is doing very well in the polls, though, in Iowa. He's not the leading candidate in New Hampshire, though, Dan. And your state has a track record of going for the more moderate Republicans. Who's on top there now?

Most of the recent polls have Jeb Bush at the top of the pack, with the margin, you know, fairly narrow at this point - maybe, you know, 2, 3, 4, 5 percentage points. Walker's not been here much through the spring, so what I'll be looking for is, once he announces, how does he actually campaign here in New Hampshire, what kind of an organization does he put together, and just how he actually engages as a candidate with New Hampshire voters.

Does it diminish the importance of the New Hampshire primary or the Iowa caucuses on the Republican side if there are a dozen or more candidates and if the winner does come in with 16 percent of the vote? Does that, Anna, make the Iowa caucuses less of a prize if it's such a small margin of victory?

We've always said that there's three tickets out of Iowa, and maybe this year, it's four or five, but I don't think it does necessarily diminish the value there.

But as you say, people in Iowa talk about there being three tickets out of Iowa, meaning that the field gets winnowed down there. If there are five people coming out of Iowa, that really does limit that winnowing function.

Yeah, I mean, I guess with a bigger field, you're not winnowing, you know, six down to three, but no one thinks that the Iowa caucus is sort of the end-all, be-all predictor of who's going to be the party nominee.

Whereas everyone in New Hampshire thinks that is the be-all and end-all of primary politics.

You know, there's a saying among old political hands in New Hampshire that in Iowa - they pick corn in Iowa, and we pick presidents here in New Hampshire.

But I think, you know, I agree with Anna that, in some ways, with a larger field, especially on the Republican side, the role of an early state like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina may be to act as almost kind of an editor of the field. You know, it's never been the case that if you win Iowa or New Hampshire, you're guaranteed to go on to become president. But I do think that there may be a role for these early states to kind of limit this large baker's dozen-plus of candidates down to a more manageable size for the rest of the rest of the nominating process.