Mundt: You’ve been out following the candidates. You’ve talked to a couple in detail, the two front-runners here in Iowa, and I’ll as you about that in a moment. But we’re really coming around now to the point where a lot of us maybe slacked off a bit on paying attention to this campaign or maybe we looked just at the top line. We’re now at the point where it’s time to start paying attention in these final days leading up the caucuses. What should we know two months out?
Henderson: Well, you should know that the race hasn’t changed very much in the past few months. It looks like there are three front-runners on the Democratic side in Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. And on the Republican side, Mitt Romney has had kind of a comfortable lead for a while, with kind of the others folks sort of mixing it up underneath there. So things haven’t changed that much in terms of the horse race.
But I think what you did mention is true, that things are going to change in terms of intensity. These candidates are going to spend a lot of time in Iowa between now and Christmas and Christmas and New Year’s and January 3.
Iowans are going to have lots of opportunities to hear what they have to say in person and make up their voting decision based on what they hear.
Mundt: Can you tell me a little bit about the dynamics going on in that three-way race, essentially, for the democratic nomination, at least how it’s playing out in Iowa?
Henderson: Well, I think what many viewers may have seen in a televised debate on Tuesday in Philadelphia is what’s playing out now on the Iowa campaign scene. You have Barack Obama and John Edwards who have kind of taken the gloves off and have gone after the front-runner, Hillary Clinton, because they see Iowa as the place where they have to make a stand. One of them has to do well here to sort of put off the Hillary Clinton juggernaut from actually catching steam and rolling from Iowa to New Hampshire and then on to the nomination.
Mundt: You had a chance to talk with both Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton in the past week. First to Mitt Romney. What were your impressions from that conversation with him?
Henderson: Well, he did as many of the Republicans do. He focused a little bit of his rhetorical wit on Hillary Clinton, ridiculing her for an answer she gave at that debate. I mentioned about granting illegal immigrants driver’s licenses in her home state of New York. He made a joke about it was like watching “Dancing with the Stars.”
So a lot of these Republican candidates are directing all of their rhetorical fire at Hillary Clinton because Republicans really see her as the way to sort of unite the party.
The other interesting thing from our conversation was that when I asked him how does it feel because, you know, there’s about sixty days left in the campaign, and he says, “I’ve never done this before, and I’ll just be happy to finish first, second, or third.”
Well, he’s sort of downplaying expectations with that kind of statement because he’s been the front-runner here for several months. Most polls show him to be garnering about 30 percent support or a little better than that. So for him to say third would be okay is a little startling.
Mundt: And how did you respond to that back to him? Did you question a little bit on that?
Henderson: That was the last question.
Mundt: He set the expectations so --
Henderson: He set the expectation and then I left the room.
Mundt: Hillary Clinton, how is she gaming this now? She is, I think we could say, pretty much a clear front-running in Iowa, but it’s a fluid race. So what’s she doing two months out?
Henderson: She is spending more time here. She’s doing more events where she can meet people. She has some interesting things to say about the caucuses, which shows me that as a candidate she realizes how unusual they are and how unusual Iowans are in making their caucus voting decision.
She told a couple of anecdotes about a couple of people who had told her why they were voting for her. And their seemingly almost incoherent reasons, they had no relationship to one another or to anything she’s saying on the campaign trail. One of the persons who told her she’d be voting for her is because Mrs. Clinton had visited Spain when she was First Lady.
Voters make decisions for odd choices, and I think that’s sinking into a candidate like Hillary Clinton.
Mundt: And just a moment here before we say good-bye, but this issue about the undocumented individuals being able to get driver’s licenses, the illegal aliens, does that matter in Iowa? It’s a pretty complicated issue. I mean, there are people getting out there and saying to Hillary at events, “Why did you take the stand that you did?” Does that matter out there?
Henderson: Well, it’s not so much the stand she took for Democrats. It’s the fact that the answer she gave was very Bill Clintonesque. It seems as if she was trying to have it both ways. And during the debate, John Edwards jumped on it immediately. And on the campaign trail, then, both Mr. Edwards and Mr. Obama are making that point.
Now, on the Republican side, it is a huge issue. You have candidates who are raising that issue and it does certainly motivate a core of Republicans who really are upset about illegal immigration.
Mundt: It’s been fun for you all along, but it’s going to get really fun for all the rest of us too in these next couple months.