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News Analysis: December 28, 2007

posted on December 31, 2007 at 10:16 AM

Part of the reason for the Iowa caucus's continued status is the ability of its political parties to host campaigns and the members of the press who cover them. The Iowa effort is to accommodate, and it's certainly developed some very curious alliances. A case in point is the working relationship between Mary Tiffany, communications director for the Republican Party of Iowa, and Carrie Giddins, the Democratic counterpart.

Yeager: Ladies, welcome. The first question we have here for you is why would the Republicans and the Democrats ever want to work together.

Giddins: I'll take that. We've been working together to make sure Iowa stays first. We are proud of our status as first in the nation. We think we do it really well. Iowans take pride in the fact that they test candidates and make sure that they're really ready for primetime. So it's a proving ground and Iowans take that role very seriously. So we're working together to keep the first-in-the-nation status.

Yeager: We talk about three decades of history that goes on. I mean was that something -- We haven't had a cycle like this where we’ve had both parties picking the nominee at the exact same time without a sitting President or Vice President. Was that part of the reason in why to work together, it can ensure many things?

Tiffany: Exactly. With this race being so side open and, as everyone says, we haven't seen a race like this since the 50s. And with 16 candidates on both sides and completely wide open and no incumbent, we knew it was important not to try to split the time of possibly doing our caucuses on one day and the other and then splitting media and what not. Let's keep the focus on just the Iowa Caucus in general and not make it the Republican Iowa caucuses or the Democratic Iowa caucuses. We wanted it to be the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus.

Yeager: When we say work together, what exactly is that going to mean? What are the two of you actually doing together?

Giddins: We are hosting caucus night together at the Polk County Convention Complex, meaning reporters don't have to run from one building to the next to get results for the Republicans or for the Democrats. So we're making sure that they have a place where the numbers will come in on caucus night from the Republicans and from the Democrats. Mary and I have worked very hard to make sure that media coming to the state know how to cover the caucuses on caucus night and have the ability to.

Yeager: And not only are the candidates in the spotlight that night, so is the state. I mean everything that you do -- One thing that you’re trying to make sure is accuracy.

Tiffany: Exactly, and that's first and foremost, I think, with both parties. Our job as the parties is not exactly the turnout mechanism, though we are doing all the organization for the 1,781 precinct caucus locations on each side. So we’ll have close to 3,600 individual caucus meetings going on around the state the evening of January 3, which is just a huge undertaking. And so for every call to come in and all of those results and at the same time having witnesses from every campaign is huge and extremely important that we get it right and report the results in an honest way.

Yeager: And it's mostly a following mechanism. It's a similar case that the Democrats used in 04. It’s basically each precinct person has a secret code that they punch in with their results; is that kind of how it's setup?

Giddins: It is a toll-free hotline that will come into our war room at the Convention complex, and the numbers will be instantaneously reported to the media and to the world.

Yeager: You want to be fast too. I mean we are in a digital age where everybody wants everything quickly. Where is that line between accuracy and speed?

Giddins: We're pretty confident about the mechanism we’ve created for that night. It's been tested. We’ve been working on it for months now. This is not something that we're going in there on caucus night, like, hey, here’s a number. I mean we've been working so hard to make sure that the numbers will come in correctly and that everyone is trained on how to use it. As Mary said, we have 1,781precincts around the state. We've trained all the people who are going to be making those calls that night. We’ve trained the campaigns to make sure they know exactly what’s going to happen, and we've even trained reporters to make sure they know exactly what they’re reporting that night.

Yeager: And you're dealing with reporters from across the world. You're not just dealing from Iowans or The New York Times. You're dealing -- Where are some of the countries that have credentialed or at least said they’re coming? Is it a long list, more than the United Nations has or something?

Tiffany: Yeah, it's extremely long. What's great is that in New York, they have this foreign press center. And so, in a way, they kind of gather them and then they'll bring them and, ideally, bus them around, which is good. So we're not exactly trying to put them on Mapquest all over Iowa. But anyway, we have a very long list. I mean a lot of European countries, Asian countries, South America, all over the map. And for many it’s interesting because for even a lot of reporters -Granted, we know that there's a lot of first-time Iowa caucus goers. There's a lot of first-time, you know, reporter caucus coverers, whatever you want to call it, in the fact that they're calling us, because they're saying, "Look, I'm sorry, I don't know much about this. Can you explain it to me?" because this is the first time because all eyes are on Iowa and a lot of them have been kind of sent in, and even last minute

Yeager: And I want to quickly get to, you know, how Iowa is in the middle of all this, in the center, is the attention. Everybody says Iowa. Well, why Iowa? Why should Iowa go first?

Giddins: Iowa should go first for a lot of reasons. Iowans take their role very seriously, as I said before. You know, Iowa is a great state. It's got rural. It’s got urban. And it's got people who are engaged. It’s got a very smart electorate. People want to ask the tough questions of the candidates. They attend events at all times. I mean there have been hundreds of - maybe thousands of events at that point by candidates around this state, and they all want to hear what the candidate has to say, shake their hand, and ask them the tough questions. So Iowa is a proving ground. What matters here matters to the rest of the country: the war in Iraq, renewable energy, health care, education. Those are all issues that affect the entire country, not just Iowans.

Yeager: And Iowans take it seriously. You are -- Mary, you are from Iowa. Carrie, you've been in Iowa before, but from the East. You both have very interesting perspectives. How is it to be helping tell Iowa's story as a native Iowan in the job that you have?

Tiffany: Well, it's interesting. And just to back up what Carrie said, you know, obviously with all eyes on us and all the attention, we also have a lot of, let's say, caucus envy. In this case you could go on down the list about why other states shouldn't be first and why we shouldn't go to a more, let’s say, regional procedure. But there's more positives about Iowa, and I think that it's important, you know, as Carrie mentioned and you had mentioned earlier, the thirty years of history and that it does work and it's worked well in terms of our -- You know, our citizens actually take the time to get to know the candidates, and I think that’s not something that may happen in every state, especially some larger states where you can't crisscross the state, you can’t hop around and whether a bus, a helicopter, or even, you know, on foot, for that matter, or on a bike.

Yeager: Lots of things going on, and I would love to continue this conversation. I know the two of you could talk about it for a long time and so could we, but we're out of time. Carrie Giddins, Mary Tiffany, thank you both for coming.

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