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News Analysis: January 7, 2008

posted on January 7, 2008 at 8:16 PM

Here now to give us her take on the news that lingers after all the candidates have boarded their planes or buses or whatever the case may be is Jeneane Beck of “Iowa Public Radio” news.

Mundt: Jeneane, how are you?

Beck: I’m good. I’m finding myself with a little more free time all of a sudden, and I still feel compelled to watch and read every caucus tidbit I can and every New Hampshire primary tidbit I can.

Mundt: It’s hard to stay out of it. I think all of us in Iowa got very excited. Obviously the caucus numbers are an indication. In fact, hundreds of thousands of us were excited about this event and all of the lead-up to it. It didn’t zap our interest, and now it’s continuing on in New Hampshire. Before we get to New Hampshire, your thoughts coming out of the Iowa caucuses and the results, which were surprising for many.

Beck: I think the biggest surprise, obviously, was the turnout, and I think the next time we have an open contest like we had this year, if Iowa is still hosting the caucuses in that future date, they need to relook at some of the sites they selected for precincts, because even though many of them were new sites from four years ago, they still weren’t big enough. So I think that’s the most fun story for Iowa is the turnout.

Mundt: The thing that occurred to me was, you know, the old picture of the caucuses as gathering in homes and there are just too many people now to gather in many homes in the community.

Beck: And Iowa also did its job in the sense of letting a newcomer get in that didn’t have any name recognition, didn’t have any money, in Mike Huckabee. This was a state where people always said you could compete if you didn’t have a huge name following or a lot of money, and he did that.

And it even forced somebody like Senator Obama, who did have big name recognition, who was considered one of the celebrities of his party, to run a good ground game. And he didn’t just waltz in and do a bunch of advertising and forget the ground game. He did the traditional Iowa routine of going to schools, of going to restaurants, and talking with voters and even going to homes in some cases and making his case the old-fashioned way, and it paid off.

Mundt: So then what does that say to the parties, both of those stories, which are really important, as they consider the Iowa caucuses and their place in 2012?

Beck: Well, it says that you do need to run an old-fashioned ground game. It says to the likes of Mitt Romney that maybe advertising alone isn’t the ticket. But it says that a big name doesn’t hurt. So I think if you are a candidate that has both, that’s the best way to win Iowa.

Mundt: And it says probably that Iowa doesn’t lose its place as first in the nation.

Beck: I think we did ourselves well by a large turnout and by winnowing the field in the way that people expected; however, it is just too early to tell. If Senator Obama becomes the next president or Mike Huckabee becomes the next president, we have a much better shot of keeping the caucuses. If Senator Clinton is the next president, don’t count on it. Democrats are going to look for a new way, and there are still a ton of states that want a piece of the media attention and the money that is poured into the state.

Mundt: Okay, here’s a question to ask somebody who has devoted a great deal of time to the Iowa caucuses, and that’s you. What are you looking for in the New Hampshire primary tomorrow night?

Beck: Well, it will be interesting. I saw a poll today that said that Senator Obama has opened up a 13-point lead over Senator Clinton, who had supposedly built herself a firewall in New Hampshire. I think if he wins New Hampshire, she is greatly wounded, and it will be interesting to see if anybody can catch him. It will be like John Kerry four years ago.

On the Republican side, I’d like to see how far up Mike Huckabee gets. You know, he was in fourth or fifth place in that state. Let’s just see how big of an Iowa bounce he really gets. And if he gets into third place, he’s going himself well. It doesn’t mean he’ll win, but it shows Iowa really did its job.

Mundt: The Department of Education has been holding hearings on tweaking open enrollment. Tell me a little bit about what you’ve been discovering there in non-caucus news.

Beck: That’s right, there is actual other news. The Department, after a recent Supreme Court ruling over the summer, learned that you can no longer base your open enrollment policy on race alone. And so there are five communities in Iowa that had banned open enrollment, in part so that there wouldn’t be white flight, so that they wouldn’t have a racially isolated school building within their city.

Now, because the Justices have said, you know what, you cannot base it solely on race, they have to find new ways and new wording. And so they’re going to say things like, well, if we have a minority population that is this much percentage second – or English as a second language learners or low on the socioeconomic status, then they can ban open enrollment so that they can have diverse populations within a district. But they have to change the wording essentially.

So it isn’t going to be a big deal and, you know, most districts aren’t going to look any different after this. But it’s just one of those things that Iowa is having to do to stay current. Kind of the interesting thing here is there’s a couple districts that don’t currently ban open enrollment that would like that option: Sioux City, which has a growing minority population; Columbus Junction. But the state is saying no, no, only the five that have the waiver so far. And so for some communities, they’re saying, wait a minute, what about us.

Mundt: Yeah, so the ones who are essentially grandfathered in, they’re all right. I guess – I mean there’s -- We only have a few seconds left, but there are good intentions in place here, from what I can tell, trying to maintain diversity inside school buildings.

Beck: That’s the good intention. The other good intention on the opposing side is those who say, look, open enrollment is meant to be parental choice, and they don’t want more districts to get rid of it. So those are the competing arguments.


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