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Campaign 2008 Discussion with Jerry Crawford and Mike Mahaffey

posted on April 25, 2008

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Borg: Comparing expectations. Elections are nearing. June primaries just a few weeks away. November's general election still several million dollars down the campaign trail. We're questioning two Iowa political insiders, Republican Mike Mahaffey and Democrat Jerry Crawford on this edition of Iowa Press.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. The Iowa Bankers Association -- for personal, business and commercial needs Iowa Banks help Iowans reach their financial goals. And by the Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. By Iowa's Private Colleges and Universities where faculty teach and students learn. Iowa's Private Colleges employ over 10,000 Iowans and enroll 25% of Iowa's higher education students. More information is available at

On statewide Iowa Public Television this is the Friday, April 25th edition of Iowa Press. Here is Dean Borg.

Borg: Tuesday, May 6th, the next significant date on the political calendar as Indiana and North Carolina take their turn in the caucus and primary presidential nomination process. Following Tuesday's stop in Pennsylvania the campaign trail and the Democratic race now remains tight between Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama. Some political insiders saying it appears more likely than ever that the nomination process is going to remain unresolved all the way to the national convention in Denver. That comes in August. On the Republican side of the equation Senator John McCain remains the presumptive GOP candidate, of course, and today he is unburdened by in-party competition and he is focusing on the campaign for the White House as he heads into the September national convention for the Republicans and that is in Minneapolis. Two party insiders join us for perspective today on the ongoing campaigns of 2008 -- Montezuma attorney Mike Mahaffey, formerly chaired Iowa's Republican Party, also ran for Congress at one time -- Des Moines attorney Jerry Crawford's experience includes being Midwest Co-chair for Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign and that's just one of a string that includes being state chairman for the past five Democratic presidential candidates. Both of you, welcome back to Iowa Press.

Both: Thank you.

Borg: We're eager to hear your insights. And across the Iowa Press table, Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson and Iowa Public Radio Statehouse Correspondent Jeneane Beck.

Beck: Mr. Crawford, your candidate Hillary Clinton scored a big win in Pennsylvania this week. And she says the tide is turning. But the problem with the tide is it usually goes back out again. How would you describe the win?

Crawford: Well, I guess the next tide that we have to watch carefully is Indiana. That is going to be a pivotal contest, I think. It's pretty clear that Barack Obama has a significant advantage in North Carolina and so I think Indiana will be the next showdown state. But Senator Clinton goes into Indiana on the heels of a really remarkable victory in Pennsylvania. If you take a step back and look at the fact that she got outspent by better than 3-to-1 in Pennsylvania, they had six weeks to campaign there and that she still inflicts a double-digit defeat to Senator Obama it tells you that this contest is just the next thing to dead even. He clearly has an advantage on the delegate side, a hundred and some delegate advantage. The popular vote margin has all but disappeared if you include Florida where everybody was on the ballot. So, there is a lot of work left to be done in decision making on the Democratic side.

Beck: We're going to get more into that delegate count in a little bit. But let me ask you, Mr. Mahaffey, as you look at Pennsylvania, did you learn anything? Were the Republicans and John McCain able to learn anything from how the two candidates, the Democrats handled the race. And are you at all concerned the Obama continues to bring in Republicans who change party registration to register to vote for him?

Mahaffey: One of the things I learned is that if you're going to attempt to connect to the voters, the ordinary citizens in any state, you should select an activity that you're better at than bowling because if you bowl a 37 I'm not sure it helps you that much. Look, the Democrats have had an opportunity to, because of the competitiveness of their race, to have tremendous turnouts. In some respects the question Republicans voting in Democratic primaries is not as great a concern, it's the only game in town and so to some extent there's going to be some people that do that. What is more concerning is the fact that the Democrats have a lot of enthusiasm on their side and there's no question about that. What is not as concerning is the fact that this seems to be a duel, almost to the death. And it is creating some divisions in the Democratic Party and some hard feelings. And those are always difficult for any party to overcome in the fall election.

Henderson: Mr. Crawford, Obama has won more delegates thus far, he's won more states thus far, he's won more voters thus far. Where is this scenario by which Hillary Clinton is the nominee of your party?

Crawford: Well, the scenario, I think, really comes down to her continuing to perform strongly, as I said, next in Indiana and then as we wind down to the end of the primary contests if we have national polls showing that she is the candidate who can beat John McCain in November, that's what could create a tipping point in her favor among super delegates. Conversely, if he could win both Indiana and North Carolina, if he gets on a roll I think that then will create the potential for a tipping point for him. I want to just mention quickly something Mike said about the bowling and the 37 because obviously it's an easy laugh line and I don't quite understand how anybody could bowl a 37. But it creates, I think, for Senator Obama and opportunity. What he needs to be doing is framing the same kind of presentation to Reagan Democrats, to women, to Catholics, to voting members from union households where she has been dominating them in the major industrial states where we have to win as a party in November. I'd like to see him, first of all, secretly go practice his bowling and then secondly, poke fun at himself about what happened and show improvement and then give that kind of a speech to reach out to those folks.

Henderson: One of the things the Obama campaign said this week was we haven't won Reagan Democrats in a few election cycles as Democrats. They didn't vote for John Kerry. They didn't vote for Al Gore.

Crawford: That's the point I think.

Henderson: But would they vote for her in November?

Crawford: The polls indicate yes. She has won almost every major industrial state in this primary season and those are the states where we win the presidency. You know, respectfully to Senator Obama, we don't win the presidency as Democrats in Utah or Louisiana or Mississippi or Idaho or Alaska, that's just not likely to happen.

Beck: Let me just jump in -- I'm not sure how good of a bowler Senator Clinton is and her and her husband are quite wealthy. Why is she so much more a person of the people? And secondarily, why does the person who is going to run our country need to be a good bowler? You know what I'm saying, why can't they be empathetic of people and not necessarily be a good bowler?

Crawford: You know, again, as far as the bowling is concerned it's just a symbol, I think, of the problem that Senator Obama has had in the campaign. And as I said, I think it actually creates for him an opportunity as he maps his strategy for Indiana and for beyond and if he's the nominee for the general election. Now, they haven’t asked for my advice but I'm just saying I think it gives him an opportunity.

Henderson: Mr. Mahaffey, you mentioned the enthusiasm that Barack Obama has brought to this. One of the things I've heard from the McCain campus that they are very concerned about how well organized Obama is in caucus states and that does not bode well for the general election because they know how to organize. Is that a big concern for you?

Mahaffey: Well, I think there is a concern but I think part of what has happened in recent weeks is that Senator Obama, who is an extraordinary political talent, there is no question about that and a very intelligent man, but I think he's been brought back to Earth. And let me just say this, it isn't just the bowling. We make light of that. After that he goes to, of all places, San Francisco and gives a speech in which he attempts to explain middle America, if you will, and rural America to his patrons, his people who are supporting him, he uses the word cling when it comes to religion, he talks about being anti-immigrant, anti-trade. I don't know what state particularly he was talking about but he wasn't talking about rural Iowa because we are pro-trade, we understand that the international situation, the global situation is such that we have to trade with other people. We aren't against immigration. I've got plenty of clients who hire Hispanic workers and treat them well. And, by the way, the Hispanic workers are very good. And we don't cling to religion, it rather informs our faith. And I think that is part of the problem that he's having right now connecting to, if you will, Middle America.

Henderson: I'm puzzled by that. You had a Republican presidential candidate whose sole platform was illegal immigration. Polls show 25% of your party thinks it's the number one issue. If you went to Newton and maybe Dubuque where jobs have gone overseas I'm not quite sure they'd be in favor of open trade.

Mahaffey: I'm talking about rural Iowa. As time goes on in this campaign one of the things you will see in Iowa and other states like Iowa is there will be more talk about trade. John McCain is a free trader and that may cost him some votes some places but he is going to talk about how important free trade is to manufacturing, how important it is to agricultural interests and how important it is in the grand scheme of globalization. So, I'm willing to make that kind of argument.

Henderson: How does trade play in a state like Iowa? NAFTA has been an issue between Obama and Clinton for a little bit last November here in Iowa and it played out again a few weeks ago on the national stage.

Crawford: Well, we're an agricultural state and agriculture benefits from trade. Essentially, right now, agriculture is benefiting from everything. Things could not be doing much better. I think that the position of either Democratic candidate will be in favor of trade but will be in favor of fair trade. I would say when Mike talks about a potential match up in the fall between Senator McCain and Senator Obama, and I've already identified as a Clinton supporter what I think some of the shortcomings are to this point in the calendar with Senator Obama, but he would present, if he were eventually nominated, an amazing generational contrast to Senator McCain. I don't believe Senator McCain is too old to serve our country as president, I like him. I think he's a great American. But I think the country would find the contrast stark, the future and the past, if you will, and I think that would be compelling.

Henderson: Speaking of contrast, whomever Democrats nominate will be a history making candidate if it's a woman, if it's a black man. Is America ready to make history?

Crawford: I think America is ready to make history and I'm really glad that I'm going to get to be around to see it. All of us who have daughters, all of us who have been involved in the civil rights movement are energized by this choice. There's no question about it.

Borg: You were going to add something?

Mahaffey: I was just going to say that I think the fact is that there may be a contrast. But the other thing about Senator Obama particularly is that if you look at the speeches he's been making recently they basically are part of the liberal orthodox. One of Senator Obama's claims is that he is going to be the candidate of change. And yet when it comes right down to it he basically follows the orthodox liberal line of the Democratic Party. So, when you talk about change but actually are basically more on the left, if you will, on the liberal side, I think that part of that contrast will be discussed in the fall election.

Borg: I'd like to ask you about unity and healing, both of you, within your parties. You first, Mr. Mahaffey. What indication do you have just here in Iowa, but nationally if you have that perspective, that John McCain is now able to bring in the conservatives given some indication that they don't trust him and also the independents from the other side because that's kind of a tough sell?

Mahaffey: It is. Part of the support for John McCain is grudging, there's no question about it. But it is support nonetheless. Look, Dean, this is an election cycle where at many levels the Democrats have the advantage. And if you look at the national scene and you talk about a generic ballot they're beating, you know, a Democratic generic ballot, Republican generic ballot by double digits. But when you put John McCain into it, it's dead even. And I think that people like Christopher Rants and Stuart Iverson, our new state chair, who were both for Mitt Romney, for example, may be having grudging support for John McCain but I also think they can read the polls and realize they've got a lot better chance in Iowa with John McCain than they would have had with any other Republican candidate.

Borg: Mr. Crawford, you anticipate the question I'm going to ask you -- how badly is the bleeding? And can it be healed?

Crawford: Dean, I think the question is the most important question facing both tickets as we head to November. On the Republican side the only way that Karl Rove and the Republicans were able to get President Bush across the finish line in 2004 against John Kerry was to energize the base. It's hard for me to imagine how they energize the base in favor of John McCain. I like him but that's part of his problem, frankly, the Republican base not quite so keen. On the Democratic side, people are going to have to take a deep breath. I promise you that I have many confidants in the Clinton campaign who flat out don't like Barack Obama. I promise you the reverse is true. My brother happens to be one of the reverse so we've got a family feud going on this very subject. Having said that, this election is more important than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. For the good of the party and the good of the country they are going to need to put aside their differences and take a very hard look at running together regardless of who gets the nomination.

Borg: Can the party nominee, or the one who doesn't get the nomination, can they successfully lead those who so fervently supported them?

Crawford: If the ticket is unified with the two of them then, yes. And I think that's what needs to happen for the sake of the party.

Mahaffey: By the way, Dean, there are many of us in Iowa who were and remain ardent supporters of John McCain.

Beck: Let me ask you -- my colleague, Mike Glover, said after the caucus process that John Edwards ran a good campaign but he ran against two superstars at a time when this country was just looking for something fresh and new. Is that a struggle John McCain will have in that he's running against either a black man or a woman, both whom have never been elected to the presidency before? And are we seeing how that race will play out in North Carolina when you have congressional candidates using the Reverend Wright sermons and tapes in their ads? McCain has disavowed it but is he secretly thrilled it's happening?

Mahaffey: No, he's not secretly thrilled. In fact, he had nothing to do with that. That was a North Carolina Republican ad. Here's what's happening so far and we're a long ways from the election. The recent polls show John McCain is ahead among other groups with married women and with independents. And I think as long as he continues -- it's a fine balance but when you're running for President of the United States in a two-party system and in a country that is closely divided as we are there's a very fine balance -- I think that the balance he has, he has to continue to appeal to the base but on the other hand he has to continue to have that appeal that he has at the present time to independent voters who are going to make the difference.

Beck: Is Hillary Clinton secretly happy that these ads are running in North Carolina?

Crawford: Well, I don't know about that.

Beck: Did it help her?

Crawford: She'd be happy with anything that helps her do well in North Carolina where I think the deck is stacked against her. I'm amused that Mike talking about Iowa Republicans who were for John McCain from the beginning, I call Mike one of the Iowa seven because that's about how many I know who were actively supporting John McCain back in the day.

Henderson: A brokered convention, this nomination fight may go down to Denver and it may be decided there. You mentioned the prospect of a Clinton-Obama ticket or conversely an Obama-Clinton ticket. Is that what it would take at a convention if the two go into it not having secured the nomination?

Crawford: Yes, I think that is what it takes. And I think that for them not to agree to do that, as tough as it is -- this campaign has gone on a long time, it's been intense. I marvel every day that there haven't been more mistakes. I watched Hillary Clinton Tuesday night in Pennsylvania, she looked fresh. I get tired just watching the coverage of this campaign and both of them have been remarkable in terms of how they have executed intense personal feelings. But if they don't come together, in addition to addressing Dean's concern about party unity, if they don't come together it's possible that neither of them can get to the magic number in Denver and then it's conceivable the party could start to talk about looking somewhere else. And when you've had an African-American candidate and a woman candidate compete this well, this long to then turn to a white male I think would not send the right signal as a party.

Henderson: Would McCain like to run against either one of those tickets?

Mahaffey: First of all, I just have a hard time seeing Senator Clinton taking second chair to Senator Obama and vice versa. These are two very strong individuals. Their constituencies -- I tell you where the sale would have to go would be to the constituencies. There is anecdotal evidence that I've heard -- I have a good friend who is one of my legal colleagues and she is a Clinton supporter and she is a woman in her 50s and she has made it very clear, and this may change, but she says, I'm not going to tell you, Mike, I'm going to vote for John McCain, but I will not vote for Barack Obama. She thinks that Senator Clinton has been treated worse by the media and she said, you know, while it's important that he is the first African-American with a serious chance to be president she also is the first woman with a real serious chance to be president. And there are some very hard feelings there. Jerry may be right, it may end up being that but boy, I'd like to be a mouse in the room when those negotiations take place.

Henderson: The other convention scenario is that this compromise candidate emerges, Al Gore. That fantasy keeps being trotted out every few months. Is that a real fantasy or is it reality?

Crawford: As I said, I think it is reality that the convention could deadlock. Should that happen and the party be forced to turn to a third party I think there are names that are better, frankly, than Al Gore. I think John Edwards is a name that's better than Al Gore. I think Joe Biden is a name that's better than Al Gore. Why? Because they were in the contest this time, neither of them have aligned with anyone else. I think that currency would well serve the party.

Beck: But all the new Democrats that have come out to vote for Senator Clinton and Senator Obama wouldn't that hurt it if you had to go to a third choice? Wouldn't that just kill all the momentum and the excitement and enthusiasm?

Crawford: That's what I just said and I think it's why the two of them need to put aside personal differences. And, by the way, Mike is exactly right, it's the people close to each of them that have the toughest feelings about the opponent and it's going to require a great deal of leadership and statesmanship by our nominee and by the person in the second position to rise above that.

Beck: Let me ask you, it's been four months nearly since the Iowa caucuses. What you thought on caucus night, does that still ring true for you today, the perceptions you came away with, how Iowa did, who we sent out as the front runners?

Mahaffey: Not from the standpoint of the McCain campaign. I called Dave Roederer that night who is the state chair and did a fine job and we both just breathed a sigh of relief. I mean, in essence it was, we survived. We made it out of Iowa. And so in that respect things are much better now than they were in Iowa.

Borg: Elaborate on we made it out of Iowa. Viewers may wonder what you meant.

Mahaffey: Well, at one point in December John McCain was at five percent in the polling in Iowa and he ran two radio ads on a Christian radio station and that was the sum, the total sum of his media campaign in Iowa, no TV, nothing else. And so it was truly a grassroots campaign. We ended up getting 13-14% of the caucus voters and that was enough, that was enough so that's what I'm talking about.

Beck: Did you have a similar feeling? We made it out, it's not the position we wanted to be in but we're out alive?

Crawford: You know, four years ago when I had the great pleasure of serving as the chair of the John Kerry campaign we parleyed the momentum of the Iowa win right into a big win in New Hampshire where Howard Dean had earlier had a big lead. Everyone expected the same thing this time, everybody expected Barack Obama to go ahead and march right through New Hampshire and essentially seal the nomination. That was the first of, by my count, nine times he's had a chance to put away Hillary Clinton and failed to do so. So, I think the most important thing for Iowa Democrats is that the caucuses were well executed. A recent story by Tom Beaumont at the Register indicates that there was not any significant voter fraud statewide and so I think the caucuses, by giving the victory to an African-American certainly should slow down any talk that Iowa's lack of diversity plays a big outcome.

Beck: The fact that the race continues, does that vindicate Iowa's role that we don't just pick the eventual winner in the sense that you can go on and continue to have a contest after Iowa?

Crawford: Everybody is going to have to rethink where they want to be on this calendar next time.

Henderson: Let's talk about the next calendar. Republicans rules committee has decided that Iowa will retain its first in the nation status. Is that going to be the case?

Mahaffey: I believe it will be and I don't think there will be any problem with that. I'm interested to see what Jerry says about the Democrats.

Henderson: What will Democrats do?

Crawford: First of all, it's helpful to Iowa Democrats in their effort to preserve the Iowa caucuses that the Republicans have made that decision. We're very different parties. In the Republican Party they can only change their calendar once every four years at their national convention. Democrats, you know, we like nothing more than a lot of meetings so we can meet at any time, any place and the national committee can change the calendar. But I think the way Iowa played out this time the fact that the Republicans have made the decision they did I think it's a good start towards securing our place on the calendar in four years.

Henderson: Hillary Clinton hates the caucuses. Do you share her dislike for them?

Crawford: I don't think she hates the caucuses. I spent a lot of time with her.

Henderson: She says, they don't allow everyone to participate and she's been discounting the results of states which have had caucuses.

Crawford: That's right and she is concerned about disenfranchisement. Mary Mescher, a very talented and one of my favorite state representatives from Iowa City has attempted to address that, in fact, in terms of figuring out a way to allow more people to participate in the Iowa caucuses and maybe that's something we need to attend to. Hillary Clinton had a great time in Iowa. I was with her many of those days. We were with you one of those days as I recall and, you know, you can't hide the fact that it was a good experience. Did she like the outcome? Of course not. Does she like the outcome she's had in major industrial states where presidents eventually get elected when people can go to the ballot box? Of course she does. But I don't think that one affects the other.

Mahaffey: I think that part of Senator Clinton's problem, though, and she would be in better shape today if she'd had a better caucus strategy, not in Iowa, but in other states, I think that has really been one of the weaknesses of her campaign.

Henderson: Will John McCain quit the Senate in the same way that Bob Dole did in 1996 to gain media attention?

Mahaffey: No.

Henderson: Why not?

Mahaffey: Listen, I'm not privy to any discussions about that. I just don't think he will. First of all, I don't think it helped Bob Dole that much and I do not think he will do that.

Borg: Just a quick one, Mr. Crawford, there were several endorsements, prominent people who endorsed Hillary Clinton. If she doesn't get the nomination are there some wounded people, the Vilsack's, for example?

Crawford: Well, look, it's tough. If you were close to the Edwards campaign or the Clinton campaign, either one, you were close to an organization that executed flawlessly, you were close to an organization that turned out tens of thousands more votes for your candidate than we got for John Kerry when he won going away four years earlier. So, there are a lot of disappointed people, not just on the Clinton side but on the Edwards side as well.

Borg: And I'm out of time. I'm sorry, I wish I could listen to more of that. Thanks so much for being with us today.

Borg: Anticipating the legislature's adjournment we're inviting statehouse journalists here next week and we're inviting you to eavesdrop as the men and women who have been covering this session add perspective. You'll hear legislative whys and why-nots along with the winners and losers as legislators pack up and go home and we analyze what they did. In all the political speculating you're likely to hear Iowa perspective to what we've been talking about here, the latest happenings in the presidential campaigns. A Reporters' Roundtable, usual Iowa Press air times, 7:30 Friday night, 11:30 Sunday morning. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.

Archive editions of Iowa Press can be accessed on the World Wide Web. Audio and video streaming is available as are transcripts at

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. The Iowa Bankers Association -- for personal, business and commercial needs Iowa Banks help Iowans reach their financial goals. And by the Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. By Iowa's Private Colleges and Universities where faculty teach and students learn. Iowa's Private Colleges employ over 10,000 Iowans and enroll 25% of Iowa's higher education students. More information is available at

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