Borg: While most of us are using these late November days as a post-election respite, even a Thanksgiving, for some political operatives the intensity never subsides. Elections ae just the beginning of the next campaign, analyzing organization strategies, what worked and what didn't and why. Today we're asking two political veterans. Republican Doug Gross is experienced, once Governor Branstad's chief of staff and himself a gubernatorial candidate. Democrat Brad Anderson, earlier this month, coming up just a bit short in his bid to become Iowa's Secretary of State. His political resume includes directing various aspects of Iowa campaigns for Barack Obama, former Governor Chet Culver, Senator Tom Harkin and presidential caucus candidate John Edwards. Gentlemen, it's good to have you both back at the Iowa Press table.

Gross: Good to be with you, Dean. Thank you.

Anderson: Thank you, Dean.

Borg: And across the table, Des Moines Register Columnist Kathie Obradovich and Associated Press Political Writer Catherine Lucey.

Obradovich: Gentlemen, we talked about the past and Dean mentioned what worked and what didn't during the campaign. But let's start talking about the future. Mr. Anderson, what do democrats need to do to recover from 2014? It was, to use the President's word from last time, a shellacking. And who are the leaders that would help rebuild the party?

Anderson: Well, I appreciate that question. I do believe that the future of our party is bright. It wasn't too long ago that they were writing the obituary of the republican party after the 2006 midterm or even as recently as 2012. But the republicans dusted themselves off, they regrouped, they reorganized within the party and to their credit they rebuilt themselves. And we're going to do the same. And I think there are people that have different approaches to how we do that. I believe strongly that it starts with message in terms of substance and delivery. I think we need to, democrats need to do a better job of telling our story. Then we need to offer a clear vision that addresses the concerns of voters. And we need to do it with a smile on our face. Believe it or not, whether we like it or not, that part matters. And when I talk about telling a story, in 2008 our country was in pretty rough shape and they handed the keys over to the Democratic Party essentially and you've got to look at what happened. Well, we've had 10.6 million jobs created, we've had 56 straight months of economic job growth, 25 straight months of manufacturing expansion, the Dow is up, unemployment is down, health insurance we're insured now at the highest rate since --

Borg: You're still campaigning --

Anderson: But what I'm saying is what we didn't do is tell that story. And we had a great story to tell and we need to do a better job at doing that.

Obradovich: Okay. Well, Mr. Gross, as he said, the republicans came back and then they came back again. Republicans pulled together in 2014. A lot of those fissures and factions that we've seen in the party almost went away. How long does that last? Or do republicans go right back to their corners and fight the same battles over again for 2016?

Gross: First of all, Kathie, this program violates one of my tenants of Thanksgiving holiday, never talk politics at the Thanksgiving table. So I apologize to all your viewers. It's a great way to ruin a family get-together. First of all, I think our politics over the last really 40 years has been sort of a yo-yo. It's republican, then democrat, then republican, then democrat, it just switches. And what is happening lately is that timeframe between those two swings of the yo-yo is shortening it seems like every two years. And I think it's largely because people aren't satisfied with the quality of their life and the quality economy in our country and people keep looking for a secret sauce, political sauce. And what is happening, what happened in this election in large part is we reacted against the democrats, the country reacted against President Obama's leadership and went to the republicans. The danger for republicans, Kathie, is to get the right lessons out of this, not to spike the ball in the end zone, but instead take a look at what really happened. We really ran a sort of a Seinfeld election, which was sort of about nothing. And if we're going to have an enduring coalition, enduring majority then we have to run on something, we have to lay out an agenda that is very clear that improves the quality of life for people.

Obradovich: Well who decides what that something is? And who are the leaders who are going to help craft that message for 2016?

Gross: It's a lot easier for us than it is for Brad's party right now because we have a Governor, we have two Senators, we have three-fourths of the congressional delegation, we have every statewide office, we have a lot of leaders. And obviously those leaders need to step forward, lay out an agenda now during the course of this interim period before the legislative session starts and pursue that agenda aggressively. I have some ideas on what that ought to be but they would be better armed to try to accomplish that. But it's critical for republicans to move from campaigning to governing and lay out a positive agenda for the future.

Obradovich: And Brad, you've got Dave Loebsack who is your lone congressional leader, you've got Mike Gronstal statehouse leader, but who else is going to be on the bench or helping to bring the party forward here in the next two years?

Anderson: Well, again, we look at the republican party and in 2006 they were asking themselves these same questions and that was just eight years ago. And so I view this as really an opportunity for new people to step up. And we've got some terrific new people in our party right now who really can step up and fill the void. And so the question is, of course, how do they do that? When do they do that? And when they do the important thing -- and I know we're going to get to presidential politics here in a bit, maybe not I don't know -- the important thing they need to do is when they decide to make that leap and they decide to step up, they need to answer why are you running. And it is amazing to me how many people talk to me about campaigning and maybe I want to start and get involved but they say, well we're going to start our website, we're going to try and fundraise but they don't answer that important question why.

Lucey: But Brad, specifically who are some of the people in the Democratic Party who are rising stars who could run in 2016?

Gross: You're looking at one of them right here.

Lucey: And are you one of them? Will you run again?

Anderson: I appreciate that, Doug, too king. Well, again --

Gross: We're both from Beaverdale, I had to say it.

Anderson: Well I think there are a lot of people, I do and I think there are people that the truth is, of course, Joni Ernst kind of came out of nowhere over the last couple of years and there are people that we're not even thinking about right now. I know some specific names I think of young people who are personal friends of mine, for example. Nathan Blake. Nathan Blake ran for State Senate, he ran a positive, optimistic campaign, came in a close second but people really look to him as potentially a future leader. There's a guy who runs Hawkeye Hotels who lives in Iowa City, Ravi Patel. He's a good democrat, young guy, people aren't really talking about him publicly but I can tell you behind the scenes they are. And so these are new people. We've got Janet Petersen, of course, who a lot of people look to. Liz Mathis out in Cedar Rapids. So we've got people in place and, again, I think there will be new people down the road that we're not talking about. But what they need to do is come up with a vision and it is incredibly important that we speak to, for example, the mom in Webster City who lost her Electrolux job who is struggling to get by. How do we make her life better? And that is up to the new people in the party to articulate. It's not enough just to say I want to run. What you've got to do is start laying out a vision.

Borg: Mr. Gross, in the people he mentioned there, I notice that he did not mention gubernatorial candidate Hatch's running mate Monica Vernon from Cedar Rapids. You see that she has a democratic future beyond the Cedar Rapids City Council, which is nonpartisan?

Gross: I know Monica thinks she does. And so a lot of politics is self-selection and if she wants to do it, it's like Woody Allen, half of life is showing up, you just have to show up and do it. And so I think Monica Vernon very much has a future in the Democratic Party.

Borg: Where?

Gross: I think she could potentially be a gubernatorial candidate next time.

Lucey: Looking at the gubernatorial race, certainly Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds is talked about a lot as a republican prospect. If she wants to run for governor in four years, what does she need to be doing now? How does she need to position herself?

Gross: Well, Kim obviously has studied at the feet of the absolute expert on this and so she has seen firsthand exactly how you do this. What she needs to do now is create some separation between herself and the Governor from an organizational standpoint and a fundraising standpoint so she effectively develops her own team. I mean, it's nice to think that you can sort of transfer the Branstad team from one person to another but politics never works that way. So Kim has to develop her own following and she needs to do it right away.

Borg: And how does she do that technically? You've been chief of staff and so you see people doing that. How does she, she stands alongside the Governor in many public appearances, but she has to do more than that is what you’re suggesting.

Gross: She needs to first stand alone. She needs to identify her own issues and pursue her own issues. It starts with that and she has already done STEM, which is a good product. But I would broaden that to include education, for example, generally or some issues like that. Secondly, and Terry Branstad did a masterful job of this, I was working for Bob Ray when Terry Branstad was doing everything but measuring the windows for the drapes when Bob Ray was still Governor. And it offended Bob Ray in a way but Bob Ray understood and Terry Branstad understood that he had to have his own team. He had to be ready waiting in the wings and Kim needs to do the same.

Borg: Does the Governor have to enable that, however, clear the field for her?

Gross: Politics is an interesting thing and politicians are even more interesting. It's difficult for them to give up. It's their office, they ran for it, they obviously think they do a good job, it's difficult for them. And they have to be careful about not sort of ordaining their successor because the public won't like that. At the same time they've got to remove themselves enough so that their successor can sprout and grow. The Governor needs to remove himself a bit from Kim so she can do that.

Borg: Does he have to hold the tape measure?

Gross: No, but she will, he doesn't.

Obradovich: Brad, you said that the next election needs to be about issues and message. But it seems like -- and Doug you said the last election was about not very much at all -- do you think that voters are prepared to decide an election based on issues? Or is it really still a personality contest?

Anderson: They deserve a campaign about issues. But what democrats tend to do is, and I'm guilty of this too to some extent, we tend to get down into the weeds and really talk about the nuance of policy and want to win debates and that kind of thing but what we need to do is lay out a clear vision. Economic inequality is something that is a real opportunity for us. How do we grow our economy? And how do we attract new companies to Iowa? It's not enough just to, for example, throw tax credits at them and beg them to come to Iowa. What do companies look for? They look for roads and bridges that aren't crumbling, they look for an educated workforce, they look for clean water that is reliable. So all these issues --

Obradovich: It sounds like you're ready to run already --

Anderson: But all these issues, Kathie, are within the democratic wheelhouse. Right? And so what we need to do is package that with a vision that speaks directly to that mom in Webster City and we need to say, look, we are going to address your concerns directly and we're going to do it, we've got a way to grow the economy in a way that benefits you directly. And so that's what I mean by vision versus just kind of some of the stale rhetoric of the past.

Obradovich: Governor Branstad won his election without really laying out a big agenda like that. Joni Ernst as well didn't talk in detail about a lot of issues. Is that what you see going forward in the future --

Gross: Well they didn't need to. Neither one needed to. Joni kept that race as sort of a personality race she was going to win and did win convincingly in large part both because of her personality and her value structure and the way she could perform on TV but also because of what Bruce Braley represented in large part. Governor Branstad ran against a very ineffectual candidate and he had a good record and so basically he really didn't have to lay out an aggressive agenda in order to win. But you don't run -- Kathie, I don't think it's necessarily a plan that will work in the future because, again, as I said, to win on an ongoing basis against two competitive, in two competitive candidates in that race, whoever has the best vision will win.

Obradovich: We didn't talk about the Senate race. And Chuck Grassley I would say came out of 2014 as a big winner even though he didn't have to have his name on the ballot. Nobody wants to offend him now, right? So who besides --

Gross: I don't think they ever wanted to offend him.

Obradovich: So Brad, who besides Bob Krause is he going to be the nominee? He has already come out with an exploratory campaign. Or who is going to take on Chuck Grassley?

Anderson: Oh I think, you know, I think there will be more candidates that take a look at it and step up. I don't know who those candidates are, quite frankly, but it's a U.S. Senate race and so someone will step up and do it.

Obradovich: Is Chuck Grassley bulletproof at this point though?

Anderson: People thought Neil Smith was bulletproof and he ended up -- people thought Jim Leach was bulletproof. People think that in two years no one would have thought in a million years that those folks would have been beat. So I think no one is bulletproof especially in a purple state like Iowa.

Borg: Steve King?

Anderson: Again, it depends on the year and the candidate. Certainly this wasn't the best year for us but obviously it's a difficult hurdle to jump but I believe in a purple state like Iowa where people really value their independence no one is bulletproof.

Borg: Bulletproof?

Gross: Yeah, Chuck Grassley I don't think --

Borg: No, I'm talking about -- well you can say Chuck Grassley --

Gross: I don't think Chuck Grassley will be even seriously challenged. I think they'll have a candidate but it won't be a serious candidate.

Borg: Steve King though?

Gross: Will he have a candidate against him? Of course he will, he always will because he's a very polarizing guy.

Lucey: He's a polarizing guy but he has been busy lately.

Gross: He earned it.

Lucey: He has certainly positioned himself to be an influence maker for the caucuses, he is holding an event with potential presidential candidates in January. Do you think that's a good role for him to play or should he be looking at running for another job?

Gross: I've seen Steve over the years play a role in these caucuses and he nuzzles up against a lot of candidates but he never gets together with one of them. What Steve really wants to do is push an issue. And Steve in this case wants to push the immigration issue and that is why he's hosting this so he can elevate it. That's one of the roles of the caucus is that it elevates issues on a nationwide basis. Immigration though, Catherine, is a very divisive issues within the Republican Party. You have people who feel very strongly on both sides of that issue and for Steve to do that means he is allying himself with one segment of the party rather than some other elements of the party and as a result I think may actually hurt the issue.

Borg: You have spoken about immigration. Have we in the last 48 hours seen a new issue emerge for the presidential caucuses? And that is race relations.

Gross: Unfortunately in our country we never get away from race relations regardless of who is President or what might occur unfortunately. But I think more importantly, Ferguson is bigger than that, Dean. I think Ferguson is all about our criminal justice system. Rand Paul, for example, is talking about that and I think fairly effectively and importantly. It's about poverty in our country and opportunity. These are, a lot of these folks are people that simply have nothing else to do, they have no future in their lives and so they have very destructive societal activities. So I hope it leads to a discussion about how we bring opportunity for people and reform our criminal justice system.

Obradovich: Brad, this issue in Ferguson started well before the 2014 campaign and it didn't seem like anybody wanted to talk about it. Do you see that changing for 2016?

Anderson: Well I agree with Doug. Race relations is always going to be there and I think people will continue to talk about it. I think my sense is in a presidential election people will talk it in terms, more in economic terms than in direct race terms. Obviously President Obama did a good job addressing race issues and he has throughout the course of his presidency. Obviously they're still not resolved but it's something that will always kind of linger there. And we should talk about them because they're important issues. But, again, I think more in terms of economic and how do we support minorities in a way that can grow jobs and grow the economy.

Obradovich: And Doug, on immigration, do republicans have to address that issue in order to win in 2016 now that they have both chambers?

Gross: No.

Obradovich: No. Why not?

Gross: Well because the President basically took it off the table.

Obradovich: So not passing a bill to counter what he has done in an executive action, they don't have to do anything?

Gross: I don't think they need to do that, no, and I think it's unlikely that they will. I mean, it's unfortunate to me the President did what he did, in my opinion, because I think the republicans, particularly led by Boehner and McConnell, were prepared to do some very significant things, tax reform, budget reform, that they could have worked with the President on. It would have been a real good legacy for the President. But when the first thing he does after an election where republicans are dominant was basically stick a finger in their eye by doing this executive order of immigration, I think the relations between the Congress and the President will go to an all-time low and we'll likely get nothing done.

Lucey: Weren't they already at an all-time low though?

Gross: They'll get lower. There was an opportunity I guess is what I'm concerned about, Catherine. There was an opportunity that was missed.

Anderson: Well and that's troubling to think that the House republicans are just going to look at this one action and then stop everything moving forward. And the Senate did pass a bipartisan immigration bill. That is a fact. And it is also a fact that President Obama said repeatedly to the House, show me a bill, show me a bill, pass a bill, I'll take a look at it and we'll work together and get something done. And year after year after year it didn't happen. So he was forced to take action. And he took action in a similar way that George Bush and Ronald Reagan before him took action.

Obradovich: But shouldn't he have given the republican Congress a chance?

Anderson: He has given them a chance though. He has given them --

Obradovich: The new Congress hasn't come in.

Gross: The problem is it was a political act and it was designed to further polarize because he knows the vulnerability within the Republican Party is our divisiveness over the immigration issue. We have the Steve King faction who thinks we ought to deport folks effectively. And you have the business community that feels that they are necessary and essential for the health of our economy. Those are very strongly held views within the party. And what the President did with this political act is try to divide the party because he understood that we were united during the course of the election and we won. It was a terrible political act. Well, maybe smart political, it was a terrible governance act because as a result it makes it very difficult to resolve problems.

Borg: I'll go back to a statement you made earlier and I made a note of it --

Gross: Don't remind me of these things.

Borg: We have to from campaigning to governing --

Gross: I remember that too.

Borg: Didn't the President govern in those executive orders?

Gross: It was a political -- I would argue very strongly -- here we just had the republicans elected. Brad is exactly right, you had the Senate pass an immigration bill, republicans were part of that, there are strong parts of the republican party who feel we need to do that. And then Boehner has been working with his caucus for a long time to try to develop that and instead of giving them an opportunity to work he tried to divide the Republican Party once again.

Borg: Let me take that statement back to the Statehouse.

Gross: That's political, not governing.

Borg: Back to the Statehouse. What do you want to see for the future of the Republican Party and for Governor Branstad's legacy in his Condition of the State and his Inaugural Address?

Gross: Well, first of all, I think the Governor is being very skillful in how he is trying to develop an infrastructure program for this state. It's very difficult to do a gas tax because of the political reaction we've had over the years. So he's trying to effectively feather it and get everybody in the same room moving in the same direction. So I hope we hear that in his State of the State Address because the state needs it. I hope he broadens it beyond just gas tax and roads and looks at infrastructure generally because I think it's an issue that can unite republicans and democrats. Fiber optics all over the state, for example, is one way to do that. I would hope he'd look at tax reform. We still have a terrible tax system. I would hope he would also take a look at our education system because it still is not meeting the needs of Iowans.

Lucey: And Brad, do you think that Senate democrats, they did hold onto the majority obviously in the Statehouse, are there things that they need to be vocal about working on in the next session?

Anderson: Yeah I do. I mean, I think, again, I think the incomes in Iowa have been stagnant at about $64,000 over the last four years. I think we need to find a way to address that. And I think, again as I mentioned before, the way you do that is you talk about education. We need an educated workforce. How are we going to get there? What we need to do is -- and I agree with Doug on this -- we need to do something about our infrastructure because our economy depends on it. And democrats need a plan to do that. And I'm struck because you had talked about President Obama and the political action on immigration but at the same time we had Terry Branstad who really did not talk a whole lot about a gas tax until I think literally the day after the election. So politics happens, politics is on both sides but to Dean's point we need to govern as well. And so I think, the truth is I think we do need to address the gas tax and we need to figure out how to fix our bridges and roads that are crumbling. In addition to that, one other issue that I think we need to talk about is clean water. And we have some serious challenges in terms of pollution facing our state and we need to address it. And it was unfortunate that Governor Branstad vetoed the REAP funding that he did and I hope he does work with democrats across the aisle and I hope we increase REAP funding and I hope we address the water issue facing our state.

Obradovich: Before we run out of time, both parties are now in a position of trying to soul search about the caucuses and how to really reform the process, which didn't work very well in 2012, to make sure that Iowa is respected in the first-in-the-nation process in 2016. And starting with you, Doug, because your party was the one who needed to do some things first, what is the most important thing they should be doing?

Gross: The most important thing is get the count right and don't announce it until you have it right. I mean, these are -- we haven't often had caucuses that close but we have elections that close, we have presidential elections that close nationwide. We need to be careful with how we announce this. The integrity of the process is essential. I think it's easier for us because ours is effectively like a straw poll within the individual caucuses. So we had a firm count while the democrats have their arcane process of hiding out in corners of the room. It's a little bit more difficult to count. But I think the key is we've got to get the vote right. And I'm confident, we've got a very strong party infrastructure right now, we'll be in good shape.

Borg: Iowa has one more chance to get it right?

Gross: Yeah if we don't get it right I'd be very worried about whether or not we'd have it in 2020.

Obradovich: And democrats are looking to expand participation. Is that the main thing that they need to do? Or are there other things looking toward 2016 as well?

Anderson: Well, Kathie I've talked to you about this at length. I one hundred percent agree with Doug on integrity. That's really what makes the Iowa caucuses is the integrity of the process. What we need to do as a party is modernize the process. Right now, few people know we get voter files, voter rolls at the caucus locations in triplicate and those are printed months in advance and they're not really up-to-date and we have modern technology now, electronic poll books that could check people in electronically and really be up-to-date.

Obradovich: Is that something that the presidential campaigns need to spearhead? Or is that something that can really happen at the party level?

Anderson: The parties need to do it.

Gross: Our parties get it and they're going to do it and they'll do it right.

Anderson: Yep.

Borg: Thank you very much for taking time from your Thanksgiving holiday weekend to be with us.

Gross: Good to be with you.

Borg: Thank you for your insights.

Anderson: Thank you, Dean.

Borg: Well Senator Tom Harkin will be at the Iowa Press table next week. He is wrapping up 40 years in Congress, 30 of those in the U.S. Senate. So you'll hear our conversation with Senator Harkin at the usual times, 7:30 Friday night and noon on Sunday. I'm Dean Borg. Thank you for taking time from your Thanksgiving holiday to join us.