Iowa Democratic and Republican Party Chairs

Jan 22, 2016 | 29 min | Podcast | Transcript


Pressure cooker. Iowa's republican and democratic party leaders preparing to count presidential preferences with the world watching. We're measuring the pressure. Questioning republican state chairman Jeff Kaufmann and democratic chairwoman Andy McGuire on this edition of Iowa Press.

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For decades Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Now celebrating more than 40 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa Public Television, this is the Friday, January 22 edition of Iowa Press. Here is Dean Borg.

Borg: As presidential candidates are scampering through Iowa urging caucus support right now there is parallel intensity organizing the structure to count those caucus votes promptly and accurately. It's not a simple task. The caucuses aren't formal elections. They're conducted by the republican and democratic parties and staffed by volunteers. With the world watching, the stakes are high for both parties. Jeff Kaufmann chairs the Republican Party of Iowa, two years in that role, so it is his first caucus as chairman. Same holds true for Andy McGuire, who took over as chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party, at this time a year ago. Am I right that the pressure is building?

McGuire: The pressure is absolutely building.

Kaufmann: Amen to that.

Borg: I want to start off at least accurately and you want to be accurate too. I'm also going to say throughout our discussion here it's going to be informal and I'd just like to be able to call you Andy and Jeff.

McGuire: Please.

Borg: Across the table, Associated Press Political Writer Catherine Lucey. I'll call her Catherine. And Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson. Kay?

Henderson: First question. Turnout, what are you predicting, Andy?

McGuire: Well, I think it's going to be a good strong turnout. We've got a competitive caucus. We have three great teams on the ground. These organizations really help us get out the vote so I think it's going to be a very good strong turnout, they're working very hard.

Henderson: Will it eclipse 2008?

McGuire: 2008 was a pretty unique year so I certainly, I probably wouldn't predict that, but I will tell you predicting the number is a fool's game. So I don't know what it will be. I wouldn't try to predict that. But I do think 2008 is probably a fairly unique year.

Henderson: And let's remind viewers how many people came in 2008.

McGuire: About 240,000.

Henderson: In 2008 that was a record turnout, not in 2012, but 2008. How many people turned out on the republican side?

Kaufmann: 120,000.

Henderson: Do you think you'll break that record?

Kaufmann: I would be very surprised if we did not break the record. In terms of how much, weather, of course the question everybody's asking is Donald Trump going to be able to deliver in terms of the passion and the enthusiasm that he's seeing on the ground, getting those folks there, not just --

Lucey: What's your answer?

Kaufmann: Well, I don't know. I don't know. And it's more than just the Trump campaign. We're seeing some well-run machines out there. Ben Carson and Ted Cruz and really all 11 of our 12 varsity candidates, they are on the ground in one form or another. I would agree with Andy, you're not going to get a number out of me, Kay.

Lucey: Do you think the republicans might do more than the democrats this time?

Kaufmann: I don't know. I don't know. It's quality not quantity though.

McGuire: Do you know what's great about that? For first-in-the-nation caucus that both of us are talking about having great turnout is really good for first-in-the-nation.

Borg: Catherine, he hit it on the head. It is fervor at the rallies that you are covering, but it is also something that you might say it's like a duck swimming, there's a lot going on that we don't see under the water and that is called the ground game. What are you seeing in that as far as driving turnout?

Lucey: Yeah, so as you guys both know organization really is the backbone of the whole thing. So who has the best ground game? Who has the best volunteers? Who has the best staff? And then who can capitalize on the enthusiasm? And certainly Donald Trump I think everyone wants to know if he has enough organization to get these thousands of people who were coming out to these rallies. But Ted Cruz has an incredibly strong organization. Rubio is trying to bring a lot of organization in at the end. And then on the democratic side both Sanders and Clinton have very, very staffed organizations. So I think there is a lot going on on the ground right now behind the scenes.

Borg: Well, what she said, Andy, is that she hasn't mentioned O'Malley. Is that campaign not organized well?

McGuire: Actually I would tell you O'Malley's campaign has a really good ground team and they have a really good field staff. So I wouldn't count O'Malley out. I think he will have a definite presence at this caucus and really have some senior people who I think will do a very good job.

Lucey: Do you think his presence or his role might be dependent on what his folks do in a second choice scenario? I keep hearing about where do the O'Malley people go if they don't reach viability at the caucuses, if they don't have enough people out of each precinct they might have to redistribute, right?

McGuire: And certainly viability is something that where he is, certainly like Joe Biden in 2008, when you're in that 10% to 15% range that can certainly be something that concerns you and where those people go if they decide to redistribute is a question. You brought up something very interesting though. This is on a precinct by precinct basis. So it is really hard to predict because in one neighborhood the O'Malley people go this way and in another neighborhood the O'Malley people go this way or they split directly. It's really hard to predict 1,681 of those.

Borg: Jeff, there's a good chance here to contrast the way the republican and democratic caucuses are run. She is talking about viability. That doesn't take place in the republican caucus.


Kaufmann: No. When we have our vote, if there is a candidate that has 2%, for instance, that 2% is going to be carried into the tally, to the finals and it is actually going to carry through the county conventions all the way up to the national convention. If there would happen to be a contested national convention, if there is a person that received 2% of the vote in our caucuses here in Iowa, that would be reported at that particular level. So there's a little less complexity on the republican side in that particular area since we don't have the viability.

Henderson: Are you planning for a convention?

Kaufmann: I'm planning for a wonderful convention.

Henderson: Do you think the nomination will be decided at the convention?

Kaufmann: No I do not. I believe that we're going to have a -- I believe that we are going to have a winner and I believe we're going to have a winner ahead of time.

Borg: Kay, what are you seeing among the people that you're covering at rallies and so on and you're talking with people? Are they intimidated by not knowing the mechanism that we've just heard described here?

Henderson: Well, it's interesting how many people wonder can I do this absentee ballot? They're not familiar with the process. It's hard for them to figure it out. They have to go online to each of your respective websites to find out actually where their precinct meeting will be and it is confusing because it's not the same place often times as the place where they go cast their ballot. How do you address that confusion, Andy?

McGuire: One of the things we've done I just love this year and I think for younger voters is especially important is you can go to and put in your address and it will tell you where you caucus. It will not only do that, it will Google Map it for you and if you want it will give you a reminder of how to get, of when you're supposed to go. So I think we're trying to get into that because it is kind of confusing and people, what precinct you're in is not something every millennial probably knows. So it is some way we're trying to fight that and tell people that there's really nothing to be afraid of here. You can register at the door. All you have to know is what you want the country to look like and listen to the different issues. IT really is very easy to caucus.

Henderson: Jeff, I have been at events where campaign people tell republicans, it only takes 15 minutes. Is that true?

Kaufmann: I suppose in a perfect world, Kay. No, we are prepared for lines. We don't know how many people are going to need to register as a republican. We just simply don't know if there's going to be a whole lot of people come there at the end. What I'm telling, in fact I just had this conversation with students this morning because I'm giving them some credit if they will go and caucus at either party. In fact, I may even have a few more democrats caucus than republicans among those millennials. But what I'm telling them is get there early, make sure in your mind that you know are you registered, are you at the right caucus, those simple basic questions. And then when you get there you'll be guided through this. Listen, keep your ears open. It will be, if someone wants to caucus and someone wants to be heard these precincts are small enough and this is a community neighborhood oriented event enough that they're going to be able to, they're going to be just fine.

Henderson: Let's be clear for viewers though. It's the students in your class at the community college that get credit, not every college student in Iowa, right?

Kaufmann: That is correct. That is correct. Although, you know what, if they have a professor teaching government I think I could justify that.

Borg: Catherine?

Lucey: I have heard the campaign operatives talk about how potential caucus goers really need three or four touches to come out, calls, door knocks. Do you think that's true, that the campaigns really need to hit them that many times to get them to show up?

McGuire: I think what you can't underestimate is how important organization is. We've certainly seen years in the past where people had a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of people coming out and they don't show up at a certain time, at a certain place and that is really about organization. So how many times you touch them I'm not sure, they probably know better than I, but they do touch them a lot and that is a secret in Iowa, especially for our caucus, I know it's probably for yours too is you have to organize, organize, organize.

Borg: Kay?

Henderson: Jeff, let's move from organization to combustion. I'm talking ethanol here. The Governor sort of threw a grenade this week by what was referred to by one as a de facto endorsement of Donald Trump. What he said was he wants to see Ted Cruz defeated in the caucuses because of his opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard. You're a farmer. Are you going to join the Governor here?

Kaufmann: No. The Republican Party of Iowa and its chair are vigilantly neutral. I am going to be giving introductions to all of these candidates as asked. I would be more than happy, I'd be proud to give an introduction to Donald Trump. I'd be proud to give an introduction to Ted Cruz. I think that the Governor is very passionate about that particular issue. And I don't believe that he endorsed Donald Trump.

Lucey: Will it have an impact?

Kaufmann: You know what, I don't know that any endorsement, whether it be an endorsement pro or an endorsement of what not to do, I don't know in  Iowa, in our caucus state, I don't know that it matters quite frankly. Our people are so trained and are so used to being skeptical and making up their own minds. I'm actually kind of proud to say I don't know if any endorsement matters.

Borg: Catherine, I ask you though, you and Kay both covered that, you saw the Governor say what he said about Ted Cruz. I call it a hand grenade with a lot of collateral damage. Do you think there is collateral damage other than to Ted Cruz?

Lucey: Certainly it's not good for Ted Cruz, he's not in the state right now. This could sort of I think dampen some of his momentum. I think the thing to come back to though is that the Governor is very passionate about ethanol. I think that is the primary reason here. He's very concerned about farmers. But then Steve King that same day said he thinks this helps Donald Trump. So it's hard not to view the sort of primary and secondary impacts here.

Borg: Kay, the collateral damage that I'm talking about, and we're going to ask Jeff what he thinks about that too, but the collateral damage I'm thinking of is to the caucuses themselves and the process. Any collateral damage there?

Henderson: Well, Iowans always have to tread lightly because we're under a great big microscope. You have how many reporters from around the world arriving in Iowa this weekend. You guys know about 1,600, something in the neighborhood, at least. So everything that an Iowan does to try to tip the scales is scrutinized in a lot of publications, on a lot of broadcast air waves.

Lucey: This was national news when Branstad said this. But it is his last, well presumably, I don't want to say it's his last term because we never really know. But we think it might be his last term and as such this might be the last caucus that he is weighing in on as a sitting Governor. So perhaps he wants to put his thumb on the scale a little bit more this time.

Henderson: The other thing that is happening this weekend in advance of the caucuses is you have a lot of people coming in to try to turn voters out that aren't the candidates. Andy, I'm wondering if it is effective to have the guy who plays the president on Scandal here? Or is it more effective to have the candidate make that pitch in person?

McGuire: I think there's nothing like the candidate. And our candidates, all three of them, have been here a lot. I have really been impressed with how they have given a priority to Iowa and I think they're always better. But I will tell you, you can't underestimate, you were talking about the touches, can't underestimate the organizing ability of surrogates. So I do think they have some impact, not as much as the candidate, but I think they have some and there are quite a few coming in.

Borg: Andy, there's been some discussion about consternation on the part of some people about limiting the number of democratic debates. How do you think that has affected the campaign?

McGuire: We have a lot of ways to get our message out and debates is just one of them. We have forums, we've had the Brown Black Forum, we're having a forum next week. I think the candidates, like I said, have been in Iowa. So I think there's a lot of ways to get the message out and I think debates is only one of them. And I know there's a lot of logistics that go into that. So I try to think that it's probably where it should be.

Lucey: Jeff, there's going to be a republican debate here in Des Moines this week. Any predictions for that? How do you think that might unfold?

Kaufmann: Obviously it's a full contact sport and yeah, there's going to be some elbows, there's going to be some passion. That's Iowa. And tying that question together with first-in-the-nation I think people expect a little bit of mixing it up. I really do. I think in terms of our first-in-the-nation I think there's two things that are overwhelmingly more important than any others. That is, can we carry these caucuses off? 1,681 precincts for just one party, double that for both of us, with all volunteers, paying for it ourselves. Can we carry that off with world class results, number one? And number two, talking to those individuals. First-in-the-nation just doesn't rain upon us, there is a vote and if we can convince those RNC and DNC folks that we deserve to be in first place again I think a lot of the rest of it is background noise to a certain extent in the big scheme of things.

Henderson: Well, your party had a little episode in 2012 with the results. And you both have decided that you're going to have an app for this. What is your backup?

McGuire: Well, we still have IVR.

Henderson: What is IVR?

McGuire: That's the telephone way to do it, the way we used to do it. So we have backups for things and we've been testing. We tested this week. We'll test next week. And we've been really working, the staffs have been working together, Microsoft has been working with us, I'm really confident that we're going to do really well on that reporting system. And something else to remember, this is cutting edge. They're doing this for us as a cutting edge way to do this. I think that says a lot about the caucuses too that we usually in technology are really on the forefront.

Henderson: Jeff, your party had two results in 2012. If things are eight votes apart, will you tell us who the winner is on caucus night?

Kaufmann: Eight votes apart? I'm going to look you both in the eye. I will not. No. Whether I declare a winner or not is going to be a judgment call on our part. But here's the beauty of this setup --

Lucey: What kind of margin would you need to be comfortable?

Kaufmann: I'm going to have a lot of people whispering in my ear and I'm going to literally look around at advisors, there's going to be people there from the RNC, we've got a great executive director, it's going to be a gut call in the end. But here is what I can promise you, I am going to err on the side of accuracy rather than efficiency in terms of getting that announcement out there. But here's what is great about our app. Everything that I see the media is going to see. So if I decide that I'm not going to announce you have already got your story because you're seeing the same numbers. So if you disagree and think that there is a winner you can do that. And here's the other thing that we've done to improve this, to show the nation and media and everyone that we are listening, we're trying to improve this thing and we're on the cutting edge, and that is we are going to verify these results in 48 hours. So the day after the caucuses is going to be just as busy for our volunteers. We're bringing all 1,681 paper and pen and we're bringing them in and we're going to verify that. So if it was by eight votes you will have an announcement in 48 hours.

Borg: Andy, are you using the same guide in not going before the cameras that night?

McGuire: We're pretty much going to let the app speak for itself. It does a great job. I've seen it and it is going to tell the story as there is 4% and as there is 25%. It's going to be telling you how that vote is coming out. So I think it will speak for themselves. If there's something I need to clarify then I may but at this point I think I'll let the technology speak for itself. I will say something, we do verify all the results before they go out into that. So I don't want you to think they just kind of whip out there. We are doing some very good, there's lots of safeguards on the app itself and then we have to verify if it would hit up against those rules. So it has always been vetted when it comes out to you.

Henderson: One of the raps about the caucuses is that it's hard for people who have a job at night to participate, it's hard for parents to participate if they have a young child. You have taken some steps in both parties to address some of those criticisms. Explain what you're doing in the Democratic Party.

McGuire: We're doing a couple of things. So child care we're trying to have it at a lot of the facilities to help with the kids. We have a satellite caucus to address if you're working or if you have mobility issues, February 1st can be weather wise hard. If you have walkers you can have an assisted living, the caucus right there. And then for our military members who are in active duty outside the borders of Iowa or for kids that are studying overseas and diplomats and Peace Corps we have what we call the telecaucus and they'll be able to telephone in and use the buttons to, they'll be able to reorganize and everything just like the caucus because one of the things we talk about, you have to keep that caucus flavor. It's very important that we're not absentee balloting but we're actually caucusing.

Henderson: How many people are signed up for that?

McGuire: For the telecaucus, I believe it's about 90.

Henderson: And in regards to the republican side, almost everybody has to show up on caucus night at a precinct, right?

Kaufmann: Correct. Except we are going to have overseas military voting. We've been talking about that now for about a year and we are going to have that. We're doing it in slightly different way and in some ways we're taking a step in a proactive direction but these are prototypes to a certain degree, prototypes with a lot of safeguards and we're going to actually have, I keep giving the figure 1,681, technically --

Borg: Which is the number of precincts.

Kaufmann: It's number of precincts but technically we have 1,682 because the way that we're doing the overseas vets is we are actually having an additional precinct for them.

McGuire: And we have two more because of the satellite caucus and the telecaucus.

Lucey: So I know that the national conversation continues about whether or not Iowa should be first and currently there's a lot of chat about if Trump or Cruz win and doesn't go on to be the nominee what does that say about Iowa picking a winner. How concerned are you about whether the Iowa GOP process does actually pick the nominee?

Kaufmann: Not concerned at all. I don't think the Iowa Caucuses are intended to pick the winner. I just don't believe -- in fact, I don't think that's even in the realm of the top five reasons why we have caucuses. The caucuses are to provide an equal playing field with cheaper media markets, with a geography that you can get to all 99 counties. That's what it's about. If we're going to keep looking into the eyes of junior high kids in a government class and saying, you can be president someday, you must start with a place like Iowa, a place where everybody can actually jump in. Ask Rick Santorum, ask Jimmy Carter. Those are the individuals that we have caucuses for. That is why we start. If we don't pick a winner for the next 20 years I don't think that impacts my argument to the rest of the country why we should start first.

Borg: But it has always been said that Iowa at least winnows. Is it going to winnow this time because it looks like we're running a different campaign this year nationally and Iowa may not have the same role in winnowing. What do you think?

Kaufmann: Well, of course we don't have a Straw Poll and that was also a part, that was kind of a first step in that winnowing. That did not occur. And so I think just by happenstance we're not going to end up a month from now with 12 candidates. Why is that? Is Iowa in a lower position in Iowa, is that the reason for that? Or are people just running out of money? It's hard to give an exact cause and effect, Dean. I will say this much though and this turns back around to the purpose of our caucuses, we have at least three tickets out of Iowa. I see a scenario where we could have five tickets out of Iowa in the republican caucus. So you could have a person that is right now in 11th place, but if they move to 7th place there's a story, there's momentum, there's a little life. And it's not the media that's doing that, it's not the advertisements doing that, it's going around to all 99 counties, which is exactly why Iowa is the perfect place to start.

McGuire: Absolutely.

Henderson: Andy, what about the prospect of a Hillary Clinton nomination after having lost Iowa? She enters the White House, will the Iowa Caucuses be first after that?

McGuire: Well all three of our candidates have said that they like Iowa to be first so I would certainly hope so. And I think this kind of competitiveness that we're having in our caucus, a lot of people didn't think we'd have a competitive caucus, I always thought we would and we do, that really helps the party. And what I tell people all the time, caucuses are about party building. So as this competitiveness and we get our people out to the caucus, that actually bodes well for November. And I think to be president I think you're going to have to win Iowa.

Henderson: What sort of ground game, just building off that, do you see now that you can benefit from as a democratic party?

McGuire: Oh I think all three of our candidates have really great organizations and I think that will benefit us after this election. I think we're going to build on, after the caucuses we're going to build on that and we're going to go all the way to November. So I think that really helps us.

Henderson: How do you translate what is going on, on the ground on the republican side, to turnout in November of 2014? I mean, 2016.

Kaufmann: Let me give you an example. For instance, if there are some independents and democrats that switch parties to republican and caucus with us --

McGuire: Or democrat.

Kaufmann: Or vice versa. If that happens we have captured those names. And yes they may be changing parties for one candidate but I can assure you that the minute they change and I've captured their name I'm their new best friend. They're going to hear from me. I'm going to just say hello. And we're going to try to build on that in order to make our case for republicans up and down the field. We're going to capture this information.

Borg: Andy, what worries you the most between now and February 1st, something coming out of the blue? What worries you the most that could might happen?

McGuire: It's a thousand things. We talk about the number of 1,681 run by volunteers, it's just the magnitude of that many moving parts, new technology, that many moving parts and then the weather, which is always, I have started looking, can you tell 10 days out. So it's so many things, Dean. I don't think it's one thing. And certainly we've got a competitive caucus, which is what we wanted. I think we've got great candidates and great organizations. So I'm not worried about that. I'm more worried about the actual logistics of it though I'm fairly confident we will do a great job.

Henderson: What is more important, enthusiasm or execution? And we only have 15 seconds for your answer.

McGuire: I've got one for you.

Henderson: Okay, go ahead.

McGuire: Organize, organize, organize. So the execution, get hot at the end. That's the old adage.

Kaufmann: I think execution but boy it's going to be a boring night if there isn't some enthusiasm sprinkled over that.

Borg: You're not anticipating that are you?

Kaufmann: No. You're going to see republicans, Dean, rolling on the ground in joy. We've got 12 varsity players here, one of them is going to be president. It doesn't get any better than this.

McGuire: I don't think so.

Borg: I've got to call time out, in your football metaphor there. Thanks a lot for being with us. And before we go, a brief programming note. Caucus Countdown, that's part 2, airs again tonight at 8:30 as part of our series covering presidential candidates on the campaign trail for more than a year now. And then on Monday at 9:00, Iowa Public Television airs the third and final episode of Caucus Countdown. You'll see the candidates courting Iowa supporters throughout the fall and into these finals weeks now before caucus night on February 1st. That is Caucus Countdown, Episode 3 at 9:00 Monday night and again at 8:30 next Friday. And then next week on Iowa Press, local and national political journalists with their observations just a few days before Iowa's caucus. That's next Friday night on Iowa Press, 7:30 Friday night and noon on Sunday. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks a lot for joining us today.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. I'm a veteran. I am a builder. I'm a volunteer. I am a teacher. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa Bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks. Iowa Communications Network. ICN's Broadband Matters campaign advocates for access to high speed broadband in all corners of Iowa for education, public safety, health care, government and economic development. Information is available at Iowa Community Foundations, an initiative of the Iowa Council of Foundations, connecting donors to the causes and communities they care about for good, for Iowa, for ever. Details at The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. The Arlene McKeever Endowment Fund at the Iowa Public Television Foundation, a fund established to support local programming on Iowa Public Television.

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