Ready for an election. Past ready. Iowa political journalists comparing notes, sharing insights 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 PBS, this is the Friday, November 4 edition of Iowa Press. Here is Dean Borg.

Borg: For many people, including those identifying themselves as political junkies, Tuesday's General Election can't come too soon. But, amid that hope for our nation's return to more normalcy, whatever that is, a fear is that Tuesday's election will be determining leadership winners and losers, but not cooling political tempers. Well, we're convening Iowa political journalists for 11th hour insights. Around the Iowa Press table, Gazette Political Writer James Lynch, Des Moines Register Political Columnist Kathie Obradovich, Lee Newspaper's Capitol Bureau Chief Erin Murphy, WHO-TV Political Director and Anchor Dave Price and Radio Iowa's News Director Kay Henderson.

Borg: First to you, Erin. We've been enduring this as Iowans for years, four years. Is this state still in play? Is it still technically and accurately a swing state?

Murphy: Yeah, I remember a time when we weren't in this presidential election. Yeah, I think Iowa is still in play. You look at the basic metrics that you look at for something like that, the polling still shows a close race here. We had a new one this week that showed Donald Trump ahead by 3 points but that was within the margin of error. Advertising, we're still seeing campaign ads from both campaigns and their supporters commonly and both campaigns are still pretty active here, Donald Trump is returning this weekend. I haven't heard yet from -- Bernie Sanders is in Iowa this week. So I think it is in play, I think both campaigns see it as in play.

Borg: Even though, everybody around the table, Kathie you can weigh in on this first, even though so many votes have already been cast?

Obradovich: A lot of votes have already been cast but republicans are looking at the fact that -- democrats have an advantage, as they always do in votes cast, but republicans are looking at that compared to 2012 and saying, hey, they don't have as many votes banked going into Election Day as they did in 2012, so that is actually a hopeful sign for republicans who tend to turn out in greater numbers on Election Day. That is, of course, tempered by the fact that the Clinton campaign says, if it's close we feel we have an advantage because they have a bigger and generally most people would say a wider ranging get out the vote campaign than republicans do.

Henderson: I feel like I've seen this before. In 2000, this state was won by about one vote per precinct by Al Gore. The thing that is a contrast is there are more battleground states this time around. So there's not as much appearance in Iowa of the primaries, in other words, Trump and Clinton, but you are seeing people like Bernie Sanders and I think that's incredibly tactical because if you look at the polling data that we have available to us, one out of every four people under the age of 30 thinks the election might be rigged, which means Trump's message really is sort of resonating with people in that category who had been hugely motivated to vote for Barack Obama. So I think they're sending Sanders here to target those voters.

Price: Yeah, and it's interesting, to play along with that, in that Hillary Clinton's campaign was not using Hillary Clinton here down the stretch as much as perhaps we would have thought maybe a while back, and we're not seeing Donald Trump a lot, in Sioux City for this weekend, but for the most part the republicans were relying on Mike Pence to try to rile up the perhaps far right of the republicans who have some major issues with Donald Trump. The Clinton's were trying Tim Kaine for a while to see if that would work. I was watching two different rallies, one that Tim Kaine did at Iowa State, and I just happened to be standing in a corner and there was a young staffer imploring these college students to come over and saying hey, go get some friends, go get some friends, we have to fill up this room. And the same thing happened at Bernie Sanders' rally at Drake where I can't remember when Sanders was a candidate them ever having a problem filling a room.

Borg: Well, what is that telling you, Dave?

Price: I think there's a question about enthusiasm and I think we've talked about this for months that this may come down to, because of the unpredictableness, is that a word, of Donald Trump and who he's bringing out, the intensity it felt like was deeper on the Trump side and maybe the organization would be better on the democratic side with Clinton and it feels like we're seeing that here at the end.

Borg: Jim Lynch, I'll let you say what you wanted to say and then I've got a question for you.

Lynch: I think if we know it's in play and you don't have to look any further than Kane Miller, Clinton's State Director sent out a memo the other day that said, Iowa will be decided by one of the slimmest margins in the country. So they're not taking Iowa for granted at this point. And they're still keeping the pressure on, bringing in Bernie Sanders to appeal to a certain demographic, as Dave was saying, the younger voters who supported him in the caucuses.

Borg: I'll go back and the basis of my question is about polls. They're basing that on some poll that it will be by the slimmest margin. But is this election also, and the rest of you weigh in, Kathie particularly because your newspaper has the Iowa Poll which is reputable, but the question to Jim initially is, is this also going to be determining the accuracy of polls?

Lynch: Well, yeah, I think that's always in question and there's more questions now than there have been in the past because people don't answer their phones, the people who do answer their phones aren't necessarily representative of the voting public at large, polling companies have a hard time reaching people with cell phones as opposed to land lines. So there are a lot of questions about the accuracy of the polls and that will be one of the big stories after the election is how accurate were these polls? Were we spot on or --

Obradovich: But we always have to look at that right before an election and I always used to tell my bosses, if you are worried about being wrong with a poll don't poll right before an election because that is the only time you ever test it. The polls that were done six months ago people could say those are wrong but who knows. Here's the thing though, the Trump campaign in particular has questioned the media, undermined the media and also really worked to undermine confidence in public polling as well. And so even if the polls are accurate I question whether some people are going to believe that they were accurate.

Henderson: One reason I think people don’t believe the polls is because everyone is in their own silo. They look at Facebook and it is populated by people who agree with their political viewpoint so they're only reading stories that they and their friends find comforting in terms of the polls, whereas people on the opposite end of the spectrum are consuming media that reinforces their own viewpoint. I've been to rallies and running into people who have stopped socializing with a wider group of people because they don't want to talk about the election and they feel harangued, if you will, by people who belong to the opposing party trying to convince them to come over to the other side. So this is a really interesting phenomenon.

Lynch: There's also sort of a speculation that people responding to online polls are giving different answers than when they get called by a live operator. There is a slight increase in the number of people who identify as Trump supporters in the online polls than when they're dealing with a live interviewing, suggesting that people aren't willing to admit to another person that they're voting for Donald Trump, but in sort of the privacy of online polling they'll say yes.

Borg: Erin Murphy, does this election, other than determining who the winners are, does it carry big implications for Iowa's political parties, the caucuses, the legislature and what else happens in this state? Goes it go far beyond who wins?

Murphy: There's a lot in there. The short answer is yes and I think there's a few ways it does. One thing that I'll just pick off and I'll let some of the others jump in is the caucuses, there are democrats that are concerned that Hillary Clinton may not be a staunch supporter of Iowa as the first-in-the-nation caucus state. She has been open in the past with concerns about the inclusivity, is that a word, of the caucuses and allowing people more access, the kind of restrictive nature they have because you have to be at a certain place at a certain time, you don't have all day like a General Election does. So there is concern that under a Clinton presidency that the order may change in the primary season.

Obradovich: One of the reasons why Iowa has successfully defended its first-in-the-nation caucuses though is because it has had two strong political parties. And if this turns out to be, for example, in Iowa, a republican wave election where we don't win back congressional seats, where democrats lose the Senate, and if democrats are not able to hold on in an election year when they typically are strongest, then I think that there should be more worry about where they go from here, although I did have one democrat tell me, if we lose the Senate, if Governor Branstad has his own party and his own way for two years then they're guaranteed to win Terrace Hill back in two years because people are not going to like it.

Lynch: And I think Donald Trump has said that if he is elected Iowa will be first, that he'll defend the first-in-the-nation, but I don't know how much stock you can put in that because this guy really isn't part of the political party apparatus, I don't know that he has any commitment to Iowa or the caucuses.

Henderson: Well, the other thing he says is that he likes primaries better, number one. And recently he's been talking --

Borg: You're talking about Trump?

Henderson: Correct. And the other thing is that he has indicated that campaigns are too long. This is someone who doesn't come from the political class and so he hasn't built a network of people in states like Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina and in some respects Nevada, who he needs to pay back if he's in the White House. This is someone who would have cart blanche, in his words, to "drain the swamp" and one of the swamps he might want to attack is the presidential selection process.

Price: And not to get doom and gloomy but another side of this I think is two caucuses ago we had the republicans who had all the problems here and prematurely declared a winner. This time around it seemed like the concern was more on the democratic side about how things went and were they overwhelmed, were they prepared for all of this. So now we've had two in a row that haven't been the smoothest here. And if you talk to Bernie Sanders' people they have a lot of complaints about the way things went down and that carried over into the National Convention we watched in Philadelphia. So, both of those things, not that this is going to sink us, but it's on the democrats now to make sure that they can fix things up after this last one.

Borg: I want to go over to Kathie in just a minute here. And you used the word doom and gloom and that's an appropriate intro into --

Price: The entire election?

Borg: Well, but what happened in Des Moines this week and the ambushing of two police officers. Kathie, you wrote a column after that, in fact just hours after that happened, and one line in that column says, you were chiding voters or counseling voters not to get too emotional about what had happened and let it translate into the ballot box. And then you said this, "The details of this shocking crime also exacerbate the sense of foreboding that we're in a country on the brink of something terrible." I am just waiting for you to elaborate on that.

Obradovich: Yes. Well, my concern immediately in the aftermath of the shooting, which of course shook Des Moines and the Metro area, this is not something that we're used to here and people were upset and sad and I'm starting to see reports about what the political leanings were of the person who was arrested and my first reaction was, whoa, whoa, whoa, we don't even know, this guy is innocent until proven guilty so there's a tendency to convict him in the media. Secondly, now we're going to start trying to figure out who he might have voted for, for president, as if that says something about that whatever campaign, it says something about them and those voters? No, there are very few facts going on here. So I just didn't want to get people, get ahead of themselves and say, okay, if we're for cop killers then we're going to vote for so-and-so.

Price: And the Trump sign in the yard was originally depicted that it was his, it turned out that it was his mom's because he stayed in the basement of his mom's. But, as this is all going on social media, Jack Hatch, the democrat's nominee for Governor sort of added fuel to this by not naming Trump specifically in his tweet but saying that you have a candidate here who is urging people to go change things with a gun. And I had posted something about that and people went kind of crazy about it and Hatch had mentioned that while he had also expressed condolences for what happened here. But that just sort of added to the political fire about what's going on.

Obradovich: Yeah and I think when you talk about the sense of foreboding, all this discussion about the election being rigged and are people going to accept the results or are we going to have a major crisis of democracy on November 9th? And frankly I'm more worried about that than I am worried about the results of the election at this point, that we're going to have to keep litigating these same issues into the next administration of whoever gets elected.

Murphy: I agree with that. We seem to have reached a point in this election that is surreal to me that people just aren't willing to accept what are pretty clearly plain facts and all this whether we're talking about polls or election results, I agree with Kathie, it's a little concerning if the election, however the election goes whether people are going to accept it and how they will respond if they don't.

Borg: The _____ Poll had some pretty high numbers on the number of Iowans who feel that there is a rigged election.

Price: Well, 74% said it was fair actually. So you're talking about the minority who have problems here even though we see this ground swell of support for Trump, who keeps saying they're rigged, but that poll shows that people don't agree with him.

Obradovich: And depending on how they react, 20% of the population can cause a lot of problems.

Lynch: Right, if people don't accept the results. And I think Erin is right that people tend to refuse to accept what they don't want to believe. If Hillary Clinton wins there's going to be a large percentage of people who are going to say it's rigged. If she loses there are going to be a lot of democrats who are going to suspect that Trump somehow rigged the election in his favor --

Obradovich: And the Russians.

Lynch: -- or the Russians will have determined who the president is and we'll have, like Kathie said, we'll be litigating this for years.

Henderson: Well, may I inject a little ray of hope here?


Borg: The smile helps.

Henderson: We had this same discussion after the contested 2000 election in which we didn't know who won the election until December. And the republic still exists 16 years later. I'm just going to leave it there.

Borg: Kay, I'll come right back to you and the Grassley, Senator Grassley's campaign for re-election. He has been there 36 years in the U.S. Senate, wants to go now to 42. But, I have a sense that, and I watched him win that seat, took part in debates and so on at that time, when he won the seat from John Culver, I have the sense that this may be his toughest campaign since that Culver campaign which put him in the U.S. Senate. You may not remember that.

Henderson: Thank you. Thank you.

Lynch: Unfortunately I do.

Borg: What about this being a very tough campaign for him --

Henderson: Well, you would see that in the polling data. He's facing a candidate who is a known name in Iowa politics. She also comes from rural Iowa as opposed to some of his democratic opponents who have come from urban areas. She has been on the ballot before on a statewide basis on three separate occasions. So she entered this race in a different position than his opponents in the past elections since the first one in which he defeated a sitting senator.

Murphy: Although it's all relative, I think it's important to know we're talking about a Senator who has literally never won re-election by fewer than 30 percentage points, much closer this time but it's still in the double digits. The polls have shown he's still leading in the mid-teens. So that's still a comfortable victory, just not as comfortable as he's used to.

Henderson: And speaking of relative, you don't have democrats at the national level investing in this race. They are investing in races in Missouri where you have a razor thin margin and Wisconsin, neighboring states, but they're not investing here because this is not among the top 10 races in the country.

Price: Which goes against what the feel was early that she was a D.C. recruited candidate, they were going to throw a ton of money in here and really make this thing tough for Grassley and it seems like that national effort and money aren't here.

Henderson: And you hear from democrats a little bit of remorse that they didn't choose the second place finisher in that primary, Rob Hogg, who would have been in the model of someone like a Jason Kander in Missouri, a young democrat facing off against a long-term politician. They think they might have had a better shot. But hindsight is always 20/20.

Borg: Let me throw this out for whoever wants to react to it. And that is, I mentioned your newspaper, the Des Moines Register. Erin, I'm going to mention one of your Lee Newspapers, that's the Quad City Times. In the Grassley/Judge race declined to endorse either one. Anybody react to that?

Obradovich: Well, what do you think --

Murphy: I'm going to stay away with it because that's drawing the line between the reporters and the editorial board. It was interesting and one of my other papers did the same thing, the Sioux City Journal in the presidential race didn't endorse either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

Borg: And that’s somewhat unusual I would think for a Senator who is at 36 years and a challenger who is that well known in Iowa and declining to endorse either one.

Lynch: It seems like an endorsement or a disendorsement when you describe it that way, he's been there for 36 years, if they choose not to endorse either it's almost like saying it's an unendorsement.

Murphy: Yeah, the case they made was that Senator Grassley isn't the same bipartisan working for Iowans first Senator that he has been in the past. They say the Supreme Court issue shows that he has become more of a rank and file partisan official.

Lynch: Which is exactly the argument that Patty Judge is making.

Henderson: Dean, if I could ask you a question since you've been covering Iowa politics for a few decades. What sort of influenced you here from voters waiting to hear what their local newspaper says? Has it changed over the decades as you have covered politics?

Borg: Yes I think endorsements don't mean as much now as they once did. Endorsements once were looked to, I believe, by the electorate as helping me to make up my mind. I don't think they carry the same weight anymore.

Obradovich: No, and I think endorsements, they're like anything else in the news cycle, people pay attention to them if they're surprising or if the race is really close and therefore an endorsement is another little point in the news cycle, a good news day for a candidate, which can make a difference or help them build a sense of momentum. But I don't think that people are looking at newspaper editorial boards to help them decide.

Borg: Well, look at the number of candidates, maybe few but some do, even pass up the invitation to meet with the editorial board. Joni Ernst did that with your Des Moines Register.

Obradovich: Yes and it didn't hurt her.

Lynch: Our opinion page editor at the Gazette says that an endorsement you make nine enemies and one ingrate.

Borg: Let's go to the Iowa General Assembly. We often say all politics is local --

Henderson: Indeed.

Borg: -- and you're agreeing, but is the top of the ticket this time and the intensity of this, Kay, since you volunteered indeed, since you volunteered, is it at all tying certain people in certain congressional races, for example, and it may be in the Iowa legislature too, being tied to the top of the ticket?

Henderson: I think we'll see a surprise or two on election night because we don't know what turnout may be in a particular district in terms of Trump voters that were not identified by either party but turn out and things go topsy-turvy. If you look at the entire map of 25 Senate races and 100 House races, the thing that you have to remember is these things could get decided by 5,000 or fewer votes. We have races in the past four election cycles that have been decided by the range of 8 to 22 votes. So these things are very, very narrow races where people are looking to have some sort of local conversation. Do I know this person? Have I had this person knock on my door? Those are really important things at the local level that it's hard to measure from the 60,000 feet view of the entire state.

Borg: Let me just say that Governor Branstad isn't on the ballot this time but is he, Kathie, and I don't mean, you won't see his name there, but are there big implications for Governor Branstad in this election?

Obradovich: Absolutely. If he wins the Senate, if his party wins the Senate and keeps the House, that has major implications for his agenda for the next two years, which may be his last two years in office, may not be, he has not indicated that he will not run again. But we look back to where he was the last two years of his tenure before he left office for a dozen years, he didn't get everything he wanted from republicans who controlled the legislature, he probably won't get everything he wants if he has republicans for the next two years, but he will get --

Murphy: And he may get some stuff he doesn't want.

Obradovich: He may. But he's going to get a lot more of what he wants probably than he would have otherwise.

Borg: Erin, I'll give you the last word here. We've only got a minute remaining. But we haven't talked at all about the congressional races, but the national political parties are pouring enormous sums into those races. Any observation that you might have, is that having any effect?

Murphy: Well, the first and third districts especially, those are the more political divided districts, so there's a lot of competition in both of those races. I think it's tough to say at this point who is going to pull out either of those. I think they're still up for grabs.

Borg: I said, Dave Price, that was going to be the last question, but I wanted to sneak in this, this has been more than any other negative advertising campaign that I can remember and a dearth of debates, some candidates not even wanting to debate. Any observations on the negativity?

Price: It is draining, sucking the life out of all of us. I think -- we need Kay to do another smile to cheer us up. I have never experienced an election here where so many people, I was taking my children trick or treating the other night and my neighbors are all saying, oh my gosh, I bet you can't wait until November 9th. I feel like a lot of people think that it just kind of, it does kind of suck the life out of you, it really does. And you're talking about advertising, how about just the candidates when they're standing there in front of the microphone?

Henderson: And 11 days after the election, Dean, the next presidential campaign begins because Terry Branstad is having his birthday party.

Borg: Thank you for your uplifting views.


Borg: Next week on Iowa Press we'll be reviewing the election outcome with Iowa's Fourth District Congressman Republican Steve King. He's on Tuesday's ballot and win or lose he'll be here with us. Iowa Press will be on the air a bit later than usual next Friday night, immediately following Iowa PBS's High School State Volleyball Championship coverage. And then you'll see Iowa Press right after the game. So then again at noon on Sunday for Iowa Press. I'm Dean Borg. Along with those around the table, thanks for joining us today.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. 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. The availability of high speed broadband service is essential to fulfilling the promise of a connected Iowa. ICN's Broadband Matters campaign showcases the importance of delivering broadband to all corners of Iowa. Information is available at broadbandmatters.com. 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 iowacommunityfoundations.org. 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 PBS Foundation, a fund established to support local programming on Iowa PBS.

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