Pedal to the metal. Presidential candidates moving past the holiday, accelerating campaigning for Iowa's presidential preference caucuses. Insights from two experiences campaign strategists, on this edition of Iowa Press.

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For decades Iowa Press has brought you political leaders and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Now celebrating more than 40 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, January 1 edition of Iowa Press. Here is Dean Borg.

Borg: Happy New Year! 2016, long-awaited election year is here and we're just a month away now from the first-in-the-nation Iowa presidential preference caucuses. Telephone surveys, campaign volunteers knocking on doors, candidates scurrying from rally to rally. It's high stakes. And we have invited two veterans of this kind of frenzy to the Iowa Press table today. Brad Anderson directed Barack Obama's 2012 Iowa campaign and worked for John Edwards in 2004. During the current election cycle, Eric Woolson was involved in Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's bid for the presidency and past caucus campaigns with Mike Huckabee, George W. Bush, Michele Bachmann and way back in 1988, Eric, with now Vice President Joe Biden. Welcome to Iowa Press.

Woolson: Great to be here, thank you.

Borg: And Brad, welcome to Iowa Press. Nice to have you back in the chair.

Anderson: Thank you, Dean. It's great to be here.

Borg: And across the table, two people you know well, Des Moines Register Political Columnist Kathie Obradovich and Radio Iowa's News Director Kay Henderson.

Henderson: Eric, everyone always says there's three tickets out of Iowa toward New Hampshire. Are there actually three tickets? Or are there two tickets, an establishment and an anti-establishment candidate? Or maybe five tickets this year since the field is so large? What is your assessment?

Woolson: I thought probably five, six weeks ago there would be five tickets out given the size of the field. I have kind of come back to that sentiment that there are three tickets out and we're probably looking at Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and I'm not sure who that third ticket is at this point, but it would be the establishment candidate. So perhaps two non-establishment, anti-establishment candidates and one establishment candidate and we'll see who that is.

Henderson: So who among the establishment do you see as moving?

Woolson: Interesting piece in the New York Times on Thursday was talking about Governor's Bush and Christie and Senator Rubio seeing Iowa as a "playground of opportunity," that they do think that there is a large segment of traditional mainstream voters, particularly the eastern part of the state, Cedar Rapids, Davenport area that are more business and fiscal-minded republicans, the farm vote over in that area, they're kind of more focused on fiscal issues than on social conservative issues. And so they see an opportunity to gain some momentum. I know there has been some conversation that first place is all that matters in a year like this. But I really think if one of those establishment candidates does come to the fore that that's going to benefit their campaign down the road.

Henderson: Turning to the democrats, Brad, you have endorsed Hillary Clinton.

Anderson: I have.

Henderson: If there are three tickets out that means everybody survives, including Martin O'Malley.

Anderson: Everybody is going to New Hampshire.

Henderson: What is your assessment? Do you think O'Malley can stay in the race if he loses and does very poorly here? And secondarily, Bernie Sanders this week in Burlington says he has a real, real shot at winning Iowa. Do you agree?

Anderson: I do. I think, first of all, I don't envy Eric at all trying to predict what is going to happen on his side, I really don't. It has been really just a very unpredictable year on the republican side. But on the democratic side, I think you're seeing a lot of enthusiasm for both candidates, despite the media glare really being focused on Donald Trump. And so you're seeing thousands of people continuing to show up for Bernie Sanders' events, which has really been going on since the summer. And then you had that magical event at Keota where you had an event where 700 people showed up to see Hillary Clinton in a town of 900. More than half the town came out to see Secretary Clinton. So I think you are seeing enthusiasm. I think the question for O'Malley is, is he going to really catch fire? Because Dave Nagel always says, the key to winning the caucuses is organize, organize, organize and catch fire at the end. The question is, is he going -- because they've built a great organization, the O'Malley team has. The question is, is he going to catch fire? And that is the moment where your message clicks, the crowds are clicking and it is really something that is kind of intangible but you know it when it happens.

Borg: Kathie, before I go onto you I'm going to go back. Eric, you said something. You said earlier five candidates you thought might have momentum out of Iowa. Now you have changed that and three. What caused you to change?

Woolson: I think the strength that we're seeing from Senator Cruz's campaign, the sustained strength from Mr. Trump's campaign also. There has been a lot of speculation that he's drawing a lot of folks to his events, but they don't have the ground game necessarily to convert those folks on caucus night. I disagree with that. I think with folks like Chuck Laudner, Stephanie Laudner, who have been around this process a long time, combined really with the enthusiasm and the new folks like Tana Geertz, I think that they're taking the steps that are necessary to turn out folks on caucus night. So I think we're going to see two very strong, upper 20s, low to mid-30s finishes for those two and then I think the question is who is the third place candidate, and perhaps it's that establishment person we talked about earlier and then the rest of the field back in the single digits. A possibility still that Governor Huckabee might break out or somebody in that very low tier might break out. I think we'll know more about that around January 10th, January 12th, but I think we're back to kind of a three tickets out of Iowa.

Obradovich: Let's talk about the ground game for a second. We heard this week that Jeb Bush is dropping a bunch of ads and putting that money into bodies that he's sending to early states, including Iowa. Is that a smart strategy for him do you think?

Woolson: Yeah, I think they have to do that at this point. They just have not been able to move the needle, I don't know that TV commercials are going to do all that much. Their super PAC is going to be running a lot of commercials as it is. And, in fact, on Wednesday night that was the first night I saw a new Bush commercial that was really very critical of Marco Rubio. So they are clearly trying to establish themselves as that third ,hopefully I think in their eyes, that third place finisher, or at least the top establishment finisher, and so they have got to tur out those people that are supporting them.

Obradovich: What do you look for when you're trying to evaluate a candidate's ground game? You can watch from the inside, but if you're watching from the outside, how do you establish? Is it the number of phone calls you're getting? How do you know whether they've got a good ground game?

Woolson: Great question. And part of that is the enthusiasm that you're getting back. I remember in 2008 with Governor Huckabee, when you've got people walking through the door, when you've got people that say I want to sign up, I want to do something, don't just put my name on your list of supporters but give me something to do, that ability to drill down, as Brad knows, to go beyond your county chairs to your precinct captains to okay we've got four or five people in this precinct that are willing to work. So it really is just building brick by brick an organization that has a very strong foundation and then again catches fire there at the end.

Obradovich: And, Brad, we just were talking about Bernie Sanders and his ability possibly to win Iowa, despite lagging behind Hillary Clinton in the polls almost all year. That comes down to organization, does it not? Or is it something else? Is it enthusiasm?

Anderson: It comes down to both. The job for the campaigns right now, there are two main jobs going on in these last 30 some days. One is for the campaigns. And so both campaigns, all three campaigns on the democratic side, have been building these massive organizations over the last eight or nine months. That means precinct captains, volunteers, opening offices. Now comes the time to test it. Tom Harkin is a huge believer in testing your organization. In fact, when I was the Obama state director, the first question he asked me was, how are you testing these guys? How are you testing them every day? So what they're going to be doing are, they're going to be doing dry runs, they're going to get staging locations, they're going to do all the things they have to do to test their organization for that last four days. In the last four days leading up to the caucuses is all about turnout, it's all about turnout. So the size of your organization it's kind of tough to see from the outside. But you know it on the inside. You know if your people are trained. You know if you've got your precinct captains, you know where they are. And I've talked to the campaigns, for the most part their precinct captains are set. They've got them in place, we have 1,681 precincts, they've got them in place in most of the areas in Iowa. Now comes time to test it.

Obradovich: How much ground can you actually make up? Let's say you're lagging behind your opponent by four points in the polls? Can you make that up by having a better organization? Can you make up eight points? Where is that sweet spot that you can actually eat up a lead in the polls?

Anderson: You know, that is a great question. It is a great question. And it's something that I actually can't answer. But what a ground game can do is, like I said you need two things, you need the ground game and then you need the candidate to catch fire. And I'll just give you a good example. So in 2004 I was working for Edwards and Edwards did catch fire at the end. But the reason we were able to come in second place was because we had the ground game in place to capture that fire. And so I'll never forget when Ed Skinner, who has since passed away, but from Altoona, endorsed Edwards. We had I think 1,500, 2,000 people show up at this Altoona event. And we would have never been able to capture all their info, sign everyone in, if we didn't already have a ground game in place.

Borg: But social media has even changed that ground game in this cycle hasn't it, Brad?

Anderson: It has a little bit but you still -- nothing beats one-on-one conversations, nothing beats door knocking, nothing beats phone calls. Social media has changed the game not as much as people think.

Woolson: And I think to Brad's point about the size of an organization, I remember again in 2008 with Governor Huckabee we had I think 12 or 13 people on staff and we'd look down the street and we keep hearing stories about Hillary Clinton had 200 people on staff or Senator Obama had 200 people on staff and we'd be very envious, but the fact of the matter was we knew that we were moving numbers and we were building that ground game because it was a very organic, there was a lot of support from Mike Huckabee out there, the grassroots whether it was the home school folks, the evangelical voters, some of the Main Street republicans. So the organization, to Brad's point, isn't as important as having those volunteers out there that get very excited about a candidate and are willing to go out and talk to their friends and neighbors face-to-face and close the deal.

Henderson: I'm wondering what the most effective thing a campaign can do in 2016? And maybe if it has changed? Brad, I'll start with you. I recently chatted with Paul Tewes, who worked on Obama '08, and he said something really interesting. He said, people come for the candidate but they stay for the campaign. How do you achieve that?

Anderson: You know, the most effective thing a campaign can do is invest people that are going to invest themselves in the community. And Obama was just the master of that in 2008. These people, they came in and they really talked to county chairs, they got to know people in the community, they didn't consider themselves above anyone and they understood that the county chairs there probably knew more than they did coming in cold. So I think that is the most effective way that you can build an organization is really investing yourself in the community. I can tell you what has stunned me, the story of 2015 is the total and complete ineffectiveness of super PACs. I'm one where I was legitimately convinced that in Iowa, that these dollars being poured into these campaigns by super PACs were going to have an impact. I was wrong. They have had no impact. The Des Moines Register did a study, they said $27 million has been spent in Iowa by super PACs, a third of which went to candidates that have already dropped out, the other third to Jeb Bush, who is in single digits. They have not moved the needle at all.

Borg: What caused that, Brad?

Anderson: Well, I like to credit the people of Iowa. I think this is not a state, Dean, that you can come out and buy, especially a nameless organization that is trying to advertise on behalf of a candidate. It's not a state where you can win the caucuses on TV. We're talking about a very targeted, small universe of people that are going to caucus, and it is a state where one-on-one conversations still matter. And if someone knocks on your door and they say, I'm with Freedom for America Priorities PAC, people aren't going to pay attention to that. And I'm kind of pumped up about the fact that super PACs have had almost no impact.

Woolson: Yeah, and I think to Kay's point that come for the candidate, stay for the organization, Tom Henderson, who is the former Polk County democratic chair, has made that point before. But I think this cycle there is the bigger question about, in both parties, the question is will Trump supporters stay if he's not the nominee? Will Bernie Sanders folks stay? There's a lot of -- I wasn't at, obviously, at the democratic Jefferson Jackson Dinner, but I had heard --

Anderson: Missed out.

Woolson: I missed out. I would have been very popular there I'm sure. But I had heard the story that a lot of the Sanders folks heard their candidate and left and that there's some concern will they stay? Obviously in our party the question is, if it's not, if we have attracted a lot of new folks with Donald Trump and he's not the nominee, will they stay? So I think that is going to be one of the big questions going into the general election, will we see those sorts of things happen?

Obradovich: And one of the questions too, talk about the effect of money. I just saw a Politico piece where it said that one of the worst predictions of 2015 was that money was going to make all the difference. In Iowa, where do you put the smart money for the caucuses? I think there's smart money and stupid money spent in the caucuses and maybe the super PACs this time was the stupid money. Where does money really make a difference in the caucuses?

Woolson: I think staffing always is a big difference and I think getting your candidate out. I've worked for candidates that have had a lot of money, George W. Bush, and the candidates that haven't had a lot of money and it's a lot more fun to work for the guys that do have a lot of money, I'll tell you that. But always I think our spending when it was getting the candidate connected with the voters, that was very important and the staffers.

Obradovich: But the last two winners of the Iowa caucuses were definitely not the ones who spent the most money.

Woolson: Exactly. They were the ones that were out there and did the 99 counties and did the 99 counties again and made those tours.

Borg: That's Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.

Woolson: Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. And, again, to Brad's point, we did think, I mean I think virtually everyone thought that the super PACs were going to make a huge impact on this whole process. And, again, Governor Perry had a lot of super PAC money, Governor Walker, Governor Jindal had super PAC money.

Obradovich: Do you think they still might though? Is it still possible for super PACs to make a difference toward the end of the nomination process as opposed to they certainly weren't helping at the beginning. But what about when it gets down to maybe two people?

Woolson: Probably more so in the general, I think they probably do have that opportunity. We saw that in the Senate race, the Iowa Senate race last year with Bruce Braley and Joni Ernst. So perhaps when it's a more focused, concentrated race. But, again, as it sorts out the caucus cycle and the primaries, to date I think everybody has been surprised at their ineffectiveness.

Henderson: People make a lot of noise about endorsements. I'm wondering about alliances. Harkening back to 2004 on caucus day, Kucinich announced, if I'm not viable in any of these caucuses I want my people to go over to Edwards. How crucial are those sorts of alliances? And what do those O'Malley people do? Because they could be a big factor in whether Hillary Clinton wins by single digits or if they all go to Bernie Sanders that could be a huge factor as well.

Anderson: That is an excellent point. And I will never forget sitting in my caucus in 2004 because that alliance came out and really it was like the day or two before and Kucinich just said it on CNN or something. Then I was sitting there and in my caucus, when Kucinich was not viable they literally got up and walked over to the Edwards, as if on cue. And I couldn't believe it worked. Oh my God, here we go!

Obradovich: Did that push him over the top over Hillary Clinton because they were so close?

Henderson: In '04.

Anderson: This is in '04, this is what really pushed him into second place. I think it was helpful for sure. I know it was certainly in my caucus and we heard anecdotes all around the state of that. So that is a question of whether or not there is going to be some alliance between the O'Malley people and a candidate. I don't know, that is for the campaigns to decide. And, again, with the Kucinich thing that was a last minute deal and it was just because, the truth is it was because Dennis and John Edwards were actually close friends believe it or not.

Borg: That brings up the point of late deciders, on caucus night even. But can that skew yet your prediction?

Woolson: I don't think it affects us as much. Brad, one of the things I never envied for the democratic campaign managers was that need to get to 15%. And so when I'm managing a republican campaign, a vote is a vote is a vote anywhere in the state. I don't have to worry about hitting that 15% threshold. And so perhaps we may see a little of that movement. I think a lot of folks are going to decide awfully late and they will move around. But I think that a lot of the support for Cruz and a lot of the support for Trump is solid, it's going to stay there. But on the republican side, again, our challenge always was turnout and not necessarily worrying about that 15% threshold.

Henderson: Eric, back to alliances, it seems as if some of these super PACs are starting to try to knock down Ted Cruz, who is perceived as the front-runner here, to benefit Rubio. We're even hearing that maybe some of the Huckabee and Santorum people are moving in that direction to sort of have an alliance to dislodge Cruz. Can that thing work?

Woolson: It may affect around the margin. I think the folks that have supported Senator Cruz and are supporting him are the result of a very smart approach that they have taken. They have built that foundation very slowly, very deliberately, they have worked the evangelical community very strongly. I know there's questions whether the ethanol issue is going to be able to cut into Senator Cruz's support. And, again, I don't see a lot of those folks who support Senator Cruz as worried about ethanol. When you've got Congressman King, who is supporting Senator Cruz, ethanol is not I'm sure going to be as crucial a deciding factor as maybe the ethanol folks hope.

Obradovich: There's also some last debates. And what we've seen so far I think is the debates have been pretty influential. Is the winner of the last debate the guy who is going to catch fire for the caucuses?

Woolson: Somebody who does well very close to the caucuses, I think it's going to bump their numbers a little bit, maybe again that's an opportunity for one of those establishment candidates to break through at the end. So we will. To Dean's point, we will see a lot of movement here at the end. But, again, I think there is so much of a gap between first, second and then the rest of the field, that I don't know that it's going to affect those top two.

Obradovich: Do you think the debates have taken attention or focus away from Iowa on the republican side?

Woolson: Perhaps a little bit. I don't think too much. I think they have made Iowa a lot more important in some respects. We saw with the candidate that I worked for, Governor Walker, who goes into that first debate with these high expectations that he's leading all these polls, he doesn't do very well. Well Iowa becomes all that more important to him. And then when he doesn't perform well out in Iowa and the questions come up about he's not debating well, he's not campaigning well in Iowa, it sort of becomes kind of a snowball effect. So they do have an impact but I think that impact has been especially strong here in Iowa.

Obradovich: And, Brad, the debates don't seem to have been driving polls necessarily on the democratic side. They have been driving rhetoric where they have been arguing about the debates. But do you see the debates actually having a big influence as we get toward the end?

Anderson: Well, part of that is we don't have Donald Trump. And the other part is they're on a Saturday, which the DNC, I don't understand why they scheduled it the way they did. But I think our debates have, there's no question, been more serious in tone, been more substantive and maybe that doesn't drive the viewership that some of the antics on the republican side do. But to your point on smart money and stupid money, which I think is a very good point, say Rubio does great in the next debate, right, and someone in Burlington wants to volunteer. Rubio, for the life of me I don't understand why more republicans don't invest in a ground game when they have the money. And if you think oh my gosh, Rubio did awesome in that debate, I want to go volunteer, where do you go? And that is what I mean by if you build the organization and your candidate gets hot at the end, to capture that can make all the difference in the world in Iowa. And I can't think of, now you're seeing Jeb finally investing in a ground game, but there really is just, he's got 20 people now. Both Sanders and Clinton have more than 100, have offices all across the state, just such a difference in organization on the democratic side and the republican side and I don't understand why that is.

Woolson: Great point. And it has been that way for a while. When the voter has to go out and look for the candidate, they get tired after a while, they do give up. And so having that robust network of offices I think does make a big difference for the democrats.

Henderson: Eric, you have sort of given us a prediction earlier in your remarks. I'm wondering if this is the last Iowa caucus if Donald Trump or Ted Cruz are the victor?

Borg: Quick response, we're out of time.

Woolson: It would be if Jeb Bush wins the nomination.

Henderson: Brad? Do you predict that Hillary Clinton will win? And by how large a margin? You're supporting her.

Anderson: I predict she's going to win and I think the margin doesn't matter. I think a win is a win is a win on the democratic side.

Borg: And we're out of wins here right now. Thank you so much for being with us. And before we go, a programming reminder, the first in a series of special Iowa Caucus related programming on Iowa PBS debuts Monday, January 4th. It is called Caucus Iowa: Journey to the Presidency. A brand new documentary film following more than four decades of caucus history with new interviews of former presidential candidates, campaign managers and Iowans, alongside newly-digitized footage from archive material not viewed for decades. So you'll want to see it. It's Caucus Iowa: Journey to the Presidency on Iowa PBS next week. We'll be back next week with another edition of Iowa Press, 7:30 Friday night and noon on Sunday. Happy New Year. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS 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 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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