Doug Gross and Patty Judge

Nov 27, 2015  | 29 min  | Ep 4313 | Podcast | Transcript


Borg: It's Thanksgiving weekend but candidates campaigning for their party's presidential nomination aren't pausing, probably hoping that next year at this time, with the election just past then, they'll be giving thanks for a whole lot more. We're asking a couple of Iowa political veterans for their insight on who and what is resonating and why. Democrat Patty Judge was Iowa's Lieutenant Governor during Chet Culver's administration. Before that, two terms as the state's agriculture secretary and two in the state Senate. Des Moines attorney, republican Doug Gross, staffed both Governor Robert Ray and Terry Branstad administrations, then ran for governor himself, later chairing Mitt Romney's first Iowa presidential campaign. Welcome to Iowa Press.

Gross: Good to be with you.

Borg: You're veterans not only politically but right here at the Iowa Press table. Is it all right on this holiday weekend that we dismiss formality and call you Doug and Patty?

Gross: You can call me turkey if you want.

Judge: Absolutely, absolutely.

Borg: We may take you up on that.

Gross: I know, it has been done before.

Borg: Across the table, Des Moines Register Political Columnist Kathie Obradovich -- tell me again, Kathie?

Obradovich: You can call me Kathie.

Borg: All right, thank you. And Radio Iowa's News Director Kay Henderson.

Henderson: Earlier this week Quinnipiac University released some polling data. Doug, let's start with the republicans. It showed Ted Cruz surging in Iowa. Is that what you sniff on the ground?

Gross: Yeah, it's frankly what I've expected for some time. If you think about Ted Cruz he is very savvy, he has been like a fox lying in the weeds at the side of the road waiting for his prey. And what he's waiting for are Carson and Trump to start to fall and Carson has done, started to do that. So some of Carson's support with the Christian conservatives has fallen by the wayside and Cruz has jumped out of the ditch and he has grabbed those very quickly. I expect as Trump starts to fall he'll grab some of those too. I expect frankly Ted Cruz to win the Iowa caucuses.

Henderson: You said when Trump starts to fall.

Gross: Yeah, he will fall.

Henderson: People have been predicting that fall for quite some time. You think he will?

Gross: I do think he'll fall in Iowa. I don't know how he'll do in New Hampshire but I think he'll fall in Iowa. First of all, he's not good for Iowa. I mean, the number one issue in Iowa is the economy, he's terrible on economic issues for Iowa. He doesn't like the free trade agreement with the Pacific Rim, he's a war monger, that's never good for Iowa. He's just not good for our state and I think the people of Iowa will see through the fact that he's a demagogue and not the direction we want to go.

Henderson: Patty, turning to the democrats, the Quinnipiac University poll found that nothing has changed in that race in the last four weeks. Is that what you seem to see when you talk to people around the state?

Judge: Absolutely, I think the fireworks is on Doug's side of the aisle, I think on the democratic side of the aisle things are going to remain just very much like they are now. Hillary is where she's going to be, Bernie is where he's going to be and the undecideds will kind of I believe break towards Hillary.

Borg: But you see then three candidates going all the way to the convention?

Judge: I'm not sure we have three going all the way to the convention. I think we'll have three all the way through the caucuses definitely. And then it's hard to know what will happen nationally beyond Iowa, but in Iowa I think Martin O'Malley will remain in this race until after the caucuses.

Obradovich: And Doug, Marco Rubio has risen to the point of being in fourth place in this latest poll. Is he also a fox lying in the weeds? Or is he just going to be roadkill?

Gross: Oh, you're very good. You must have been on a national debate stage. Actually Rubio has been very slow in coming up. His numbers were actually the same as they were in the previous poll at the 13%. And, by the way, I think we ought to be a little bit skeptical about that poll because it only said that 2% were undecided. I'm undecided. I can tell you there's a lot more like me.

Obradovich: There's undecided and then there's soft.

Gross: I agree with that but there's a fair number of undecided. The problem for Rubio is that he has not really developed a strong organization in this state so it's going to be difficult once he sort of catches a wave, which I think he is starting to do, he's catching a narrative that maybe he's -- he's certainly capturing the national security portion of the republican vote and I think right now the mainstream republicans don't have a candidate. I think it's likely he could be their candidate. So he can catch that narrative but you've got to turn it into caucus votes and he doesn't have an organization right now to do that.

Borg: Let me pick up something you just said before Kathie moves on here.

Gross: We're mixing a lot of metaphors.

Borg: Fox and roadkill and so on. Why is someone like you undecided at this stage of the campaign?

Gross: Well, first of all, there's a lot of candidates and a number of candidates have really not been tested yet. And fortunately we have until February this time. We don't have to make a decision during the holidays. And so I'm waiting to see how they're tested. For example, with Rubio, I'm not going to decide I want to support Rubio until he has been tested as a potential frontrunner and see whether or not he can hold up to the scrutiny. So you don't make that decision yet. Jeb Bush has been very underperforming. Is he going to step it up at some point? I don't know. It remains to be seen. A number of these candidates have not been tested yet.

Obradovich: Is there anybody else that could hold a mainstream republican label who you think could actually be in the top three or four in the caucuses? Is Rubio the one? Is it Jeb Bush? Could John Kasich, if he decided to actually make a play in Iowa, make it to the top?

Gross: I've thought for a long time at the end of the day in Iowa it's probably going to come down to Cruz and Rubio and I still think that. I think at the end of the day Cruz is going to capture a good number of the Christian conservatives and the Tea Partiers, Rubio could capture the mainstream republicans and potentially some of the national security republicans. So if that's the case they go toe-to-toe. And it's interesting, they're both Senators and they're both young and they're both from Cuban immigrants and they're both immensely talented political figures.

Borg: So what you're saying there, Doug, those are two insiders, those are two with political labels and experience already.

Gross: Well they're not deemed insiders. That's one of the reasons why both of them at the end of the day I think will likely be there because Cruz is anything but an insider. He goes to Washington and throws hand grenades at Mitch McConnell and calls him a liar. He's not an insider. Rubio doesn't even want to show up to vote because he dislikes the place so much. So they're not insiders, they're relatively new Senators that rode a Tea Party wave to get into the Senate. I think they have the ability to capture more of the republican base than other candidates do.

Obradovich: And Patty, do you see Bernie Sanders as being an insider? Or is he an outsider?

Judge: Well, he certainly has painted himself as an outsider in this campaign and I'm sure that's a strategy that they decided was a good strategy for this election. Actually he has been there a long time and it's hard for me to see him as an outsider. But I think at least young people --

Gross: You don't feel the Bern?

Judge: You know, I haven't. I may be past that.

Gross: No you're not, no you're not.

Judge: I just think that he is exciting young people, he's exciting a certain part of the party but he has been there and he has a voting history and certainly that's something that will be talked about.

Obradovich: This Quinnipiac poll showed that people thought that Bernie Sanders was the best at, going to be the best at dealing with the economy. And the economy was the number one issue for caucus going democrats and yet he is down nine points to Hillary. Is it because they don't think that he can win?

Judge: I think that he, that this is one poll and I'm not sure that it's a poll that holds up as we go forward.

Obradovich: Quinnipiac is a pretty good poll though.

Judge: Well it's not a bad poll but --

Gross: Let’s be honest about what's going on in the political system among the parties. The republicans and the democrats have switched places. The republicans used to ordain or coronate a candidate, now the democrats do. They don't have the scrums like we're having. The leaders of the Democratic Party want Hillary Clinton to be the nominee and she's going to be. They're not going to nominate a democratic socialist, that's not going to happen.

Judge: Yeah, I agree with that and I think that as we go on down the road Bernie's people will be Bernie's people through the caucus. But that is, what, 30% or --

Henderson: 42% according to the poll.

Judge: 42, that's it. I don't really look for him to go any higher.

Henderson: I want to sort of ask you both to evaluate the impact the debates have had on this race. There haven't been very many of them but they seem to have had a huge impact.

Judge: Well and I'll take that first. I don't think that they -- I think everybody did a very good job in the debate that we had in Des Moines last week. All the candidates --

Gross: Particularly Kathie, right?

Judge: Kathie looked great.

Obradovich: Oh well thank you.

Judge: But I don't think at the end of the day, Kay, that changed any numbers or probably changed anybody's mind.

Henderson: Didn't it halt Sanders' progress?

Judge: I don't think so. I think his progress -- I don't really think the debates made a lot of difference.

Borg: But Doug, the tenor was much different in the republican --

Gross: Yeah, I didn't know the democrats were having debates. But anyway, the republicans definitely are.

Borg: You're insinuating they were bland, is that right?

Gross: Yeah and they do them on Saturday night when Iowa is playing football. We all like Kathie but how many watched that?

Borg: But the republican debate also did it turn off some voters?

Gross: I think the republican debates have been enormously impactful because what they did is they --

Borg: Negatively or positively?

Gross: Well it depends on your perspective. But they nationalized the race. They made Iowa less important because when we have just a few national debates everybody is trying to get on that stage. In order to get on that stage the measure is your national polls. So everybody is trying to develop a national narrative, they don't care about Iowa so much and that's what happened. And as a result of that they're talking more about national issues, less about Iowa issues. So RFS is not the biggest issue that it should otherwise be in Iowa.

Borg: Renewable Fuel Standard.

Gross: Yes.

Henderson: One of the things that I found in talking with republican voters at the growth and opportunity party at the end of October was that republicans --

Gross: -- really good with acronyms isn't it?

Henderson: Exactly. Republicans had watched the democratic debate and that had influenced how they were watching the next republican debate because they knew that they had to pick somebody who could go up against Hillary Clinton in the general. How do you see that playing out as people look at this field and see who would be the best contrast with Clinton?

Gross: I think that it's also -- I should say it has also moved numbers. These debates have really impacted the numbers not just nationally but in Iowa.

Obradovich: Do you think that these debates have staying power though? Or is it just like we saw in 2012 where it's a blip? Somebody goes up for the week after the debate and then --

Gross: I think on the republican side it's very much where republicans are looking at those debates, analyzing those and very much trying to determine whether or not that person can be president and whether or not that person can win. And they are looking to see whether or not they could go toe-to-toe on, for example, national security issues with a Hillary Clinton. It has a lot of impact. It has really helped Cruz and Rubio because they're both masterful debaters and that is one of the reasons why they're both in the lead right now or at least close to being in the lead.

Judge: It really is a totally different dynamic on the democratic side than on the republican side. With the crowd of field on the republican side where people really are not introduced, have not been introduced to all of those candidates before the debates and the people are listening closely at what they're saying. On the democratic side people know Hillary Clinton and it really has not made a change.

Borg: How, Patty, have world events, the bombing in Paris, how has that affected the democratic and, Doug, the republican race?

Judge: I think people are very concerned right now and rightly so. I'm very concerned.

Borg: But has it hurt Hillary Clinton?

Judge: I do not believe that it is hurting Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party. Now, what happens after the primaries and we get into the general election, who knows, who knows, that's a tossup. But right now, Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State, she certainly knows foreign policy and I don't think that's hurting her today.

Gross: I totally agree with that and within the democratic primary because Bernie Sanders have 55-minute speeches and never mentions foreign policy once or terrorism. So he is not, that's not his space. I think it helps Hillary in the democratic primary. I don't think it will help her in the general because she's going to be held accountable for what Obama has done because she was Secretary of State.

Borg: Who has it helped enormously in the republican race?

Gross: It helps Rubio because Rubio is really fluent on terrorism, international relations and foreign policies, on the intelligence committee and in those debates the one thing that you remember about the debates is how well Rubio handles those issues. The other person it helps, ironically, and I'm not proud about this but it helps Donald Trump and it has helped him right now because he's bellicose. And when people get fearful they want things to be simplified and made very simple for them like somebody is going to take care of you and Donald Trump serves that purpose. It seems to me we have -- one of the reasons why Donald Trump is a potential candidate for the republicans is because usually these presidential campaigns are a reaction of what they have now. The republicans are reacting against Obama. He has taken everything simple and made it complicated. So what do republicans do? They take everything complicated and make it simple and that is what Donald Trump does.

Borg: What signal would it send if Trump does place first in the Iowa caucuses?

Gross: First, if Donald Trump places first in the Iowa caucus he could run the table. So Iowa is very important with regard to Donald Trump. I don't expect that to happen. If you look at his numbers right now he draws a fair amount of support from people that are economic conservatives and moderates. In Iowa I don't think they'll stay with Trump.

Obradovich: Patty, are you going to endorse anybody?

Judge: I have not endorsed anyone and the reason I have not at this point is because I've been working with the renewable fuels, with America's Renewable Future and we decided that we wanted to be able to walk into any event, talk to any candidate about the importance of the renewable fuel standard to Iowa. So far I have not done that and at this -- I'm going to go to the caucuses and eventually I have to stand somewhere but not soon, not soon.

Obradovich: You said you're not feeling the Bern. Is Hillary Clinton in the front running for your endorsement?

Judge: I have not declared a candidate and I don't plan to do that very soon before the caucuses.

Obradovich: Tom Harkin has endorsed, Dave Loebsack has endorsed. Do you think endorsements -- they have both endorsed Hillary Clinton, by the way -- do you think endorsements matter in the caucuses anymore?

Judge: I really do not. Where they might matter more, again, is on the other side where people are not as familiar with the candidates. I don't think anybody in Iowa cares whether Patty Judge endorses Hillary Clinton or Martin O'Malley or Bernie Sanders.

Gross: Oh don't short-sell yourself.

Judge: It's not going to really make a big difference. But for a candidate that is not known, is not a known name, for someone to come out and say yeah, this is a good guy, then it makes a lot more difference.

Obradovich: Doug, do you think Steve King's endorsement made something important for Ted Cruz?

Gross: I think it was serendipitous for Steve that he endorsed right before the Quinnipiac poll came out because it made people think that he caused that when in fact he was racing to get in front of the parade. Ted Cruz was surging prior to Steve King making that determination. What Cruz has done is he has very effectively and quietly worked the Christian pastor network and the home schooling network, which is a very important base of the Christian conservative part of the caucus goers. The key thing now in terms of endorsements will be what does the Family Leader do.

Obradovich: I was going to say, that endorsement hasn't been made as of today. It may be coming soon.

Borg: Just for our viewers, Bob Vander Plaats.

Gross: Yeah, well I would call Robert Cramer because he's the chair of the board and Robert is a very high quality guy and a very thoughtful guy.

Obradovich: Do you think they'll rubber stamp Steve King?

Gross: Well here's the interesting dynamic I think they have to think about, you can endorse Ted Cruz and I think it helps Ted Cruz win the Iowa caucuses, but if Ted Cruz really wins the Iowa caucuses does it really help the Family Leader and does it help the Christian conservative movement in Iowa? I would say that it doesn't. Why? Well Rick Santorum is not the President of the United States, neither is Mike Huckabee. And if we consistently recommend people that can't become president, I would put Ted Cruz in that same category, that will not become president, will not become our nominee, at some point they're going to say enough about Iowa. And if Iowa is not important anymore and neither are the Christian conservatives in Iowa and this is their base, I've never accused them of being pragmatic but you would think they need to think that through a little bit.

Obradovich: Do you think Huckabee and Santorum have no chance? Or is it possible, as Santorum did in 2012, to have a late surge and somehow --

Gross: I don't see it because republicans are very much looking at the next thing, not the last thing and I think that's good.

Henderson: Well looking at the last two things, we had caucuses on January 3rd in 2008 and 2012, this time we have another month of campaigning than we did before. How does that change the dynamic? Is there a pause over the holidays or should campaigns, Patty, be here on the ground knocking on doors on Christmas Eve?

Judge: No, I think there's a pause, I think the candidates are going to let those kids that are working 12, 15, 18 hours a day take a break and go see mom and dad over Christmas and that's a good thing and they'll have time to come back refreshed and hit the ground and work hard then from January to the first of February.

Henderson: But didn't both parties find out that voters get engaged when they have time off from work? And when do you have time off from work? The holidays.

Judge: I don't know -- in my mind, in my family I'd like us to have a little time down. Maybe that's because my whole family is such political animals and we work hard for candidates. But I like to, we'd like to have a week between Christmas and New Year's that we didn't focus every day all day on politics. And I think, again, the kids that are working on the campaigns on both sides of the aisle take a little breath, they're going to come back better and ready to go.

Henderson: Doug, the '96 caucuses I believe were on February 7th.

Gross: Were you there?

Henderson: Well, I was covering them.

Judge: I think we were all there.

Henderson: I think we all were there weren't we?

Gross: We were.

Henderson: What sort of surge do you find the bandwagon effect? I think everybody is talking about how Iowans are late deciders, something like 30% of people decided late in the 2012 campaign which candidate to choose. Is that going to happen or are things going to solidify?

Gross: Oh I think it's -- first of all, I don't think there's a wide group of people they're considering right now. I think it's four or five. That has already happened. But I think among those four or five I think it's very fluid. The key thing to look at right now, who are your second choices? Because I think people will change between now and the date in February when we have the caucuses. So January will be a month of really intense scrutiny and sorting out and you'll see a lot of carpet bombing going on too and we'll see how well the candidates will be able to withstand that.

Borg: What do you mean by that?

Gross: I think you'll have a lot of negative advertising. It will be real interesting to see whether or not a guy like, for example, Rubio can stand up against I think what will be Bush carpet bombing on Rubio because for Bush to rise he has got to push Rubio down. So it will be interesting to see whether or not that works.

Henderson: One of the other issues that was polled by the Quinnipiac University surveyors was attitudes among democrats and among republicans about Syrian refugees. They found 80% of democrats say bring them in, 80% of republicans say no way. Doug, how do you read that?

Gross: We're polarized, right? And I read it that so many of us now get or are told how we should think about an issue by the media. I don't mean you folks necessarily. I mean, the republicans have their Fox News and they have their certain websites and they're sort of told how they should think about an issue and that is the conventional wisdom among that part of the media. And the same thing is true on the democrat's side. And as a result we polarize immediately. Well, what we ought to do is my view is the President ought to sign that bill and we ought to let Syrian refugees in after they're vetted. What is wrong with that? That's what we should do.

Borg: Let me take you back to your experience with the Branstad administration, Doug. He's coming up to an important event right now that will make him the longest serving Governor --

Gross: In the history of the world.

Borg: I was going to say the nation but you've broadened it. Anybody who can go with fox and roadkill -- but how has he changed Iowa?

Gross: Well, first of all, when you talk about the longest serving Governor, I worked for Bob Ray too and I remember when Bob Ray was retiring, pardon me on this, but when Bob Ray was retiring Chuck Grassley I think was a newly-elected Senator, got up to give a speech at his going away party and introduced Bob Ray as the longest Governor in Iowa history. So Terry Branstad is not the longest Governor in Iowa history but he served a long time. Anyway, how has Terry Branstad changed Iowa? First of all, Terry Branstad has put, in his first cycle, put a strong emphasis on diversifying the Iowa economy and I think did so in a significant way so we aren’t excessively dependent on agriculture after the 1980s. I think in his second cycle what he has done is effectively fixed the budget, so the budget is now sustainable and in good position. So those are things that he's done. But most importantly what makes Terry Branstad special about Iowa is I've never known a guy who loves this state anymore and loves his job any more than he does. And as a result he shows that every day and that's why Iowans kept re-electing him.

Obradovich: A question to you, how do you think Terry Branstad has changed Iowa?

Judge: Well, that's a little harder question for me. But I think that I agree with Doug that he loves his job and he loves the state and I would never try to take that away from him. I think that Terry Branstad has been a caretaker rather than a real visionist and particularly in this second go, Branstad 2 round. And I think we really do need to look at a vision for the state of where we think we want to be five years, ten years, twenty years down the road. We're not going to be here but we do need to look at 20 years down the road and maybe we will be, maybe Doug and I will be sitting some place in the nursing home arguing politics.

Gross: And you'll be feeling the Bern.

Judge: Probably not.

Henderson: Patty, you ran for governor after serving a couple of terms as this state's Secretary of Agriculture. Then you joined Chet Culver and you were his Lieutenant Governor running mate. What do you say to Kim Reynolds, although she's on the other side? How hard is it to make that transition to be a statewide candidate for the top job?

Judge: Well it's a tough, tough job. The campaigning is awful and I know that she knows that because she has campaigned with the Governor for the last two cycles and she's a campaigner. She enjoys that and she enjoys meeting people. It is a tough road for a woman in Iowa but I think Joni Ernst has broken some ground and so it will be easier for a woman than it has been in the past to do that.

Henderson: What sort of opposition will she race in a republican primary if Terry Branstad doesn't run again?

Gross: If he doesn't run again, clearly Terry Branstad wants her to be his replacement, at least he appears that way and she has got a strong record when you think about it under Branstad, Iowa for the first time since 1900 is growing again and has been, we have the longest period of sustained growth we've had since that time. So she has got that record. The question is, does she have what's inside that it takes in order to really want to do that job because it takes hutzpah, a lot of hutzpah to say you can be governor. Does Kim have that? Does she really want that? Does she have that hunger? And the second question is, who else wants to run? You've got Bill Northey out there who could be a very good candidate, been a great Secretary of Agriculture. Ron Corbett has got a think tank floating out issues, he apparently has an interest in it. And I think there might be others as well.

Obradovich: Are you convinced that Terry Branstad's not going to run again?

Gross: I don't think he'll run again. I don't think he will.

Obradovich: And Chuck Grassley, he has several opponents on the democratic side. Do you see any of them being a serious challenge?

Gross: It has to be a really quick answer.

Judge: Yeah, I think Rob Hogg is a serious challenge and we'll work very hard and he's a kind of young, dynamic politician that we like to see.

Borg: And I have to quickly say thank you.

Judge: Thank you very much.

Gross: Thank you.

Borg: Next week on Iowa Press, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. We'll be updating the Bush presidential campaign next Friday night at 7:00, noon on Sunday. Thanks for joining us today. 

Iowa Bankers Association
Associated General Contractors of Iowa