A Look At The Timing Of The Iowa Caucus

Guy Raz speaks with Des Moines Register reporter Kathie Obradovich about the Iowa political calendar. They discuss the Iowa caucus timing, the popularity of the candidates there and the importance of Iowa in this election.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

In about three months, the presidential primary season kicks off in Iowa, a place where uncommitted has actually won the vote twice. Since 1972, Iowa voters have been the first in the country to take part in the presidential nominating process, temporarily elevating the hopes of such candidates as Richard Gephardt, Tom Harkin and Mike Huckabee, all Iowa caucus winners. Voters in the state are fiercely protective of their first-in-the-nation status. So in order to keep it that way, Iowa could move up its nominating contest to early January. Kathie Obradovich is a political reporter with The Des Moines Register, and she's with us now. Kathie, welcome.

KATHIE OBRADOVICH: Hello, Guy.

RAZ: Early January. We've even been hearing reports of January 2nd. Is that possible?

OBRADOVICH: More likely they will move it later in the week. January 5th is a lot more likely day. Four years ago, the caucuses had to move early because of Florida, as this cycle, and the caucuses ended up on a Thursday, which was January 3rd. I think that's a much more likely scenario this time.

RAZ: Now, I understand that it's traditionally been on a Monday night in Iowa. Is there a reason why that is?

OBRADOVICH: The only thing Iowa has to be is first in the nation for the caucuses.

RAZ: Right.

OBRADOVICH: And four years ago, because of the compression of the calendar, Iowa, New Hampshire worked out a deal where the caucuses were actually less than eight days between the two contests. So I wouldn't be too surprised if they're able to work out a similar agreement this year.

RAZ: Talk to me about Rick Perry and Iowa Republicans. Is he the one to beat in Iowa for now?

OBRADOVICH: I don't think so. I think Mitt Romney is still the one to beat in Iowa. Rick Perry came in. He rode a wave of popularity - initial popularity as sort of excitement for his candidacy, as he did nationally. But now that he is being vetted that Iowa Republicans are learning more and more about him, they're realizing that he comes in with just as many warts and scars as everybody else in the race. He's becoming a candidate who is sort of competing for the anti-Romney title rather than essentially being the guy who's going to consolidate all of the religious conservatives.

RAZ: It's interesting you say that Romney is potentially the one to beat because he's not really competing in Iowa, right?

OBRADOVICH: He has not been competing in Iowa, which is really interesting, because if you look at all the polls in Iowa, he still rises to the top, which tells me that none of the other candidates have managed to make themselves a viable alternative to what I would call the mainstream establishment Republicans who are really interested primarily in jobs and the economy, and don't really want to talk about gay marriage. They don't want to talk about abortion. They don't want to talk about a lot of the divisive social issues.

They're really focused on a candidate where they think that the candidate that will best beat Barack Obama is somebody who won't alienate moderates and independents. So Mitt Romney has been the candidate consistently for that segment of the party. We thought perhaps Rick Perry would come in and go after Mitt Romney on the economic issues, but really, I think he's being viewed more on the context of, you know, is he the best of the social conservative candidates.

RAZ: Let's talk issues, Kathie. Specifically, for Republican voters in Iowa, aside from the economy, what are people talking about in Iowa when it comes to the issues?

OBRADOVICH: Well, I think that you may be surprised to learn that immigration is a bigger issue for Republicans in Iowa than Iowa's position and the country might suggest. I think that that is something that is a difference among the candidates. It's something that Rick Perry has struggled with in Iowa.

Latinos are the fastest growing minority group in Iowa. It still doesn't come even close to a lot of other states as far as percentages are concerned, but there are a lot of towns in Iowa where, for example, meat packing is the big industry and it's having a lot of effect and it's a big part of the conversation in those small towns in Iowa.

RAZ: So if you had to put your money on a Republican candidate today, it would be Mitt Romney?

OBRADOVICH: I would say that, if the caucuses were held tomorrow, Mitt Romney would be number one and uncommitted, like you talked about earlier, would be number two.

RAZ: That's Kathie Obradovich. She covers politics for the Des Moines Register. Kathie, thanks so much.

OBRADOVICH: Thank you, Guy.

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