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The Week in Politics: Straw Poll, Democrat Debates
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The Week in Politics: Straw Poll, Democrat Debates

Analysis

The Week in Politics: Straw Poll, Democrat Debates

The Week in Politics: Straw Poll, Democrat Debates
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Republican Presidential hopefuls will participate in the Iowa straw poll Saturday. This is one of the first bellweathers for the candidates. Meanwhile, Democrats just finished a week of televised debates.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand.

Well, if you have $35 and you happen to be in Ames, Iowa on Saturday, you can head on down to the Iowa straw poll. Thousands will join you to vote for a Republican presidential candidate. It's not an official vote, of course, but Alex, you know, rocker Alice Cooper will be in nearby Des Moines tonight playing at the State Fair. Coincidence?

CHADWICK: You're saying Alice Cooper may want to - something on the Republican ticket? I don't know about that. We were talking about Iowa earlier with NPR News analyst Juan Williams, who told me that he thinks people are just beginning to question the whole importance of the Iowa polls and caucuses.

JUAN WILLIAMS: As you know, there's lots of pressure for every state now to move up to compete with Iowa, to be the first in the nation either for a caucus or a primary. Now, at the straw poll lots of the Republicans - and I'm talking leading Republicans, with the exception of Mitt Romney - we're talking here about Rudolph Giuliani, John McCain, the unannounced candidate, Fred Thompson - they are all staying away from the straw poll and they're putting pressure therefore on Romney to have an extraordinarily high performance and he may not get there. But if he doesn't simply blow things away, they'll be able to say he didn't do all that well in the straw poll.

And similarly, down the road people are saying, well, you know, you can compete in Iowa, but what does it mean? It's a small state. You really have to save your money and your campaign structure for the big states that are going to come shortly thereafter. And here we're talking about Florida, California, Texas, New York. When those states roll out, that's where you're going to get the real delegates going into a convention that could send you over the top and give you the nomination early.

CHADWICK: Several big Republican candidates seem to be dismissing Iowa altogether. Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Fred Thompson aren't - well, Fred isn't even in the race yet. But...

WILLIAMS: Right.

CHADWICK: ...these guys are not in Iowa trying to compete in the straw poll. They're kind of saying, okay, Mitt Romney, you've got a lot of money to spend down there. Go ahead and spend it.

WILLIAMS: Yeah. And in fact he's been spending it; he's up on the airwaves in - not only Iowa but New Hampshire, far more than anybody else. So what the political consultants are saying is look at the burn rate, because there's talk about burning big money and burning it early.

So that if - he needs a big victory, Alex. But the problem so far is that he has been getting hit, especially over the last week, called a flip-flopper on his stance on abortion. You know, he was the governor of Massachusetts and there appeared to all images to be in support of a woman's right to choose on the question of abortion. Now he's saying that wasn't his stance, people misinterpreted, and of course he's changed his mind. But even talk show hosts have been just going after him. So this could cut into however well he's going to do. People expect that he will win the straw poll but the question again is the margin of victory. And right now he's on the defensive.

CHADWICK: Another question for Mitt Romney, who is a supporter of the war in Iraq - someone asked him this week, how come none of your five sons - five - are in the military?

WILLIAMS: And his response, Alex, was to say that these young men are serving the country well by helping him to get elected. I - that remark had lots of waves of consequence and repercussion. People were left slack-jawed because everyone said, wait a second, you know, how insulting. You mean just by helping your dad run for office, you're serving the country as compared to young people who are out in the midst of Iraq? So I think you're going to hear a lot more about that comment in days to come.

CHADWICK: All right for Mr. Romney right now. We'll note that the straw poll we've been talking about is just in the Republican Party. The Democrats don't have a straw poll. But they did have a debate just yesterday, one of several. They've been - maybe the Democrats are about debated out. What do you think?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know what? I think debate fatigue may be setting in. Although in a recent poll, Alex, I noticed that Americans said no, they liked the early debates, they didn't have any problems with it. But I'd be very interested to see what the ratings have been like. Now, earlier this week the Democrats had a debate outdoors in Chicago in front of labor organizers, and I just think that the debate went by as if it never happened for many people.

And then, of course, you had the debate just last night on Logo - the gay network. On again, you know, some candidates don't show up. Joe Biden doesn't up for, you know, what would seemed to be a major opportunity to get out there and get some publicity for a guy who needs that kind of exposure. But you have the candidates onstage, and it seems almost as if every advocacy group simply wants the candidates to come in, pay their respects - the candidates are worried - I can tell you their campaign managers are all worried that they're going have some slip-up, they're going to say something to try to appease one advocacy group and then anger another advocacy group that they're going to have to appear before later.

So I'm wondering, you know, at what point do the viewers actually begin to pay strong attention? And my guess is that it'll come sometime in October because everyone realizes that they're going to have to go to the polls, possibly, given all the states competing to have their first primary caucus, possibly now even around Christmas.

CHADWICK: That's NPR news analyst Juan Williams, a regular Friday guest on DAY TO DAY.

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