Clinton Camp Finds Marriage Hard, Caucus Easy

Politico.com editor Jim VandeHei reports on why being married is hard but "Caucusing Is Easy" for the Clinton campaign, Karl Rove's first ink as a contributor for Newsweek and a mysterious automated anti-Romney message hitting telephones in Iowa.

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ROBERT SMITH, host:

Presidential candidates and political reporters had better enjoy a quiet Thanksgiving with their families, because the rest of the holidays are going to be spent in the Winter Wonderland known as Iowa.

And as the candidates gear up for the caucuses there, Karl Rove's back on the scene - oh, who knew - with his first ink as a contributor for Newsweek, and surprise, surprise, it's a how to guide on beating Hillary Clinton. Obsessed much?

ALISON STEWART, host:

I think, maybe.

SMITH: We'll also look into a mysterious automated anti-Romney call hitting telephones in Iowa and find out why being married is hard. But caucusing is easy for the Clinton campaign.

(Soundbite of Web video)

Unidentified Woman #1: Knitting is hard, but caucusing is easy.

Unidentified Woman #2: Being married is hard, caucusing is easy.

Unidentified Woman #3: Dating is hard, caucusing is easy.

Unidentified Woman #4: Playing bridge is hard, and caucusing is easy.

SMITH: Doing radio…

Unidentified Woman #4: I think.

SMITH: Oh, doing radio is hard, but talking to Jim VandeHei, co-founder of Politico.com, is easy.

Jim, how's it going?

Mr. JIM VANDEHEI (Co-founder, Politico.com): Good, how are you? Actually, caucusing is a pain.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VANDEHEI: It's not easy. It's cold in Iowa. You've been to Iowa in January?

SMITH: Well, we should…

Mr. VANDEHEI: It's 20 below. It's windy. It's all cornfields, and there's nothing actually to block the wind. And you got to walk out and stand in a room. That's not easy. It wouldn't be easier being married, but I don't know about easier than some of the other things. Playing bridge? Come on.

SMITH: Well, we should say that that is a Web video put up by the Clinton campaign, and it features a cameo by her husband, Bill. Have you seen this ad? Is it going to get people out for her?

Mr. VANDEHEI: It's a clever ad in that, you know, she's gotten quite good at this self-deprecating type of humor. She's, you know - it starts off with Bill Clinton on a treadmill, and on the big flat screen TV is a big burger. And she's sort of running at, you know, running and looking at the chance of being able to eat that big burger. And then it also has Hillary singing, quite poorly, the national anthem. And it says, singing is hard. Caucusing is easy.

So it's a clever ad. I don't - I think much more important is is she getting an organization on the ground, which I think she is. And can she make sure that, you know, that she lines up all those supporters? Not just the ones that they consider her their first choice, but those that might see her as their second or third choice, because caucusing actually is kind of a difficult process. And what happens is if a certain candidate doesn't get 15 percent in their caucusing precinct, then those votes go somewhere else. So it's actually a very complex game of figuring out different alliances so you can win as many of the caucus votes as possible.

SMITH: So are we seeing any new strategies out there employed by campaigns as the caucus gets nearer?

Mr. VANDEHEI: Oh, you're certainly seeing a lot more focus on Iowa. I mean, Hillary Clinton's spending a lot more time there. On the Democratic side, you have Obama spent almost all of his time there. People like Biden and Dodd and Edwards are there all of the time. So the focus is much more on Iowa than the other states. It's interesting because, you know, we injected Nevada into the mix, you know, to be one of the first four in this campaign season. And nobody goes to Nevada, unless they have to, for a debate.

They spend almost all of their time in Iowa and New Hampshire, because they're the first and the second votes, and you need to really - you need to win one or both of those to have any real momentum to shoot away from there.

So the only big strategic shift in Iowa is Rudy Giuliani spending more and more time there. And I think McCain, essentially, pulling out of Iowa and putting all of his money on New Hampshire.

SMITH: Well, it was interesting because Giuliani had been downplaying expectations saying, oh, I'm barely even going to show up in Iowa. So pay no attention to my low numbers there. What happened? Why did he shift to decide that maybe he has to put something in play in Iowa?

Mr. VANDEHEI: Well, because if they - anyone could talk a big game and talk about, well, I'm going to wait until later in the primary and caucus selection process to start banking some wins. You've got to do well in Iowa and New Hampshire. Recent history has shown that. You have to be able to place pretty high in those two states because then, you get all of the media attention. And it has a way of snowballing. I mean, the truth is, very few people are paying attention to the selection at this point. The numbers for the debates are extremely low. There were four million people that watched the last CNN debate, but that's twice as many as have watched most of the other debates.

So people are just starting to tune in. And come after the holidays, people will really start to focus on what happened in Iowa and New Hampshire. And I think that that has a huge psychological impact on how people vote.

SMITH: Well, and as people in those states start to focus on this race, oh, lo and behold, the phone rings. And an automated call comes and says - talks about Mitt Romney being Mormon. What exactly did this phone call do? What did it talk about?

Mr. VANDEHEI: Well, it's called - it this sort of evil, dark art of politics called push polling where you end up calling and asking a series of questions that are all meant to really undercut a candidate. And these were all about did you know about what, you know, what a nefarious an religion Mormonism is? And it's all meant to stir up concerns among conservatives about the idea of having a Mormon as their nominee. It's not clear who did this. There's all kind of different theories about, you know, was it the McCain camp? Was it the Giuliani camp? Was it this evil plot by the Romney camp to do this, just to get this out of the way early on so they don't have to deal with it later?

Whoever's doing it got their intended effect, though. Everybody's talking about it. It was a big issue, especially online over the weekend. And it put a lot of focus on both this technique, but also the content of the calls.

SMITH: Does Mitt Romney needs to step up and do a big major speech about Mormonism and to talk straight to voters about this?

Mr. VANDEHEI: His campaign is truly divided on that question. Some feel like you've got to get out there. Do what Kennedy did with his Catholicism in the early '60s. You got to talked to people and explain your faith and explain how it fits into your overall world view. And it is a huge part of Romney's life. So I don't really see there being a huge backlash if you were to talk about it. But I know a lot of Romney's advisors are saying, you know what? A lot of people are very uncomfortable with Mormonism. They're not familiar at all with the key tenants of it, and a lot of people find it kind of strange. So we're better off not making a big issue of it.

SMITH: You know, it seems like he's been gone a long time, but here he is back. Karl Rove, as a contributor to Newsweek, with his how to guide for beating Hillary in November 2008. Any surprises there for you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VANDEHEI: No, I mean, it's a - it's not like Karl Rove, you know, helped -gave us the code to the human genome or anything. And basically, he said the exact same thing he's been saying for four years, that Hillary's very beatable. You have to focus on, you know, being strong on national security and point out that Democrats will raise taxes and might not keep you as safe as Republicans will. It wasn't that fascinating. It's actually interesting, because Newsweek put together, you know, Markos from Daily Kos online and Karl Rove - they're the two big hires for the election season, hoping that they would be sort of these contrarian and very confrontational writers. And both of the columns are kind of dull.

SMITH: Well, Karl Rove says the GOP has to expose their softer side, talk about health care, cry, social security, that kind of thing.

Mr. VANDEHEI: I think if they just get up and weep a lot, it will help Republicans, I think. Weeping and hugging, especially on TV images helps. I mean, he, you know, Rove is - I mean, whether you like him or don't like him, he is a very smart political thinker. And he's certainly agile. I mean, a lot of people just see him as practicing sort of the politics of fear in the 2004 election.

But remember, when Bush ran the first time in 2000, he really tried to position Bush as a compassionate conservative. He really spent a lot of time reaching out to minority groups, reaching out to Hispanics, reaching out to African-Americans.

STEWART: Uniter, not a divider.

Mr. VANDEHEI: A uniter, not a divider…

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: Exactly.

Mr. VANDEHEI: …that he learned in 'O4 that actually dividing kind of works. So, yeah. He jumped on on that strategy.

SMITH: Excellent.

Mr. VANDEHEI: So he's a good, you know, he's one of the smartest thinkers in politics today, so he's always a good person to listen to, to understand sort of the debate inside the Republican Party. But it's true that Republicans are going to have to be more than, you know, than in a party that will, you know, prove victorious in Iraq is what they'll say. They need to be talking about a lot of issues, especially towards the middle class and lower middle class, because I think next year is going to be not a fun year (unintelligible).

SMITH: Okay, Jim. Jim VandeHei is the co-founder of Politico.com. Thanks for coming on, Jim.

Mr. VANDEHEI: Take care. Bye.

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