Obama, Huckabee Post Big Gains in Iowa
LUKE BURBANK, host:
Well, speaking of John McCain and Chris Dodd and politics, there are some big presidential doings in Iowa, where Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee have made some substantial gains. New polling data has Obama leading Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side. Well, statistically, it's a tie, but Obama leaped-frog over Clinton to grab this higher number.
And on the GOP tip, Mike Huckabee with a crazy 17-point jump in the polls, has pulled in front of Mitt Romney. What the what?
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BURBANK: Iowa's caucus is just a month away. Here to give us the word on the street, or the cornfield, or whatever the word is on there, is Kathie Obradovich, political editor for the Des Moines Register.
Ms. KATHIE OBRADOVICH (Political Editor, Des Moines Register): Good morning. It's good that you called to be in the cornfield this morning.
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BURBANK: Well, how surprised are you by these numbers?
Ms. OBRADOVICH: Well, not terribly surprised. We did have one other poll in Iowa in November showing Obama up a little bit, and Mike Huckabee either tied or up just a little bit. But when the Des Moines Register's poll says it, people believe it, so it tends to be big news now.
BURBANK: Explain the Huckabee-thing - 17 points. Is he just spending more time in Iowa? Is he just more in line with Iowa-Republicans?
Ms. OBRADOVICH: No. No, he's not spending more time in Iowa, which is kind of the interesting thing. Mitt Romney is still really the candidate with the big presence in Iowa, and he has still spent a lot more money than Mike Huckabee.
BURBANK: I read Romney has spent like $7 million, and Mike Huckabee has spent 300,000.
Ms. OBRADOVICH: It's incredible, the disparity. And so what's happening with Mike Huckabee, you know, the poll numbers indicate that he is doing much better now with Evangelicals, born-again Christians who make - these are self-identified born-again Christians who make up about half of the GOP caucus pool, and before this, people - Evangelicals were really unsure.
They were sort of torn between their desire to pick a candidate who fits their values and choosing somebody that they think is electable. I mean, these folks are pragmatic, GOP activists that are as interested in electability as anybody.
So Mike Huckabee managed to pull off a big coup this summer in Ames, Iowa, by doing very well in the straw poll that the Republican Party has as part of a big fundraiser, and that straw poll means nothing except that it showed people that perhaps he could be electable.
BURBANK: Can you just, very quickly, explain for those who have forgotten the caucus system? You go to someone's house. You have a coffee cake. You elect a president.
Ms. OBRADOVICH: Well, that's the way it used to be. Most of the time, they're in public places, but there are state party meetings. They happen all over the state. There's still maybe a few left in people's living rooms, at their firehouses. They're in schools. And what happens is - it's a little different between the Democrats and the Republicans.
But what happens is people take a straw vote on which presidential candidate they prefer. And then they go on to elect delegates and talk about the platform. It's a party meeting. But that vote, that straw vote, it gets reported out and is, basically, the first test in the nation - first major test in the nation of candidate strength.
BURBANK: Okay, Kathie, could you just hang on a moment?
Ms. OBRADOVICH: Sure.
BURBANK: We've got to take a quick break, but I want to hold you over. On the other side, I want to ask you if, in fact, Iowa deserves all of this attention that it gets as (unintelligible) the first state.
STEWART: And I want to know, are you all sick of all those ads yet? Just think about that.
BURBANK: Yet, not yet. Let's pick it up. This is Kathleen Obradovich from the Des Moines Register, talking to us about what up in Iowa. We're going to talk to her more in a moment.
STEWART: Also coming up: We're going delve into the African Diaspora Film Festival. It's going on right now. One of the filmmakers stopped by the studio to talk to us. Her film "Zanzibar Soccer Queens" - excellent.
This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.
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BURBANK: It's the BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News. Alison Stewart over there. Me, Luke Burbank. You, listeners. Kathie Obradovich, political director for the Des Moines Register. She's been on the line with us talking about what's been happening in Iowa, where Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee both find themselves atop the polls there in terms of Republican and Democrat would-be presidential candidates.
Kathie, as we were going to the break, I think Alison wanted to ask you a question.
STEWART: Yeah, the caucuses are one month from today, January 3rd, and I'm wondering, at this point, can you even turn on your TV anymore? How saturated are the airwaves with ads?
Ms. OBRADOVICH: It's pretty saturated. Almost everybody is up with ads, and, you know, it's just one after the other.
STEWART: Negative, positive?
Ms. OBRADOVICH: It only going to get worse.
STEWART: Is it one of those things where I'm the best candidate, or that guy's going to ruin your life?
Ms. OBRADOVICH: We are starting to see a little bit of attack ads creeping in. It's been fairly positive up until now, but because it's so close and, you know, everybody expected to see attack ads maybe even before now.
BURBANK: Here's a question, I think, that underlies a lot this, because one thing is that this year, there have been - I mean, Michigan just lost a bunch of its delicates. I think the Democrats said they weren't going to recognize them, because everybody is jockeying to try to be the first state or one of the first states - you have places like California and Florida that say, look, we are big, populated, diverse states. We should have more of us say than some place like New Hampshire or Iowa. And Iowa, it's always been this honored tradition to be first. But does Iowa deserve this distinction?
Ms. OBRADOVICH: Well, I don't know if it's a matter of whether Iowa deserves it or not. Iowa and New Hampshire have both worked very hard over the years to be first, and they have succeeded in that, in part, because they know how to put on these contests.
Iowa caucuses - it take a lot of coordination. There's a lot of sort of political infrastructure here in Iowa. People do really pay attention, and the voters are informed, and so, you know, the candidates still come back here.
And, you know, if Iowa didn't do a good job or if they - if for some reason the state decided to be, you know - if the state became insignificant for whatever reason, the candidate just wouldn't show up here. So the state-political folks realize that that's something that they sort of have to earn.
BURBANK: I see. All right. Well, Kathie, I mean, as long as it continues to be case, you'll be there watching it for us and all the interesting developments in the cornfield.
Kathie Obradovich, political editor for the Des Moines Register, thank you so much.
Ms. OBRADOVICH: Thank you.
BURBANK: A quick note, too: Speaking of Iowa, NPR and Iowa Public Radio are going to host a live, two-hour Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday. The network's going to ask some of more than 1,200 questions sent in by you, the listeners. That's live on Tuesday from Des Moines - two to four Eastern Time.
STEWART: Right now, let's hear today's top stories from NPR's Korva Coleman.
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