Presidential Hopefuls Take Short Break for Holiday

After the briefest of breaks for Christmas, most presidential hopefuls will resume campaigning this week. Voting takes place earlier than ever. Iowa's caucuses are Jan. 3, and New Hampshire's primaries are Jan. 8. New polls show the races for both parties too close to call.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

If you're among those working over the holidays, you have something in common with the presidential candidates. After the briefest of breaks for Christmas, most will be campaigning this week. Voting takes place earlier than ever in 2008, and new polls show that races for both parties are too close to call in both of the earliest states: Iowa and New Hampshire.

In a moment we'll take a look at exactly how the Iowa caucuses work - it could make a difference. We begin with someone who is also working this Christmas eve, NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts.

Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Merry Christmas, Steve. How are you?

INSKEEP: I'm doing fine, thanks very much. You think they're going to get anybody to pay attention to them this week?

ROBERTS: With any luck, no. But the fact is…

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: …they are - really are at it. And it is fascinating how these polls just don't shift, you know. Although they shift, but they don't tell us who's winning. And I think it's for interesting reasons, which is the Democrats like their candidates and so they keep shifting among the top three saying, well, I like him today, her tomorrow, him the next day. And the Republicans don't like their candidates so they keep shifting, trying to find somebody that they like. And so what you've got is, as you've said, these tied races in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

The new poll out over the weekend from the Boston Globe showing New Hampshire very close with both parties, with Barack Obama pulling up on the Democratic side and John McCain on the Republican side, which is very interesting because for a while there, he was looking like he was out of the race.

But in this poll, he's in a statistical tie with Mitt Romney who received a blow from the Concord Monitor - a newspaper in Concord, New Hampshire - which wrote the most scathing editorial against him. I've really - hardly ever seen anything like it, Saying that Romney, quote, "most surely must be stopped," and saying that their defense of primary in New Hampshire as we get to know the candidates and if the candidates are phony, we know it in New Hampshire, and, quote, "Mitt Romney is such a candidate."

Now, I don't know the effects of that kind of endorsement, but the endorsements for John McCain certainly seemed to have helped him and that might also be true the Des Moines Register endorsement of Hillary Clinton who seems to be on a little sure of footing this past week than she was three weeks before that.

INSKEEP: A little sure, but she's had some trouble in recent weeks.

ROBERTS: There are too many cooks in that kitchen, over thinking everything. I was told a story by a political person recently that said she was one day made a speech where the BlackBerry started going. You know, she should have said glad versus happy or something the equivalent of that. And the BlackBerry's went until 11:00 at night and finally they said, okay, wait. This - we're not going to solve it this way. We'll have to have a conference call tomorrow morning.

I mean, just way too much over thinking of this. And I think that she's, you know, she's having a problem finding the message. She finally had seemed to settled on something, saying, we don't know what's going to happen in the presidency in the next four to eight years, and you just have to vote for someone you trust to handle it, with the experience to handle it. That's a good message because that is the way people vote for president.

But, Steve, we do have to just mention, though, because you're about to hear about how an Iowa caucus works. Iowa, 80,000 people probably show up next week at these caucuses, and they have so much to say about who the president is going to be. And it doesn't - no matter what the parties do to try to fix that, they only get more important. That's an interesting question.

INSKEEP: Eighty thousand people, okay. Thanks very much. That's NPR's Cokie Roberts talking with us every Monday morning.

And let's learn more about these Iowa caucuses. We didn't say primaries, we said caucuses.

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