Iowa Caucuses Critical for Presidential Hopefuls

The Iowa caucuses are just one week away from inaugurating the voting season of 2008. It is important for the presidential candidates of both parties to do well in the state, but for some candidates, it may be the difference between moving forward on the campaign trail or ending the race.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

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

Some of the candidates for president see next week's Iowa caucuses as a matter of life and death. Consider Democrat Christopher Dodd who has not done well on the polls and who spoke on this program this week.

Senator CHRISTOPHER DODD (Democrat, Connecticut; Presidential Candidate): If Iowans give me that ticket here on the 3rd of January, I'll become a household name within 24 hours, the media will pay attention. So, obviously, doing well here is critical.

INSKEEP: Or consider Republican Mitt Romney whose strategy is built on big performances in Iowa and New Hampshire.

NPR's David Greene has spent a lot of time in Iowa, and he's here to give us an update on the race. And David what are you watching most closely?

DAVID GREENE: Steve, I'm really looking at the Democratic side at this point because things can always change in the final days. But if you look at the Republican race, you know, you have the big names in Iowa - Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney. Huckabee, while he's been a front-runner here, he doesn't have a ton of money so there's no guarantee he'll keep the momentum after the state, and someone like Mitt Romney poured a whole lot of money into Iowa. But it's looking like, even if he lost here, he could rebound in a state like New Hampshire where he's been strong. And once you leave Iowa, a lot of other names are in the mix - Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Fred Thompson. So it seems to be, you know, there could be some strong showing elsewhere. Even after Iowa, the race is still very (unintelligible).

Now on the Democratic side, Iowa seems to be playing a different role. I mean, barring some kind of shocker. This Democratic race has Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards in a real battle across the country, and they've all been in Iowa. The state will really set the tone in a way and give the winner a unique boost going into New Hampshire, maybe the same kind of thing that propelled, you know, John Kerry in 2004, Gary Hart in 1984, Jimmy Carter, you know, really defining the front-runner. And maybe in the hopes of someone like Chris Dodd taking someone who seems like and also run and really propelling that person into being a front-runner status. So a defining moment in the Democratic race, maybe not so much on the Republican side.

INSKEEP: David, all do respect to Iowa, very nice state, people have gotten to spent lots of time with the candidates. But we're talking about maybe a little more than a hundred thousand people making selections here on caucus night. Why would that matter so much?

GREENE: With all do respect, it is a great state, but you're right. There's been this long-time debate about how important Iowa really is. And with all these states waiting to hold their primary so soon afterwards, Iowa, I think, itself is in many ways under the microscope this year. You know, on the Republican side, if you're Rudy Giuliani, you didn't spent much time at all in Iowa, you are hoping beyond hope that the caucuses here don't play a very big role. But 2004 - it seemed to teach some kind of lesson.

John Kerry made a late surge in Iowa and the attention that he got from that - the sense that he was now a winner - made him look instantly, I'd say, more attractive to New Hampshire voters that, within no time, he was the front-runner on his way to the nomination. We just don't know if voters in these other states like New Hampshire and Nevada, South Carolina, the big states voting on February 5th, if they're going to be looking to Iowa for some guidance or whether they're ready to do their own thing.

But I think, Steve, you know, there's no doubt that winning here is going to get a lot of headlines for at least a few days. It can draw money your way. It gives your campaign the look of a winner, and let's say, you're someone like Hillary Clinton, one of her big challenges has been convincing Democrats that she's electable for them to become president and that she's the natural nominee for the party. And there's no better way to do that for her than to get this win in Iowa. If she doesn't get it, all of a sudden, you know, any doubts people had about her seemed more pronounce.

INSKEEP: David, very briefly, what kind of campaign commercials are Iowans seeing in between the ads for holiday sales?

GREENE: Well, Steve, we're getting the time for the closing argument. The candidates are making their closing arguments in ads and in speeches. Hillary Clinton is returning to the theme of experience. John Edwards, you know, talking about more of a grassroots, you know, anti-Washington establishment argument in his ads. And then Barack Obama is going to be giving a big speech in Des Moines today talking about, you know, that is - if there's risk in change, then it's a risk worth taking and the voters should go for him.

INSKEEP: David, thanks very much.

GREENE: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's David Green is our White House correspondent and he's (unintelligible) become our Des Moines correspondent in recent months. He is in Des Moines, Iowa this morning.

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