ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The population of Iowa, according to the latest figures, is 2,982,085. But that number does not take into account all the presidential candidates, their staffs, and the reporters covering them who have all descended upon the state this holiday week.

With some six months to go before Iowa holds its first in the nation presidential caucuses, we thought we'd check in with two NPR correspondents who are in the state following candidates and talking to voters. NPR's David Greene is with the Hillary Clinton campaign in Iowa City, and Ina Jaffe is covering Mitt Romney and she joins us from between campaign stops in Anita, Iowa. Welcome to both of you.

DAVID GREENE: Hi, Robert.

INA JAFFE: Hello, Robert.

SIEGEL: David, the big news with the Clinton campaign this week is that Senator Clinton is campaigning in Iowa with a very famous political figure who has a very familiar last name. There's always the risk of Bill Clinton outshining his wife on the campaign trail.

GREENE: That's right.

SIEGEL: What's the impression in watching the two.

GREENE: That was the big question for the Hillary Clinton campaign was if and when she was going to have her husband tag along and we got the answer. He's out here with her for three days this week, stopping in one town after another. And you're right. There was some risk. I mean, Mr. Clinton is still a rock star among Democrats, and the campaign has been really careful. It seems like they have, on one hand, tried to generate a lot of attention about this. They even have a Hill Cam, a camera set up to give voters a look at some of their unscripted moments. But when they actually get on the stage at these events, Bill Clinton keeps his remarks very brief. He says he's focusing on his wife, and he doesn't speak that long and, which, of course, he wasn't famous for when he was president.

SIEGEL: Ina, the former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican aspirant, is holding one of his Ask Mitt Anything events. What are those like?

JAFFE: Well, there are usually about 50, 60, 70 people there and they do ask him just about anything. The questions have been far ranging from health care to social security, Iran, Iraq, abortion, Israel and Palestine. The issue that seems to really get people the most anxious and sometimes even angry is illegal immigration.

SIEGEL: David, when you get a sense of what people are asking about of candidate Hillary Clinton, are they also anxious on that side about immigration or is that more, do you think, a Republican concern?

GREENE: Well, it's funny you bring that up, Robert. Immigration has been a big issue at Democratic events in Iowa, but on this trip, there have been no questions for Hillary Clinton in public. They've kept this very, very scripted. President Bill Clinton gives his free speech. Senator Clinton speaks for a while. Those are the public events. Now they have been holding smaller events with caucus goers trying to get their support and their commitment to Hillary Clinton, but with the president out here with his wife, they have been keeping those events so far close to the media.

SIEGEL: The question of either pardoning or, as it happens, it turned out to be commuting the sentence of Lewis Libby has been an awkward one for the Clinton campaign since Senator Clinton's husband made a very controversial pardon of Marc Rich, a fugitive financier, just as he was leaving office. Has that been brought up at all in Iowa this week?

GREENE: It did come up. Senator Clinton brought it up briefly and she accused President Bush of trying to be above the law. But you're right, it's very touchy given President Clinton being right here and his pardon of Marc Rich was very controversial. Hillary Clinton said in a wire service interview that she makes a distinction that Lewis "Scooter" Libby was trying to protect the White House and that was never the case with anyone who her husband pardoned.

But Marc Rich was, in the eyes of many, a pretty bad person. His ex-wife had given a lot of money to the Clinton campaign and Democratic causes, but he was accused of tax evasion and oil deals with Iran, but President Clinton pardoned him. And here's one great piece of trivia, Robert. Lewis "Scooter" Libby actually represented Marc Rich back in the '80s and '90s. So you see how small Washington can be sometimes.

SIEGEL: Now, what have the crowds been like? Ina, did I hear you saying that at the Ask Mitt Anything events, there are 50 to 70 people typically?

JAFFE: Typically, that's about the number and they tend to be entirely white and somewhat older. And he's been received warmly and enthusiastically. And after he speaks and after he takes all the questions from the audience, usually, he sticks around and people get one-on-one conversations with him and get their pictures taken. And he was telling me earlier when I got to ask him a question at one of these events that he really values the retail campaigning that Iowa and New Hampshire provide, and that one-on-one contact with voters and that he hopes that doesn't go away.

SIEGEL: And David Greene, the crowds that Senator Clinton and former President Clinton are drawing?

GREENE: They've been large. I can't say they have been huge or exuberant. But, you know, Robert, in Iowa, people don't get that crazy at this point of the campaign about campaign events. I mean, I think it's a matter of, well, let's go listen to this candidate and learn a lot and then wait for the next person to come. There are just so many candidates here right now. And even look at The Des Moines Register, the newspaper, and it's almost like movie listings. They tell people around the state where they can go find candidates. So I can open up the paper and I know exactly where Ina is at any point in the day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Well, Ina Jaffe and David Greene, have a glorious Fourth in Iowa this year.

GREENE: Thank you, Robert.

JAFFE: Thank you, Robert.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.