Democratic Party Appears Fractured After Iowa And Before N.H. Primary
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Here's something Democrats can agree on right now. There is no clear winner in the Iowa caucuses. Pete Buttigieg says it was him; Bernie Sanders begs to differ. Even with 100% of precincts reporting, The Associated Press says irregularities with this year's voting process make it impossible to call an outright winner. But if you were looking for a party unity, take a listen to the Republicans.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Four more years, four more years, four more years.
MARTIN: Republican lawmakers chanting four more years during President Trump's State of the Union speech on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee is demanding that Iowa's Democratic Party has to recanvass results there. So how factionalized is the party after Iowa and heading into the New Hampshire primary? We're going to put that question to two Democratic strategists. Aimee Allison is founder of She The People, a group that promotes the political power of minority women. And Robby Mook runs the House Majority super PAC. He served as Hillary Clinton's campaign manager in 2016. Good morning to you both.
ROBBY MOOK: Good morning.
AIMEE ALLISON: Good morning.
MARTIN: So, Aimee, I'm going to start with you. What does the situation in Iowa say about the state of the Democratic Party right now?
ALLISON: Well, I think for too long the structural issues that have plagued the Democratic Party is not just the order of the states focusing on a mostly white caucus state to be a testing ground for candidates that have to appeal to a very, very diverse base of Democratic Party members. But it's - but it's also that the voting irregularities had caused a lot of people to question the sanctity of our elections and the capacity of Democrats to be able to run credible campaigns to inspire people to organize and volunteering - get involved. That's really what's at risk.
I think, though, we have to take a step back and look at what happened in Iowa caucus, even looking ahead at New Hampshire, and recognize that despite all the problems that Iowa seems to have right now, the real primary, in my view, begins in the Nevada caucus and South Carolina, which they themselves demographically will be a better testing ground for what candidates do. And I'm really focused on looking forward. And I think that's what Democrats should be doing.
MARTIN: And we will do that. I do want to ask Robby about a decision by Tom Perez, the chair of the Democratic National Committee. He's asked the party in Iowa to recanvass. But the party there says the results in Iowa are accurate. They're not compromised at all. It just took a really long time to get them. So what's - why is Perez doing this?
MOOK: Yeah. Well, I'm sure there are a lot of people coming at him, you know, concerned about all this. And you'll be shocked to hear there's politics in the Democratic Party. There's politics in political parties. I agree with the point - Aimee's last point - we got to move forward. We have six or seven months until the party convention. So if there's a need to go back and, you know, make sure that the count is accurate, they have a long time to do that.
And I - but I think more broadly speaking, we need to find a nominee. And it's - you know, it's like we're at the altar to get married and we're fighting over who paid for the first date. Like, we got to just move forward and pick our nominee.
MARTIN: So on that point, I want to play a clip from Tom Perez talking on CNN this morning. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TOM PEREZ: Everyone who's running for president has taken a very enthusiastic pledge to support the winner. And they've done that because they know it's not about them. It's about defeating Donald Trump.
MARTIN: So, Robby, this is the voice of your party leadership. If you listen to candidates on the trail, though, they've been very careful to frame their campaigns around issues - health care, inequality, climate change. Are the candidates drawing enough contrasts with Donald Trump?
MOOK: Well, you know, Iowa is actually a great example where I think, no pun intended, process tends to trump substance and policy on the campaign trail. And so that's why I think obsessing over a tenth or a hundredth of a percent in Iowa is - you know, we're sacrificing the opportunity to talk about policy. Look - and I would argue as the field starts to shift around, I think we need to get serious and start asking real questions about who realistically has a chance to beat Trump, whose policies are going to meet the test of a general election contest. And, you know, it's funny, I was reading a story this morning about Pete Buttigieg and whether he's being - you know, he's going to face vetting. Bernie Sanders, you know, needs to be vetted as well. So I think all these candidates - I hope that there's more of a focus on substance and policy and who can win that general election.
MARTIN: Although Sanders has been vetted for many years, I mean, with almost the nominee in 2016.
MARTIN: Pete Buttigieg is relatively new on the scene.
MOOK: Yeah, I think that's fair. But I also think Bernie's rolled out a lot of new policies. Look, I - my only point is I think we tend to talk about the horse race and we don't talk about, what are these people really proposing and are those policies really realistic?
MARTIN: So let me ask about the larger strategy then. Aimee, in Iowa alone, there were 31 counties that flipped from blue to red. Voters that went for Obama in 2008 and 2012 then went for Donald Trump in 2016. Do you think the party should write-off those voters or find a candidate who can bring them back?
ALLISON: It's an interesting question that assumes that the lessons learned from Iowa can translate to battleground states, and I just don't think they mostly do. I mean, about 91% of the caucusgoers are white in a party that's half people of color in battleground states that are a majority people of color. We Democrats have to win in states like Arizona, Georgia, Texas, Florida. And those are states that have upwards of 25% women of color who are the most loyal Democrats. We have to consider that when we think about which of those candidates who are running in the primary actually can motivate and assemble a multi-racial coalition.
My organization, She The People, put a poll, first poll ever to just ask women of color in Nevada, likely caucusgoers, about their issues. It's health care on top of everything else. But also, which candidate are they considering? Buttigieg polled last week below 2%, which to me, you know, it's a poll, so things can move. But at the same time, he's got very little traction amongst women of color in a state like Nevada, which tells me that a victory in approving, you know, doing well in a state like Iowa may not translate in a place like Nevada. And that suggests that he's got some big issues to being able to be successful going forward.
MARTIN: OK. Last question very quickly, Robby, what are you looking for tonight in the debate?
MOOK: You know, are the candidates going to start to push off from each other as you mentioned? Honestly, I'm fascinated to see how many people tune into this debate. I think there's been so much swirl and churn. I think people don't even know that much that it's happening. And then we have another one coming up after South Carolina.
MARTIN: Well, it's still early in the year, so if people are tired now, then...
MOOK: No. Exactly. I - and again, that's why I worry about some of this process stuff, you know.
MARTIN: Robby Mook runs the House Majority super PAC; Aimee Allison, founder of She The People. Thanks to you both. We appreciate it.
MOOK: Thank you.
ALLISON: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.