World Takes Notice of Iowa Caucuses
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
The presidential primary race begins tonight in Iowa. That's big news here at home, but it's also important news abroad. So we wondered, what do the Iowa caucuses look like through the eyes of those covering them for an international audience?
Joining us now to talk about that are two foreign correspondents covering the presidential primaries. Here in the studio with me is Jesus Esquivel, the Washington correspondent for Mexico's, Proceso, weekly political magazine. And on the line from Iowa is Suzanne Goldenberg of The Guardian, a London-based newspaper.
Welcome to you both. Thank you so much.
Mr. JESUS ESQUIVEL (Washington Correspondent, Proceso Magazine): Thank you, Michel.
Ms. SUZANNE GOLDENBERG (Reporter, The Guardian Newspaper): Thank you. Glad to be here.
MARTIN: Jesus, you've been doing this a long time. You were telling me that this is your sixth presidential campaign - U.S. presidential campaign?
Mr. ESQUIVEL: Yes, it is. And it's very interesting always to see how the American voters react depends on what is the name of the candidates.
MARTIN: Well, obviously, you're a junkie, but what about your readers back in Mexico? Are they as interested as you are?
MR. ESQUIVEL: Yes, they are, especially in this election. As you know, you have a woman running for president and you have a candidate African-American that it's very important to see if this country is ready for a change.
MARTIN: What about - there's also the candidate of a Latino descent or Hispanic descent - Bill Richardson running? Is he of interest, too, or not so much?
MR. ESQUIVEL: Not so much. Honestly, Bill Richardson has been in office for a long time as a congressman and as a member of the Cabinet. And he's a defender of the Latino rights in the U.S. But in my case, Mexicans don't see him as a very good candidate to be a real president of the U.S.
MARTIN: Oh, okay. That's bad news for him. Same question to you, Suzanne Goldenberg. How interesting is this election to your audience?
Ms. GOLDENBERG: I think it's hugely interesting. Britons, in particular, are looking forward to the life after President George Bush. But there's also a continuing fascination with the Clinton that just the idea that Hillary Clinton wants to be the first woman president. There's a lot of interest in Barack Obama. And on the Republican side, people are really captivated by the idea of Mike Huckabee…
MARTIN: Really? Why?
Ms. GOLDENBERG: …as preacher.
MARTIN: Why so?
Ms. GOLDENBERG: Well, I think because it's - the idea of open religiosity really fascinates people in Britain. It's totally different from the experience there. And they just see it as a bit of exotica, I guess.
MARTIN: Now, you and Jesus both mentioned that the idea of a woman leader is exciting, but, you know, that's old news in Britain. You know, you've had a woman prime minister and in Latin America there have been women heads of state before. So, Suzanne, why is it so interesting?
Ms. GOLDENBERG: I think it's very interesting to people in Britain because it has taken America so long. And I think, also, it's because of the figure of Hillary Clinton. People remember the Clintons and they like to see what's happening in the next stage of that soap opera, if you like.
MARTIN: Jesus, what about you?
Mr. ESQUIVEL: The same situation, yeah. One exception, we think in Mexico that Hillary Clinton is a very intelligent woman, but she has a problem - her husband. And in Mexico, for example…
MARTIN: Well, here, too, but…
Mr. ESQUIVEL: Well, there is a lot of discussion in Mexico. For some reasons, she's elected the president and she's doing right, the people in other countries will say, well, it's because of her husband. It's not her ideas. And it will be worse if something wrong happened with Hillary as president.
MARTIN: Well, you're saying that that would diminish her authority with Mexicans as a…
Mr. ESQUIVEL: It's what Mexicans see her, you know, that or feel that she will be the face of the power, but the real power is going to be behind her.
MARTIN: But President Clinton was popular in Mexico, wasn't he?
Mr. ESQUIVEL: He's so popular.
MARTIN: So that shouldn't be a problem, right?
Mr. ESQUIVEL: No. It's not a problem. We see it as a problem for Americans, not for Mexicans.
MARTIN: Oh, I see. Oh, interesting. I wanted to ask you both. Caucuses are confusing enough for Americans to understand. Jesus, how are you explaining the process to your readers?
Mr. ESQUIVEL: I've been explaining this for a long time to my readers that a caucus and a primary election are very different situations. And in a primary, you see the people expressing their vote, a secret ballot. But in these caucuses it's like going to a meeting, you know, a public meeting and people express public - their support for one of the candidates, Republican or Democrat. And there is a consensus after all if the candidate will get more support, it's the one they're going to support for this presidential election.
MARTIN: Suzanne, what about you? Do people care about the process, or is it just sort of a side note?
Ms. GOLDENBERG: Oh, we've run graphics. We've run explainers. People are really interested in the process and in the idea that - so few people carry so much weight in the democratic process, and also, the idea that candidates have to come into people's living rooms and ask for their votes. I mean, that's something that's really interesting to people.
MARTIN: And Suzanne, I wanted to ask about - and ask both of you about the issues that engage your readers. Now, immigration has been a very big issue for the American voters. I mean, one assumes will continue to be. Is this something that's of interest to your readers as well?
Mr. ESQUIVEL: Absolutely. There are - according to some statistics - 11 or 12 million illegal immigrants in U.S. and the majority of them are Mexicans. And the readers in Mexico are more fascinated of the idea to see how Republican candidate will manage the issue of illegal immigrants to the voters during the presidential election. I'm talking about when we know who is going to be the presidential candidate of the Republicans and the Democrats. And to see after all how the public will react with their vote to the illegal immigration issue, you know, especially the Republicans continue with this very hard strategy to close the border and to continue to fulfill the ideas of have a strong laws against illegals in any of the 50 states.
MARTIN: Suzanne, what about you? What issues do you think your readers are most interested in?
Ms. GOLDENBERG: For our readers, it continues to be the issue of the war in Iraq and also what the candidates' positions are on Iran. There was a lot of interest in the issue of Iran when that became a big matter on the campaign trail, you know, big question of debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and that's something that continues to engage our readers.
MARTIN: We often have a conversation, and I'm sure you have them with your colleagues about whether that - you know, coverage's focus is too much on the personalities and enough on the issues. And I don't know whether - I guess, I have the sort of fantasy, you probably have more freedom as an international correspondents to sort of decide how you frame the campaign for your readers.
But Suzanne, I wanted to ask if, do you hear from your readers about what they want to hear more about? What - do they e-mail you, do they write you, say, more of this, less of that?
Ms. GOLDENBERG: Well, they do, but, you know, the most e-mails that I've got haven't actually been about issues. They're from supporters of Ron Paul and saying how dare I cover this election without giving more attention to Ron Paul. And I've gotten a lot of those e-mails. But I really haven't gotten any feedback from people saying we want to know more about health care.
MARTIN: What does he think that there are some votes in London that he might be able to pick up? That's fascinating that they're covering at that - that they're following your coverage that closely.
Ms. GOLDENBERG: Well, we have six million readers on the Web in the U.S. so what we get e-mail from all over America, as well as in the U.K.
MARTIN: Jesus, what are you hearing from your readers?
Mr. ESQUIVEL: Well, it's been a lot of e-mails from my magazine in terms of election saying that they need to hear more about other candidates like when they're talking about experience, they say, why all the Americans are forgetting that they have two senators who have been a long time in Congress, it's Senator Joe Biden and Senator Christopher Dodd. And these two guys, they are really engaged in foreign policies, especially in Latin America.
And one of the main issues for my reader is to see who's going to be the next president if he's going to have more chance to see our hemisphere. In the last eight years, we have been forgotten by George W. Bush, and we need to see a change in terms of the relation with Latin America, not just with Mexico. I think Canada is looking for the same thing.
MARTIN: This campaign is also an interesting in that the spouses of the candidates have gotten a lot of attention. Are your readers, Jesus, interested in them? Do they know who the wives of these candidates are?
Mr. ESQUIVEL: Honestly, no. The only, you know - the only person they know of that is a big figure is Bill Clinton. It's because he has been, you know, a very intelligent guy, a big figure in the U.S. politics that he travels regularly to Mexico to, you know, spoke to these universities and to meet with businessmen. So he's very well known in Mexico.
MARTIN: Suzanne, what about you? Are the spouses interesting at all to the readers?
Ms. GOLDENBERG: Well, I would say, of course, Bill Clinton is of interest. There's interest in Michelle Obama but - and Elizabeth Edwards as well is popular. But also there's interest in the presidential progeny or would-be presidential progeny. I mean, people want to know about Chelsea Clinton and especially, in this campaign, they're curious about John McCain's daughter who has launched her own blog.
MARTIN: Oh, that's interesting. Okay. Finally, is there anything that you have been just engaged you - both of you are veterans of the U.S. political scene. I mean, talk to me about what's exciting? You, Suzanne, what's keeping you interested?
Ms. GOLDENBERG: Well, I actually, I'm a big supporter of the caucus system. And I think it's amazing when you sort of go into these small rooms to see so many people actively engaged in democracy. I mean, that's something really heartening that people take the issues so seriously. I met somebody on New Year's Eve who told me he had been to 47 political events since Christmas day. And I just can't really fathom that degree of devotion to the process.
MARTIN: Jesus, what about you? What's fascinating you?
Mr. ESQUIVEL: The idea how many people are looking to the candidates through the Internet, the technology has changed the situation, political situation in the U.S. since 1998 when I arrived. And to see the Americans are going to get electoral fatigue because it's going to be more - almost a year since we know the names of who's going to be - or who wants to be a president of the U.S. So we will see if that some kind of reaction to the final vote in November.
MARTIN: Well, hopefully, you're not fatigued yet. We're joined by Jesus Esquivel. He's a correspondent with Mexico's Proceso magazine. He was kind enough to join me here in our studio in Washington. We're also joined by Suzanne Goldenberg. She's a reporter with The Guardian newspaper based in London. And she joined us from Iowa.
Thank you so much for speaking with us and stay warm.
Mr. ESQUIVEL: Thank you.
Ms. GOLDENBERG: Thank you.
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