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MEET THE PRESS
Sunday, January 18, 2004
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Meet the Press (NBC News) - Sunday, January 18, 2004
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: This is it; tomorrow, the Iowa caucuses. John Kerry, Howard Dean, John Edwards, and Dick Gephardt locked in a fierce battle. If this man loses, his most loyal supporters say his campaign is over. Why should Dick Gephardt be the Democratic nominee for president? We'll ask him; our guest, Richard Gephardt.
Then insights and analysis from Tom Brokaw of NBC News, Dan Balz of The Washington Post, Joe Klein of Time magazine, and Roger Simon of U.S. News and World Report.
But, first, we are live from the Iowa Democratic Party's caucus tabulation center in the Polk County Convention Complex, and joined by the man with the most at stake in these caucuses, Congressman Dick Gephardt. Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
REP. DICK GEPHARDT, (D-MO): Good to be here.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you and the people of Iowa and all of America the latest polls out here in Iowa. Here's the MSNBC-Zogby-Reuters poll: John Kerry, 24; Howard Dean, 23; Dick Gephardt, 19; John Edwards, 18; undecided, 10. The local newspaper out here, The Des Moines Sunday Register, had these numbers: Kerry, 26; Edwards, 23; Dean, 20; Gephardt, 18; undecided, 5. In November, Congressman, it was this: John Kerry was at 15; Edwards at 5; Dean at 20; you were at 27; undecided was considerably higher.
Why have you gone down in the polls, and what do you make of those?
REP. GEPHARDT: Well, first of all, it's hard to poll this caucus. It's hard to know who is going to come. And you really need to know that. But these numbers always bounce around. And there's a lot of people who haven't made up their mind completely. And this thing is very fluid. I think the name of the game in Iowa is "Who can get your committed voters out?" And I really believe we have--my candidacy has the best ability to do that, to get our committed voters out, and to bring new voters to the table who've never been to a caucus.
MR. RUSSERT: How many voters do you think it's going to take to win tomorrow night?
REP. GEPHARDT: I think about 35,000. The number in the year 2000 was a total of 60,000 people. In 1988, the last time we had a big caucus out here, it was about 100,000, maybe 90,000. So I think 30, 35, 40,000 is a winner.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you what you said last week, according to the USA Today, "I've got to win in Iowa to win the nomination." Is that still your view?
REP. GEPHARDT: I'm going to win in Iowa. I really feel confident about it. My message out here is striking a chord. People know that I've had the same life experience as most people in this country. I've been saying to people, my family struggled. There were times when my dad was without work and we didn't have health insurance. We certainly didn't have enough money to send me and my brother to college. So we know what it is to struggle, and people care about that, and they also care about the issues that affect the middle class.
There's a real problem out here, Tim. We're losing the family farm, manufacturing jobs, especially, have left Iowa, 30,000 of them in the last 10 years. And, on top of that, the small towns that depended on those either manufacturing jobs or those agricultural jobs are wasting away. People are leaving. And people want hope. I have people come up to me every time I talk and they say, "You give me hope. I think you can do these things. I think you can get everybody covered with health care. I think you can bring a new trade and agricultural policy." And that's why I think I'm going to win.
MR. RUSSERT: I'm going to talk more about those issues, but this is how The Economist magazine presented it. "If Mr. Gephardt fails in Iowa, his candidacy is dead." Do you agree with that?
REP. GEPHARDT: Well, there's a million scenarios that you can come up with. Look, we all face the same test. We got to do well. This is like the baseball, football playoffs. You can't win by not winning. You've got to start winning, and doing well, and then keep going. You've got to go through all the rest of the primaries and become the candidate. You've got to do--look, we've got nine candidates. This is a winnowing process. You're going to get down to one. All of us can't win. So somebody's got to start doing well, and keep doing well until you win.
MR. RUSSERT: Your aides told The New York Times after Iowa you are broke, out of money.
REP. GEPHARDT: We've been raising much more money than the last time I did this, for sure. We have money in the bank. We're the only campaign out there that I think is running ads today in Michigan. We have ads going in Oklahoma. We're going to have ads in South Carolina. I'm running a national campaign. This last two weeks, I've been out on half-day trips to South Carolina and to Oklahoma, Michigan, been out to Seattle, Washington. We've had great rallies, tremendous enthusiasm. I really believe that I am going to win this nomination and I am going to--I think I have the best chance to beat George Bush.
MR. RUSSERT: So even if you don't win but you come in a close second, third or fourth, you're bunched together, your campaign continues?
REP. GEPHARDT: We are going to win. We are going to come out of here with a victory, and we're going to take it to New Hampshire. We're going to surprise everybody there, and then we're going on to these other early states. This state is ready for a president and a presidential candidate who will take on George Bush on these middle-class issues and fight for their interests. They think Washington has forgotten about them. They think George Bush has forgotten about them, and he has, and they're looking for somebody that will champion their cause, that will really do something to bring back good jobs, to save the family farm, to bring back manufacturing jobs to a state like Iowa.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me talk about some of those issues. One is experience. This is what you said about Howard Dean after Howard Dean had said that we are not safer because of the capture of Saddam Hussein: "Dean's statement belies a lack of foreign policy experience and knowledge. ...I've always felt that even if people...disagree with a lot of things Bush has done, they're not going to turn his job over to somebody that doesn't have obvious experience."
You don't think that Howard Dean has the experience or knowledge to be president, do you?
REP. GEPHARDT: I think I have more experience than he does to be president, and I do believe that in a world of terrorism, all the threats we face, that the people are going to be looking for someone as an alternative to Bush who they can rely on, who has steady hands, who has real experience in all of these foreign policy and defense issues. And that's why I say I think I'm better qualified than Howard or, frankly, the other candidates to do this job and to convince voters that I can do this job.
MR. RUSSERT: You also said that to you, there is no room for the cynical politics of manufactured anger and false conviction. Manufactured anger, false conviction--that's basically saying that, in your mind, Howard Dean's a phony.
REP. GEPHARDT: Well, I think he's been all over the lot on some of these issues, and I think neither is that a way to have a candidacy that can defeat George Bush. People want you to really fight for them on these issues. Howard's had very different positions on trade seven, eight years ago than he does today, and that's fine. We all evolve on issues. But what he's not ever done in the campaign is kind of admit that he had that position and then explain why he's in a different position, and I just don't think that will wash.
The same with Medicare; the same with, frankly, the war. He was for a resolution at the time we voted that was just like the resolution we voted on in the House. Yet he's made the war kind of the major issue in his campaign.
MR. RUSSERT: You have...
REP. GEPHARDT: Look, I like Howard Dean. He was for me out here in 1988. I just don't much like the campaign that he's been running or that his people have been running, and I think to beat George Bush--and that's the goal here--we've got to have a candidate who can take it to him, provide a real contrast with George Bush on all of these issues, and be very credible to the American people, that you're going to fight for these things because you believe in them and you've worked on them through a long period of time.
MR. RUSSERT: You voted for the Reagan tax cut. You changed your position on abortion. You believe you evolved on those issues, but it's different because you've acknowledged such change?
REP. GEPHARDT: Yeah. I've asked him a number of times, you know, "You were for the $270 billion cut that the Republicans tried to force down our throat in the Congress in the mid-90s. You said that Medicare was the worst federal program ever." I just disagree with him. And it's fine if he's changed his position. I would understand that. But why did you believe that then and why did your position change? That's what's never been out there.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me talk about the president, George W. Bush. This is what Dick Gephardt has said. "I've served with five presidents, and he is by far the worst. He is not informed...he's not experienced...he worries me."
George Bush has been president for three years. How can you say he's not informed and not experienced?
REP. GEPHARDT: Because that's what I believe. I think Paul O'Neill probably said this in probably almost the same way. I've been in lots of meetings with him, and I've said many times he's a nice man. And I think he means well. I just think he has no experience and no knowledge and no information flow, and he's listening to the wrong people. He doesn't seem to have interest in discussing an issue.
For instance, we'd be in meetings and we'd talk about Iraq or the lead-up to Iraq, and I'd talk about the fact that he needed to go to the U.N., talked about the inspection process, how I felt that very strongly he had to go back through that so we could bring the Germans and the French with us. There was just no discussion. There didn't seem to be an interest. Now, maybe he thought I was the adversary and he didn't want to discuss it, but I told him on the day after 9/11 that we had to trust one another, that we had to work to put politics aside and try to keep the people of this country safe, and that is what I think we should do. But there was never any give and take. There was never any real discussion of what we ought to do and why we ought to do it. He didn't seem interested. He didn't seem knowledgeable.
MR. RUSSERT: But after 9/11 you said he was doing a good job.
REP. GEPHARDT: Look, we were all challenged to keep this country safe, and I think he's tried hard, but I don't think he's done a good job now because he has not gotten the help that we need in Iraq, and further than that, he is not leading us or the world to deal with the underlying causes of terrorism. This is a long-term, tough, layered problem, and we need a president who can organize the American people and the entire world to do the range of things that we've got to do to solve this problem and prevent young people from deciding to become terrorists.
MR. RUSSERT: You gave a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday, and this is in part what you said. "I'm not sorry Saddam Hussein is gone. But the burden of proof for a failed foreign policy--the presumption of guilt for a deadly quagmire in the sands of Iraq, with no exit strategy and scant international support, does not rest with those who supported it, on good faith and with America's security at heart."
Why not? In October, 2002, you voted to authorize George Bush to take the country to war. You're now calling it a quagmire? Aren't you responsible for that as well as he is?
REP. GEPHARDT: Tim, I talked to him about eight months before we actually voted on a war resolution, and I said to him repeatedly that he had to go to the U.N., that he had to get NATO, we had to get help. He didn't do it. He finally did it. He came back to us in a meeting, and he said "I'm going to do what you've all been saying I should do. But I need your help. If I'm going to get the U.N., I've got to show that I've got the Congress behind me." And I said to him, "I'm willing to help you with that, but I want language in the resolution that says you're going to have a plan for how to deal with Iraq, for how to get the U.N. with us, and how to deal with the aftermath." And he said he would do that. We put the language in the resolution. He hasn't done it. I wish he had done it.
Now, I didn't listen to him about the weapons of mass destruction. I went to the CIA, talked to George Tenet, I talked with his top people. I talked to former Clinton officials. I became convinced that Saddam Hussein either had weapons or components of weapons that could wind up in the United States. We cannot have a weapon of mass destruction used in the United States, and I'll do anything in my power to prevent that from happening.
MR. RUSSERT: But where are those...
REP. GEPHARDT: And that's why I tried to help him make sure that that did not happen.
MR. RUSSERT: But where are those weapons? Were you misled?
REP. GEPHARDT: I don't know, Tim, but I'll tell you this. I think we need a blue-ribbon outside commission to make that determination. This is a very serious issue because the president said that the intelligence was those weapons were there. We believed those weapons were there, or components. If the intelligence was flawed, it needs to be fixed. When you're in a world of terrorism, if you're going to lead the world, you've got to be credible to the world. And if the intelligence was flawed--we don't know that yet, but if it was, we need a blue-ribbon commission, outside objective commission to tell us how to fix this problem for the future.
MR. RUSSERT: You're in the Oval Office this morning. Iraq is on your desk. What do you do? NATO says they're stuck in Afghanistan; they can't come in. The United Nations says, "No, no, no. We're not going in." What do you do, send more troops? Withdraw troops? What do you do?
REP. GEPHARDT: I now believe that we'll not get the help from NATO and the U.N. unless we elect a new president. I think as president I would go to NATO, I would go to the U.N. and I would sit down with the leaders in these other countries and I would say, "Whatever happened in the past, we're turning over a new leaf. We need your help. This is an international problem. This is not just an American problem, and we need all hands on deck. And I need your help. America needs your help. We will cooperate with you. We will listen to you. We will not deliver ultimatums to you. But we need your help. We need to work together as partners to solve this international problem which threatens every country in the world."
MR. RUSSERT: And you think they'd give it?
REP. GEPHARDT: I absolutely believe they'll do it.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me talk...
REP. GEPHARDT: I think the president treated them with arrogance. I'll be real straight. I think he treated them with ultimatums, my way or the highway. That's not the way you get people to do things. You know, I tell audiences out here in Iowa, "I've been married to Jane Gephardt for 37 years. We don't get along every day, but we talk it through with love and respect and we get to a conclusion that we can both go with." That's what needed to be done here.
MR. RUSSERT: And then you agree with her decision?
REP. GEPHARDT: Then I say yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to something...
REP. GEPHARDT: That's for sure.
MR. RUSSERT: ...you said in December...
REP. GEPHARDT: All right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...that caught my attention, about trade and terrorism. "Trade is part of the answer to terrorism. ...There are 3.5 billion people in the world today who live on less than a dollar a day. Then we wonder why people are deciding to become terrorists. We got all the money, they're going to come get us."
Osama bin Laden was the son of a wealthy construction owner. The hijackers, middle-class Saudis. Aren't you rationalizing behavior? Aren't you, in that comment, a bit naive that the people who are terrorizing the United States are doing it because of poverty? Where can you cite that terrorists who struck at the United States were poor people?
REP. GEPHARDT: Poverty is not the sole cause of terrorism. I never have believed that. But it is fertile ground on which advocates of terrorism can get converts to their cause. Let me give you an example. We have madrass schools in Pakistan that are paid for, in part, by the Saudis and Saudi family money. Those schools take in kids as boarders. The reason parents send their kids to those boarding schools is they can't feed them. They are poor. They are not surviving. And so the children wind up in basically schools of terrorism, schools of radical Islamic thought that advocates jihad and advocates terrorism, so...
MR. RUSSERT: Is that because of trade with Pakistan? How does that work?
REP. GEPHARDT: No, look, here's what I'm saying. Look, trade is not the only answer to the problem of poverty but it's one of the building blocks to get the world out of--there are 3.5 billion people in the world who live on less than a dollar a day. That's a problem, and we need to use trade as a way to begin to get these standards up.
Look, in a country like Mexico or China, the workers have no power in the political system. And if you don't use access to our market as a lever to put pressure on, to get change in their society, you're never going to change conditions. Manufacturing wages in Mexico today are 35 percent less than before NAFTA because the people have no power.
MR. RUSSERT: But Osama and the hijackers of September 11 were well off financially. They just don't like us. They disagree with our culture, with our values and they want to kill us.
REP. GEPHARDT: Oh, I understand that and I always believe we must deal with the people that are out there, committed terrorists, that are trying to do harm to the United States. That's self-defense. You have to do that. But at the same time, the president needs to lead a world effort to get at the root causes of terrorism. Part of it's poverty. Part of it's a lack of good governance. Part of it is, frankly, the Saudis and the use of some of their money to terrorist organizations and to organizations that are training people to be terrorists. This president never talks to us about this. He took out the part of the 9/11 report that referred to the role the Saudis have had in this. He's not going to do this. Now, there's no easy answer to it, but we sure need to start by discussing it with the American people and then the world and coming up with strategies to try to help move it into a safer direction.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to a domestic issue. The primary piece of your economic health-care plan is to repeal the entire Bush tax cut and then use that money to provide health care for all Americans. John Kerry, one of your Democratic opponents, has put out this flier, two pages. One side, "These two candidates want hard-working, middle-class Iowa families to pay higher taxes. Dick Gephardt's plan to raise taxes on the middle class by thousands of dollars." And what John Kerry says is that if you repeal all portions of the Bush tax cut, you'll reinstate the marriage tax penalty, retain the child tax credit. You'll raise middle-class taxes by 50 percent. George Bush will seize on this and say, "Yes, Gephardt, you're going to raise taxes." My question is 85 percent of the people already have health care in this country. Why would you raise taxes on them from $1,500 to $2,000 a year where they won't get any better health care and they'll pay more in taxes?
REP. GEPHARDT: Tim, health care is the issue here in Iowa and it's all across the country. What you need to understand is that people who already have health-care insurance are worried they're going to lose it or they're not going to be able to pay for it or they don't have the family plan or they can't get a pay increase because it's sucking up all of the money for their compensation. So my plan--and this is the important answer to John's flier, which is wrong, is that my plan puts more money into the average family than the Bush tax cuts, including the middle-class tax cuts that Bush had in his tax cut. I put $3,000 a year into the average family a year. The Bush tax cut, including all of his middle-class stuff, puts in $500 to $800. So this is fuzzy math. You know, I bring up and I meet with Iowans and I say, "I can hear what President Bush is going to say about the Gephardt plan." He's going to say, "I'm raising your taxes. That's what Democrats do." And I'm going to say, "Mr. President, that's fuzzy math."
MR. RUSSERT: But.
REP. GEPHARDT: "Your math is wrong. I help average families."
MR. RUSSERT: But, Congressman, if you repeal all the tax cuts and then spend all the money, we have a $7 trillion deficit. The deficit clock was right down here in Des Moines on Locust Avenue, the--Locust Street the other day, $7 trillion.
This is what The Washington Post said about your plan: "...there's the question of fiscal responsibility. The deficit this year will top $500 billion. The pressures in coming years grow only more intense, as baby boomers begin to collect Social Security and Medicare. In the face of this, Mr. Gephardt's answers to undo Mr. Bush's tax cuts--but then to spend all the savings on an array of new programs with a tab of some $3 trillion plus. ..."
"Mr. Gephardt, who understands the problems of Medicare and Social Security as well as anyone in the race, fails to level with voters about the need for major changes in both programs as the baby boomers begin to retire."
REP. GEPHARDT: I don't have to come anywhere and say I think I know how to do this, I hope I know how to do it. I did it. I led the fight for the Clinton economic program in 1993, and it was not just raising taxes and cutting spending to get the economy straightened out. We did a whole lot of things. What you need to understand is that to get this economy straightened out and to get the deficit straightened out, you got to create jobs, you got to get this economy moving again. My health-care plan will do much more to get the economy to move than the Bush tax cuts. It'll create 750,000 new jobs in this country. It'll get economic activity going. That's how we did it in the Clinton years. We had more money coming into the government, less money going out. We got the deficit straightened out.
MR. RUSSERT: Can you afford your health-care plan and also support sending a man to the moon or potentially Mars?
REP. GEPHARDT: I think we've got a space program. We better figure out the way it is. We haven't figured out how to pay for the space station and how all that's going to work. I think we also need to pay attention to what's going on here in states like Iowa. We got people losing their health care, people losing their jobs. And we've got a huge deficit, as you say. I'm really questioning whether or not we need to be talking about a Mars flight when we need to be figuring out how to get everybody covered with health insurance.
MR. RUSSERT: So if President Bush put that in place and you were re-elected, you'd scrap it?
REP. GEPHARDT: I'd rethink the space program because--I'm a big advocate of the space program. I've always voted for it. But we are in a situation where we need to pay attention to the middle class of this country and people trying to get in the middle class. They've got problems out there and we need to pay attention to those problems.
MR. RUSSERT: You said something in June which I wanted to ask you about, and here it is, about the Supreme Court. "When I am president, we'll do executive orders to overcome any wrong thing the Supreme Court does tomorrow or any other day."
You don't really believe that--Do you?--that you can undo a Supreme Court decision with a presidential fiat, an executive order?
REP. GEPHARDT: You can't--usually, you can't, but sometimes you can affect it in some way. You can bring about a better result, but usually you've got to depend on the Supreme Court. But I'll tell you what I would do. I'd put more reasonable, mainstream, sensible people on the Supreme Court than I think George Bush would.
MR. RUSSERT: But you wouldn't use executive orders on a regular basis to overrule the Supreme Court?
REP. GEPHARDT: If you could make an executive order that would get around some of the bad effects of a Supreme Court decision, then obviously you would do that. And sometimes you can have an effect on it. But sometimes you can't. Sometimes you just have to--the Supreme Court rules and you've got to live with it.
MR. RUSSERT: For a quarter century, you were the Democratic member of the House of Representatives, for a long time the leader, and now more of the Democratic members of the House have endorsed Howard Dean than you, the people that know you best. How do you explain that?
REP. GEPHARDT: Well, we're about even. It isn't a lot difference. We're both somewhere in the mid-30s. I'm proud of the support I have. I never expected to get all the support. You never would do that. But Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader, who I enormously admire, is for me, and working for me very hard--Steny Hoyer, the whip. We've got lots of really strong support all over the country. Ted Strickland's out here campaigning for me. Rob Andrews is out here. Patrick Kennedy is a great friend. He's out here campaigning for me.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you surprised by the level of support that Dean has gotten amongst your colleagues?
REP. GEPHARDT: No. Look, Howard Dean has done a good job in this campaign, and he's made, you know, a lot of issues out there that people are interested in. I'm not at all surprised. He's gotten people interested in politics. That's a good thing. But I've got great support, too. And I'll continue to get support. And when I get this nomination I'll have all their support.
MR. RUSSERT: A fellow man from Missouri, a supporter of yours, is coming into town tonight by the name of Chuck Berry. Will you do the duck walk with Chuck Berry tonight?
REP. GEPHARDT: I will do it right here if you want.
MR. RUSSERT: Right off the set?
REP. GEPHARDT: Right. Give me a guitar and I'll do it.
MR. RUSSERT: We'll be watching. Be safe on the campaign trail. And we'll be watching you tomorrow night.
REP. GEPHARDT: Thanks so much.
MR. RUSSERT: And after this, we'll be joined by our political roundtable: Tom Brokaw of NBC News, Dan Balz of The Washington Post, Joe Klein of Time magazine, Roger Simon of U.S. News & World Report. We are live from the Iowa Democratic Party's caucus tabulation center in Des Moines. The caucuses are tomorrow night. We'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: The Iowa caucuses are tomorrow. Our political Roundtable is next. We're in Iowa. We'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Welcome all. Let me go back over those polls again for you, and our viewers, everybody here at the table. An MSNBC-Reuters-Zogby poll, Kerry 24, Dean 23, Gephardt 19, Edwards 18, undecided 10. The Des Moines Register poll, John Kerry 26, John Edwards 23, Howard Dean 20, Dick Gephardt 18, undecided 5.
Tom Brokaw, you've been in Iowa the last couple of days. What are you seeing, feeling, hearing?
MR. TOM BROKAW: Those polls on the campaign trail are the political equivalent of all those sportswriter shows before the Super Bowl. You've got to put a team on the field, got to have a game plan. And my own anecdotal impression is that despite the fact that they've been falling back in the polls, that Dean and Gephardt still have very strong organizations out there who are going to get people to the caucuses. Whether that translates to a first or second finish for them is quite another matter, but they've been at this for a long time now, Gephardt especially with his labor strength and Dean with people pouring into the state. I was out with some of them last night, two from San Antonio, Texas, two from Kansas City. They have a real passion about it, and they're knocking on doors again and again and again. I think that's what we have to keep our eye on in the next 24 hours, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Roger Simon, you have is written extensively about this, that there's a popularity contest, the public opinion polls, if you will, and then there's the real battle, the hard count.
MR. ROGER SIMON: They're two different universes. There's the universe of momentum and campaigning and buzz and shows like this one that affect public opinion. Then there's the universe of the hard count where Dean and Gephardt, especially, but to a lesser extent Kerry and Edwards, have identified every single voter who they expect to come out and vote for them, and in a normal state this would be impossible. You can't go to Michigan and identify every single voter, or Illinois or Pennsylvania. In Iowa, you can, and their 1,993 precinct captains have developed personal relationships with every single voter. So if they have a hard count of 35,000 or 40,000 or 45,000, they know where those people live, their names, their phone numbers, how they're getting to the polls, whether someone has to sit home with Granny or take their son to swim practice that night so their voting parents can get to the caucuses. And those people are on their lists and they feel confident that as long as the vote count doesn't go above 135,000--I'm talking about the Dean campaign--that they have a hard count to sustain a victory.
MR. RUSSERT: Dan Balz, what are you seeing, feeling, hearing?
MR. DAN BALZ: We really do have an interesting test here, Tim. Tom and Roger have laid it out quite well. We've got two candidates who are momentum candidates at this point. Momentum normally doesn't count that much in Iowa. Organization does. We have Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt essentially struggling to hold what they had. In Dean's case, he's lost some strength. Dick Gephardt has basically had a solid base here. It hasn't wavered much. He's down a little bit in the polls but I wouldn't read much into that. Kerry and John Edwards in particular have risen very rapidly. I think we're heading toward very much of a collision course right here on Tuesday--on Monday night.
MR. RUSSERT: Joe Klein, why have John Kerry and John Edwards become the momentum candidates?
MR. JOE KLEIN: Well, I think it's been a process of elimination. You know, in Kerry's case, he's become almost a default candidate. You know, people have looked at Howard Dean over the last two or three weeks and said he's too angry, Gephardt, too old-hat. We've known him for a long time. We want something new. John Edwards, too young. That explains Kerry's movement, I think, and also a very strong campaign and some excellent, excellent positive ads. As for Edwards, I think everybody likes John Edwards. They say what a nice young man. And when the Des Moines Register endorsed him last week, it gave him the kind of ballast and credibility that a lot of people who wanted to vote for him needed. But I got to say this, Tim. That the most striking thing to me about this state and also New Hampshire right now is how many undecided people there are. You know, you could talk about number ones from today until tomorrow, but the fact is most of the voters I bump in to are undecided, and you know, they have two or three candidates they like.
MR. BROKAW: Or they're shifting.
MR. KLEIN: Yeah, or they're shifting.
MR. BROKAW: You know, they're moving from one candidate to another in the last five days. You can go to these rallies and see somebody there who arrived as a Dean supporter and said "I kind of like Edwards," and leave there as an Edwards supporter.
MR. RUSSERT: Just to confirm your reporting, gentlemen, the headline of the paper, "Kerry, Edwards Surge. Iowa polls show voters still open to change." Forty-seven percent of the people who say they're going to the caucus said they still could change their vote by Monday night, and that's where these hats come in, Tom Brokaw. This is the Iowa Perfect Storm, worn by the Dean supporters. This is the John Kerry Real Deal hat. This is the John Edwards Nothing Runs Like a Deere, John Deere hat, Dick Gephardt was here making his case. These organizations are going through the Internet, telephone banks, car pools. Have you ever seen anything like it?
MR. BROKAW: I never have. You know, the Iowa caucuses used to have this kind of rustic town hall flavor about them. All of us have been here at that time. That's all changed. They still talk about it in Iowa about this is the real meaning of democracy but it's become another kind of machine in American politics with an enormous amount of money and where the emphasis is on organization to a degree that I have never seen it before. Iowa has produced a lot of surprises in the past and it still could this time, but they're leaving a lot less to chance in all of these campaigns. The Dean cap is in blaze orange. In the hunting country, you know, that's what you wear so you don't get shot by somebody else. And I think that that's what the Dean people hope to accomplish here as they move out across the state.
MR. RUSSERT: If you're a Dean staffer, you wear a red hat...
MR. BROKAW: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...and I asked whether Howard wore a white one because of my...
MR. BROKAW: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...own Catholic Church.
MR. BROKAW: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: It didn't go over quite the way--I did take--observe the volunteer training course for the Dean supporters, Dan Balz, and they give you a sheet. You say, you know, "My name is Tim. I'm from Buffalo and I'm here..."
MR. BALZ: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: "...in Iowa because," dah, dah, dah, dah, dah.
MR. BALZ: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: And then they give you all these other tips: Bring water. You know, knock on the door.
MR. BROKAW: Rattle the gates so the dogs don't get you.
MR. RUSSERT: Right. Wait 15 or 20 seconds before you ring the doorbell. It is organized--16 rules. The last one is smile and have fun. But this is a dedicated organization of volunteers for all the candidates.
MR. BALZ: Well, the fellow who's running the field organization here for Howard Dean is a former Pentagon official and a veteran of Desert Storm. And he has organized this thing with military precision. I mean, he has given instructions. They started renting vans and buses months ago for the volunteers. They've set up what they call fire bases on the perimeter of the states so that when the volunteers come in, they've got a place to go and locate and get orientated. They rented Girl Scout camps and YMCA camps so people could sleep. I ran into three people from California Friday morning down in Ottumwa. One of the women said, "I wrote 70 to 80 letters to people in Iowa. My husband wrote 140 letters to people in Iowa. We struck up a relationship with a woman in Fairfield. We're now staying there for the weekend. We've been out here for a week. We're knocking on doors." She said, "People do not understand the silent support that Howard Dean has in the state." That's the big question mark. Is this army for real?
MR. RUSSERT: These first-time attendees, are they under the radar? Is he undersampled in these opinion polls? What's your gut?
MR. BALZ: Well, my gut is that he is, but, you know, the Dean campaign is a little bit like the Internet stocks of the late '90s. Some of them turned out to be real. Amazon.com turned out to be real stock. A lot of them did not, and I think that the question we're going to learn in the next few weeks is: What is Howard Dean's campaign really about?
MR. BROKAW: I think where Dean may get more people under the radar than we've been able to calculate are the young people. He really has something going on among the 18- to 21-year-old voters. And they could show up in a way that they have not in Iowa in the past. I don't remember it being this uncertain in the last 24 hours.
MR. SIMON: I was over at Dean headquarters yesterday, and it was interesting to see kids come in with their backpacks but also carrying their laptops.
MR. BALZ: Right.
MR. SIMON: So they're poor but they're connected. They came in by bus.
MR. RUSSERT: They did come in bus. They formed Camp Texas...
MR. SIMON: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...out 30 miles from here. John Kerry had 30 veterans who took a bus 32 hours from Boston to come here. And, yet, Joe Klein, we've seen a lot of discussion about issues in Iowa, particularly the last couple days. John Edwards has said, "You know what? I don't attack people. My message is optimism. We've got to pull the country together." "And we ought to look at these people," John Kerry will say, "and find out: Do you want a president?" You heard Dick Gephardt say, "We need a president with character and experience." This is what you wrote in Time magazine coming out tomorrow.
"[A former Dean supporter's] change of heart seemed indicative of a tectonic shift in the Democratic electorate, a phenomenon deeper than the sudden waning of Dean's poll numbers--a movement toward sobriety and away from bombast, a search for a candidate with ballast. ... Does [a candidate] have the maturity, temperament, knowledge and skill to stand next to George W. Bush in a debate and talk credibly about keeping America safe? The question is rarely asked" about "because the answer can't be put in words. It has to do with how a candidate presents himself, how solid he seems. In 2004, foreign policy expertise is a character issue."
MR. KLEIN: That's right, Tim. The striking thing to me about most of the town hall meetings I've been to over the last two to three weeks is that the questions are the usual stuff--health care, education, jobs, the economy--but there is this other question lurking beneath. I think that it's almost a subliminal question. People look at these candidates and they say, "Can he stand on a podium next to George Bush next fall and make the case that Bush's foreign policy has been wrong for the country?" Every Democrat, whether they supported the war or opposed the war, believes that Bush has taken this the wrong way by not internationalizing it, many of the things you've heard Dick Gephardt say in the first half of this program. They're looking for someone who can credibly make the case against George W. Bush.
MR. RUSSERT: Iowa is seen as a peace state, Tom. Two-thirds of the Democrats here said they preferred a candidate who was against the war. Three of the four major candidates here voted for the war and yet they're very competitive.
MR. BROKAW: They are. Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" says these candidates who voted for the war say, "I voted for the participle but not the conjunction." I mean, they've got all these legalistic explanations going on.
MR. KLEIN: Right.
MR. SIMON: Yeah.
MR. BROKAW: But it seems to have worked for most of them. I think that this whole business of ABB, Anybody But Bush, for the Democratic activists, is a very strong surge that is going on, and it has direct application to what's going on in Iraq. And, yet, Iowa is a place that's lost a lot of folks in that war. You go to these towns, reserve units and National Guard units and so on, are over there, so they have mixed feelings. They don't want to give up on their young men and women who are over there, but, at the same time, there's this gnawing feeling this is not going the way it should. And it is the great undercurrent out here.
MR. SIMON: I think...
MR. KLEIN: Tim, there was a poll last--about a month ago by the Democracy Project, which is Stan Greenberg and other Democratic pollsters, and they asked "Would you rather have a candidate who was against the war or who was for the war but can make the case against the way it's been, you know, carried out by Bush?" One-third of the Democrats said that they would rather have a candidate who was against the war. Two-thirds, pretty much, said they'd rather have a candidate who was for the war but who can make the case.
MR. RUSSERT: Who would be inoculated and not be seen as weak on defense.
MR. KLEIN: Right.
MR. BROKAW: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Roger, you wanted to jump in.
MR. SIMON: I think one reason, however, that the rest of the pack has caught up with Howard Dean is it's a tried and true method of co-opting his message. Howard Dean was anti-war in an anti-war state, essentially. Now, they're all anti-war. They voted for the war early, they voted against it late, they came to it late, whatever. The entire field is anti-war. And, secondly, he was the guy angriest with George Bush. Now, they're all angry with George Bush. You didn't have Dick Gephardt saying George Bush is a miserable failure before Dean began rising in the polls by using very harsh language against George Bush. And I think really they have effectively caught up with him by using his own tactics.
MR. RUSSERT: The last few days, all the negative advertising has been pulled off the air. Candidates are all making nice to each other. Dan Balz, you did a long piece on the undecided voters. What are you hearing from people who are undecided? What are they looking for in these final days?
MR. BALZ: I think, as Joe suggested, they are looking for somebody that they think can beat George Bush. Originally, Howard Dean turned people on here because of, what Roger was talking about, the anger that he conveyed and a feeling among a lot of Democrats that the party had not stood up to the president. Now, that the other candidates are, in fact, standing up to the president, they're looking at all of these four in a different way, and they're saying, "What is it about them that gets them over the top?"
One of the interesting things I found from talking to the voters is part of Dean's appeal at this point is the machinery he has put together more than the message. They see his money. They see the growing endorsements he is getting in other states as somebody who may be able to go the distance, that he has reinvented. It is in some ways the message--the machine is the message more so than what he is actually saying about taking back power.
MR. RUSSERT: His campaign staff will say since we opted out of the public campaign finance system, we're the only ones with the Internet who can raise the money to take George Bush on from March on through the conventions. All of the other Democrats will be sitting ducks because they won't have any money to defend themselves.
MR. BALZ: Well, that is the argument they make and for some voters here, that's important and persuasive but there are a lot of other voters who look at it differently and do not think even with that money he's the strongest candidate against Bush.
MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned anger. I had three Iowa women use the same exact phrase in the last 48 hours about Howard Dean. "We liked him but he doesn't wear well."
MR. KLEIN: That's right. The words I hear are "arrogant" and "glib." I think that Howard Dean's campaign started drifting down a little bit when he began to emphasize the kind of process issues that Dan was just talking about, when he said, "Elect me because I got all this money, I have all these kids working for me and so on," rather than talking about the issues. He hasn't had a second act when it came to the issues. He had the first act which was he was against the war which drew a lot of people to him, not much since.
MR. RUSSERT: And yet he's still in very good position when you...
MR. KLEIN: He absolutely is.
MR. RUSSERT: David Yepsen of The Des Moines Register said that he noticed a difference after Saddam Hussein was captured, that people looked at the war differently, looked at Howard Dean a little bit differently.
MR. BROKAW: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: We don't know, but we're going to go back and talk about the fallout from Iowa, what it might mean for New Hampshire and the rest of the nomination and the race against George W. Bush. A quick break. We'll be right back with more of our discussion. We're coming live from Des Moines, Iowa.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Let's take a look at the latest polls out of New Hampshire, which will be a week from Tuesday. Howard Dean, 28; Wesley Clark, 20; John Kerry, 19; John Edwards, 8; Joe Lieberman, 6; Dick Gephardt, 3; undecided, still 15 percent.
And, Tom Brokaw, the Clark campaign tells me that they expect to receive the endorsement today of a native of South Dakota, a state you know well, George McGovern, the Democratic nominee in 1972 endorsing Wesley Clark.
MR. BROKAW: A lot of the people who are working for Clark come out of the George McGovern movement, frankly, Eli Segal and others who were close--Mickey Kantor, people who were close to Bill Clinton but really made their political bones during the McGovern era, anti-Vietnam and so on. So I'm sure that there's a personal connection to this as well. We were just saying in the break, obviously, that this is not bad for Clark. It would be a disaster for Dean, who is described as the other McGovern. So how much George McGovern can deliver in New Hampshire remains to be seen.
I think what's interesting about New Hampshire is it's not going to be a week, because the White House, we presume, with the suggestion of Karl Rove, is going to have the State of the Union address on Tuesday night. So we leave Iowa to run back to Washington and spend a lot of the next news cycle talking about what the president's going to say in the State of the Union address, which we're now told includes a big health-care initiative. That will get play all day Wednesday and Wednesday evening. So New Hampshire starts again not on Tuesday but on Thursday and Friday and Saturday and Sunday through the weekend. And who knows what else the White House has planned for later in the week going into the New Hampshire campaign.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you suggesting it was a political calculation by the White House to step on the Democrats?
MR. BROKAW: I can't imagine.
MR. RUSSERT: Dan Balz, the Concord Monitor endorsed John Kerry in New Hampshire. Howard Dean has flown down to Georgia to meet with Jimmy Carter not to be endorsed but to worship with him. What's your sense of New Hampshire coming out of Iowa?
MR. BALZ: New Hampshire is always volatile. I think coming out of Iowa, it's going to be even more volatile than people had expected. Howard Dean had been awarded New Hampshire six weeks ago or even a month ago. Iowa is changing perceptions. New Hampshire is looking. New Hampshire is looking at the candidates there. Things are moving. Wes Clark has had a very good few weeks up there. He has benefited from essentially having the state to himself. He and Senator Lieberman have been there non-stop through this whole period. He has risen. But the interesting thing is that John Kerry is now on the rebound in New Hampshire. John Kerry put everything into Iowa because he was in such bad shape in New Hampshire. But his move in Iowa is, in fact, moving him in New Hampshire, and the Concord Monitor endorsement is another example of that.
MR. RUSSERT: Joe Klein, if we have a four-car pile-up in Iowa, all four candidates bunch together, go to New Hampshire where they're joined by Wesley Clark...
MR. KLEIN: A five-car pile-up.
MR. RUSSERT: ...what happens to the whole strategy devised by the chairman of the Democratic Party, Terry McAuliffe, who said, "I want to front-load this system so we have a nominee very early on who can then take on George Bush mono a mono."
MR. KLEIN: I love this. I just adore this. I love all the bits of conventional wisdom that have been tossed out the window over the last couple of weeks by the electorate, which, by the way, not only here but also in New Hampshire, very, very serious. They know that this is an election unlike any we've had in a while because issues of war and peace are at stake. And so I love it when the political pros who try and get a nominee as soon as possible are totally confounded by the Democratic electorate. And we may well see that, although on the other hand we may see a blowout here tomorrow night. I'm really happy not to know.
MR. RUSSERT: But now you've admitted to the real bias in the media. You want to keep the campaign going.
MR. KLEIN: Right. Listen, I think that we shouldn't rush into this in any case as a matter of good democracy. I mean, there are important issues at stake, and we should let as many people in this country have a chance of, you know, casting their vote and deciding who they want to have the Democratic nominee be.
MR. RUSSERT: Tom and Roger, let's think about the fall race, no matter who the Democrat it. As Joe said, big issues, war, peace, Tom, the economy, anxiety about Iraq. What do you see unfolding?
MR. BROKAW: I've thought in the last couple of election cycles that there was this yearning for authenticity in these campaigns to a greater degree than what both parties were delivering, I think, to the voters, and I think that's part of the reason that we've had a big dropout, and I think that we're now back to the most authentic campaign that I can remember in a long time, probably since 1980, when Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter had such divergent views on what the world should be and how it should be conducted. I think we're back at that in this campaign. These are very large issues internationally and also domestically. Health care is going to be a big issue come the fall. The state of the economy--you know, in Iowa just this week in The Des Moines Register there have been two announcements, John Deere and another company, about jobs that are going to Mexico. They're seeing that out here all the time. We see it when we're out here for that week before. So these are big tectonic plates that are beginning to move around here and beginning to clash, that we'll see much more of that come the fall, I think.
MR. RUSSERT: Roger?
MR. SIMON: I also think that you have to keep in mind that George Bush's stature today--and it's considerable stature--was created by 9/11. If you wanted to imagine where George Bush would be today vs. the Democrats without that, it would be an entirely different universe. What the White House fears, and there's no way of knowing, is a second major attack on the United States, God forbid, for reasons other than politics, what that would do to George Bush's standing with the people. Would once again they rally around him or would they say this guy left us unprotected? The Democrats are hitting very hard on the theme that George Bush has left this country unprotected. We're not checking cargos. This is not a safer country than it was prior to 9/11.
MR. RUSSERT: Dan Balz?
MR. BALZ: We have a very interesting and sort of anomalous situation. We have an incumbent president who is probably as strong, if you look at public opinion, as any incumbent president seeking re-election since World War II. We also have the most polarized, divided, divisive country that we've had in a very long time. Those two things don't add up to something sensible, and so one of them's going to break.
MR. RUSSERT: Joe, real fast.
MR. KLEIN: Well, what Roger said is true. This election more than any that I've ever covered is out of the hands of the politicians and in the hands of events in the world.
MR. RUSSERT: Including Iraq?
MR. KLEIN: Especially Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: Tom Brokaw, how much would you pay to watch Dick Gephardt duck-walk tonight with Chuck Berry?
MR. BROKAW: As long as it's Gephardt who's doing that and not any of us, I think that will be pretty interesting. I go way back with Chuck Berry. I was, you know, 17 years old and listening to him on a Clear Channel station out of New Orleans, and "Roll Over Beethoven." I can't wait.
MR. RUSSERT: Go, Tommy, go.
MR. BROKAW: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: We'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: The very latest on Decision 2004 and the Iowa caucuses tonight on the "NBC Nightly News" with my partner Tom Brokaw and tomorrow morning on "Today." Then full coverage and caucus results Monday night on NBC and MSNBC.
That's all for today. We'll be back next week live from New Hampshire. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.
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