This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, August 16, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.
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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: The Democratic presidential field descended on Iowa for three, count 'em, three forums this week. The latest poll there shows Howard Dean (search) leading the pack for the first time, followed by Dick Gephardt (search), John Kerry (search), and Joe Lieberman (search).
And joining us with his thoughts on how the Democratic field is playing in Iowa is the Hawkeye State's top political writer, and one of America's top political writers, David Yepsen of The Des Moines Register.
David, glad you're here. And I want to ask about Howard Dean to begin with. One, I take your, your paper's poll very seriously. But has he perhaps peaked too soon, and what is his jumping ahead of Gephardt mean for Gephardt, who, who of course has to win in Iowa next January?
DAVID YEPSEN, THE DES MOINES REGISTER: Well, we don't know if he's peaked too soon. He may very well have, and that's the question of the moment. But, you know, he started out with the antiwar thing, he's got a lot of support off the Internet and what I call the Birkenstock voters.
And Fred, I went to an event of Howard Dean's a week ago, and I didn't know two-thirds of the people in the room, or at…outside of the rally. And I've covered politics in this state for 30 years. I go to a political event, I know a lot of the people in the room. He's really bringing out new people.
And then this week, he really started to make a play for labor. One of the forums you mentioned was a forum held by organized labor, and Dean did better, I think, than Dick Gephardt, even, in terms of reaching out to those people and saying, We have got to capture the base.
Howard Dean has captured the anger that's in the Democratic Party against what's going on in Washington, and that, that works pretty well with organized labor. So right now, I see Dean moving right along.
BARNES: And Gephardt?
YEPSEN: Well, Gephardt's started to pick up. I mean, I think Gephardt has…was pretty flat for a while there. He had a bad fund raising quarter, as you know, and I think he…some of the, the energy is gone. But he's sort of reached down inside of himself. He's picked up enough endorsements now, these 11 internationals, they've got 30,000 members in Iowa.
If you figure 80,000 to 1,000,000 people are going to show up at these caucuses, you know, if Gephardt gets half of those people, with carving up that kind of a vote, I think he can do pretty well just, just there. I think those labor endorsements have really come through for him.
MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: So are the, is the labor movement going to constitute the base of a stop-Dean movement? In other words, are they really going to do everything they can with their members to make sure that Dean doesn't win?
YEPSEN: Mort, I think some labor leaders might try that. But I tell you, the rank and file, the people who I talk to, they…a lot of those labor guys, they like Howard Dean. They like the kind of a blunt, candid talk that he's, he's giving them. And, and they, they don't like some of the wishy-washiness that they see in a John Kerry or a John Edwards. They just don't feel like those two candidates are punchy enough.
So I don't see labor as being part of a stop-Dean effort at this point.
KONDRACKE: Well, is there a stop-Dean movement? Do you see any sign of it?
YEPSEN: Not yet.
KONDRACKE: Any, any ganging up by the other candidates against Dean?
YEPSEN: Oh…no, not at…not...
KONDRACKE: Because you suggested…I believe that you suggested in a column that, that it might be smart for John Kerry to start trying to help Dick Gephardt in order to make sure that, that Gephardt wins in Iowa so that Dean doesn't have the momentum to go to New Hampshire, and then beat Kerry in New Hampshire and run away with the nomination.
YEPSEN: Exactly. I mean, if you're John Kerry, you know you're in a close fight with Howard Dean in New Hampshire. The worst thing that could happen to you is to have Howard Dean beat Dick Gephardt here, and get that huge momentum. I mean, historically, a win in Iowa is always worth half a dozen to a dozen points in New Hampshire.
And so if John Kerry can't…doesn't see himself as doing very well, I think you're going to see the Kerry camp start to try to do what it can to help make sure Gephardt wins in order to slow Dean down.
BARNES: Speaking of Kerry, was it a faux pas for him to go to the Iowa State Fair and try to order a…?
YEPSEN: Well, he quickly recovered from that.
YEPSEN: And got a corn dog. This, this was shortly after the Philadelphia fiasco...
YEPSEN: ... where he ordered the cheese steak...
BARNES: I remember that.
YEPSEN: ... with Swiss cheese on it.
YEPSEN: And which was a big gaffe there. And so the Kerry people are always sensitive, trying to be a little more sensitive to their gastronomic effort here.
BARNES: So is he still…wait, wait a minute, Mort. Is, is Kerry still in the hunt, realistically, to win Iowa?
YEPSEN: Well, I think so. I mean, he's working hard…it's just…he hasn't spent the kind of time here that Dean and Gephardt have. He needs to spend more time here. I think he's trying to sharpen his message.
But every now and then, you see things in the Kerry campaign that really surprise you. The other night, I saw him kind of wing it on Social Security discussions. My gosh, this is one of the oldest states in the nation. You don't come out here and wing it on Social Security. I mean, I don't think you should do that anywhere if you're a presidential candidate.
So there's some uneven qualities to that Kerry campaign. But they've got good people running it, they know what they're doing. And if he spends some time on task and sharpens that message, I think you'll see him start to pick up some.
KONDRACKE: And Edwards, is he visible?
YEPSEN: Oh, yes, he's…especially now, he's, he's put up some television commercials here that are pretty good. And he's also spending a lot of time here.
He's got a bus tour going around. He's got a very nice bus. It's not a very populist bus, it looks more like a rock star bus. But he's, he's traveling to a lot of counties this week, really trying to make an effort to move some of these poll numbers. He's at 5 percent in our polls, in, in fifth place.
He's simply got to do better. And I think Edwards has really got something to lose here in Iowa if he can't start moving some numbers...
BARNES: We just have a very few seconds, and I want to ask two quick questions. Is Lieberman in the race in Iowa at all, Joe Lieberman?
KONDRACKE: OK. And, and if you had to say right now whether George Bush would win Iowa, which he lost in 2000, he'd win it in 2004, would you say his odds on or not?
YEPSEN: Yes, he, he would win it right now, Fred, yes.
KONDRACKE: All right, David. Thank you very much.
YEPSEN: Thank you.
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