Dean Gets Blockbuster Endorsement

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, December 8, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: The first actual test of Howard Dean's (search) support and organizational strength, not to mention the value of his endorsement by Al Gore (search), will come next month in Iowa. Thousands of Iowa Democrats will turn out for evening-long meetings, caucuses, to begin the process of choosing their delegates.

No one in America understands this is process, this people, and this state better than our old friend David Yepsen, political editor from the Des Moines Register, who joins us from Des Moines.

David, welcome.


HUME: Tell us about the Gore endorsement. Is this important out there? Does he already got all those kinds of people locked up? What?

YEPSEN: You bet. It's a big deal. I mean Al Gore is respected. I think he brings one more piece of good news for Howard Dean. You know, Brit, this race feels like it's sort of reaching a tipping point here, even before voters get in the act, with all this momentum that is starting to build for Howard Dean. So Al Gore's endorsement gives Dean a good media ride for the next few days. It will help Dean with those undecided voters. All the polls show a fourth to a fifth of the likely caucus-goers are still undecided and Gore's endorsement is going to help Dean a little bit.

HUME: Well talking about -- let's take a look just for a moment at the new poll that came out today from the Pew center, which was more or less reflective of what some other polls have shown about Dean. It shows an eight-point lead. The margin of error is what, plus or minus six. So it could be closer or stronger than that. But that does -- I mean, we don't have every statistic there present. But what is it, David, about 17 percent remain undecided, something like that?

YEPSEN: That's right. That's right, about 17 percent. And that's still a lot of people. And a lot of those people will stay undecided until the very end. And therein lies the hopes for all these other candidates that somehow they can attract these undecideds. These are obviously people having a little bit of trouble with Howard Dean, and so that's an opportunity for the other candidates.

Look, Brit, there is no way to cut it. That Pew poll is good news for Howard Dean. It shows his margin starting to open up in some of these polls, the sort of seesaw back and forth a few weeks ago with Gephardt. Dean is now opening things up a bit.

HUME: Yes. That poll is matched by others, even as I guess there was a Zogby poll that showed only a slight lead. But other polls have showed a larger lead as the Zogby poll four per -- what was that -- at four points. But the trend seems pretty clear.

Now, tell me, David, for the benefit of viewers of this program who may not know exactly what happens at a caucus. Explain how that works.

YEPSEN: Well, what's important when you look at polls of caucus- goers, Brit, is too-to-look at anybody that's above 15 percent. Anybody above 15 percent on caucus night is a candidate who is going to have enough supporters at that time caucus to elect delegates. If a candidate is less than 15 percent, they're declared not viable. They have to -- and that candidate's people have to go with other candidates or form another group. So...

HUME: You have somebody with a bandwagon effect going on. Dean, for example, probably the caucus effect might be to add to his advantage, right?

YEPSEN: That will. It will also wash out a lot of the lesser candidates. And so a lot of the things that we're looking for are where the Edwards people or the John Kerry people or Kucinich people going after they discover that their candidate isn't viable? It will be an important factor on caucus night.

HUME: Now, what happens on each caucus, you've got -- what do you -- you do kind of a head count, right? I mean you've got everybody gathered in one place, maybe in somebody's house or meeting room or whatever, and everybody gathers and you take a head count?

YEPSEN: That's right. And it's different than a primary. In a primary, a voter goes into a voting booth, you pull the curtain behind him and you do it in private. A caucus is done in public. A caucus is a meeting of party activists, who sort of get together and talk about this stuff. And so those preferences are expressed in public. And I think that particular aspect of the caucuses probably helps Dick Gephardt, because he has got a lot of support from organized labor. They will turn out their people. And you know, it's pretty hard for a union guy to be going against someone whose union has endorsed.

HUME: And Gephardt in this case.

Does it strike you that Dean's organization, from his sort of -- you know, poll support, is strong enough to where he will not be at a real disadvantage with Gephardt there?

YEPSEN: No. And I think Dean's organization is getting better. His campaign is an innovative campaign; a lot of young people, a lot of energy. Last week I was out with him, I noticed Dean is getting a little bit older crowd. Caucus-goers are the most reliable caucus-goers. Some of these people are starting to come around.

And It's also important, Brit, that Howard Dean got the endorsement of the ASCMI Union here in Iowa. Those people have been around for a long time, I think they can provide some real grown-up leadership to some of Dean's younger supporters on caucus night and help to mobilize them and make sure they don't get steamrolled by a game that the Gephardt people might be playing.

HUME: Do you see anything out there, very briefly, that might change the atmosphere in this race, in Iowa?

YEPSEN: I don't know. Watch those undecideds. I ... those are people looking for the last-minute gaffe or statement or something that could change the outcome of the race. Those are the people to watch.

HUME: Great. David Yepsen, always a pleasure to have you. Thank you, my friend.

YEPSEN: Thanks, Brit.

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