DES MOINES – FOX News sat down with Des Moines Register columnist and Iowa caucus veteran David Yepsen to dissect the Democratic race for the presidency here. We met over coffee at the Drake Diner, a popular hangout for food and political chatter.
Specifically, we wanted to know what the top four Democrats in the race had to be thankful for in Iowa. Yepsen, who has covered every caucus since 1976, dished plenty.
""I think Barack Obama can be thankful for his good organization," Yepsen said. "I think he's probably got one of the best. I think he can be thankful his message is starting to click a little bit. People are — Democrats want to see some change. And, I think they like what he's saying about that. So, I think he can be thankful for both of those things."
What about Hillary Clinton?
Yepsen: "I think if you're Hillary Clinton, you're thankful for your husband. Because it's like having another candidate here for you. He gets crowds just as big, brings out new people. They can put him in other — in certain areas and put her in another area. So, I think he's her biggest asset in the Democratic caucus fight here."
And John Edwards?
Yepsen: "I think if you're John Edwards, you're thankful this is going to be over with on January third. John Edwards has not been doing well lately, he's slipping a little in these numbers. That's not a good trend line for him. He's got to get this thing over with fast."
Yepsen said he fears Edwards could fall so far that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, currently running fourth, could slip into third place — and would therefore be most thankful for that.
"I think one of the things that could happen is that Edwards could collapse, sag, fall apart, not do well," Yepsen said. "And that leaves Richardson in real striking distance of third place. Richardson has run a good campaign. He’s got some support here. If I were Edwards I’d be worried about sagging so far it could enable Richardson to take third place."
Of this week’s Washington Post-ABC News poll showing Obama for the first time on the leading edge of the margin of error for first place over national frontrunner Hillary Clinton, Yepsen invoked years of pre-caucus caution.
"Caucus polling is tricky business. It’s difficult for pollsters to find an accurate sample of who is going to show up at the caucuses. And I think that’s particularly true this year on the Democratic side where Clinton is looking to bring women into the process, older women who haven’t participated before and where Obama is trying to bring young people in who haven’t participated before and who, by the way, use cell phones and sometimes these people can’t be found by pollsters."
Even so, Yepsen says he detects a shift in the mindset of Iowa Democrats that may bode well for Obama and may pose problems for Clinton. I asked him to evaluate the Clinton argument on behalf of her experience versus Obama’s appeal based on change.
"I think experience is important, but I think caucus goers are weighing the value of experience versus a fresh face and turning the page. And it’s, I think, a close call. But right now, fresh face is starting to outweigh experience. Too many Democrats think she (Clinton) has too many negatives, too many polarizing things in her past. They don’t want to go back to the past."
Yepsen doesn’t see Clinton falling here. "I see Clinton as flat."
Of the current political trends among Democrats, Yepsen is also cautious.
"People like to be undecided," he says. "They are almost professionally undecided. It’s frustrating for campaigns because they can’t get commitments nailed down. Voters can and do change their minds."