All-Star Panel: Insight into 2016 Republican ground game

Political pros weigh in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," January 26, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Welcome back to Des Moines. We are obviously covering 2016.  And as you look at the calendar things line up. It is already the 2016 race here in Iowa and a couple of other places. The calendar is going to be the Iowa caucuses as always first, the New Hampshire primary, and then South Carolina. We are lucky to be joined by a panel of political experts.  With me here in Iowa is Jennifer Jacobs, chief political reporter for the Des Moines Register. Here to talk New Hampshire, Boston Globe political reporter James Pindell, and from South Carolina Andy Shain, political reporter for The State newspaper. Thank you all for being here.  Jennifer, I want to start with you here in Iowa. Just had this big Freedom Summit, a big deal. Who do you think is best positioned coming out of this?

JENNIFER JACOBS, CHIEF POLITICAL REPORTER, DES MOINES REGISTER: The big crowd pleaser was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. He had his big breakthrough moment. This was huge for him. Everyone really talked about how much they loved his speech. It just seems like he is on everyone's dance card in the number two position. So you have got the Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz saying we like Scott. Scott is our number two. And then you've got that Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney audience also saying Scott Walker is our number two right now.

BAIER: And is there a lot of activity here or on the ground already?

JACOBS: Yeah. The people who have been here the most -- that's not Scott Walker. It's been the two Ricks. It's been Rick Perry of Texas and Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania U.S. senator. Those are the two...

BAIER: Won last year -- last time rather.

JACOBS: He's our reigning champion who is going to try to stand up against the 2008 reigning champion even though it seems like there is more momentum for Huckabee and definitely more momentum for Ted Cruz.

BAIER: And last thing here in Iowa, I was driving out of the airport.  There's a big sign for Hillary, "Ready for Hillary." Are they ready here in Iowa?

JACOBS: They are working like crazy. The Democratic Party here has not been in this strongest position lately, but you have got people stepping in trying to bolster that a little bit and take over a little bit of that Republican control that they have had lately.

BAIER: All right, James. Let's talk New Hampshire. Obviously, we are more than a year away, almost exactly a year away if the calendar sets up.  What's it look like there on the Republican side? Is anybody moving?

JAMES PINDELL, BOSTON GLOBE: Look, here is the reality. If we had this major contest right now between Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, New Hampshire is ground zero where that argument and that fight will definitely play out. In fact you can go further because this field is so large. You could say that Jeb Bush has to win New Hampshire to survive. Mitt Romney has to win New Hampshire to survive. Chris Christie certainly has to win New Hampshire to survive. And you can also probably throw in there Rand Paul. So as this field begins to shape, we are beginning to understand who may be competing and fighting in Iowa and what that fight looks like in New Hampshire.

BAIER: James, I get e-mails all the time people saying why are you talking about this now? And the thing is, is that all of this horserace is happening now as they are raising money, positioning, hiring staff. I mean, are you seeing it on the ground?

PINDELL: Oh, there's no question, yes. We are a year away from when there is actual voting. But we are in this period of the invisible primary. And before even get into those machinations of who is winning, who is the frontrunner who is trying to give up this insurgent fight here, we are just trying to figure out who is going to run. And so we saw this in Des Moines over the weekend where people are just trying to figure each other out, trying to figure out what kind of support they would have.

And most importantly right now, Bret, what kind of lanes we will have.  Will there be establishment lane? Will there be a conservative grassroots lane? Will there be a libertarian lane? And how many people in those different lanes? Because, remember, it's not that you need 50 percent in the winner in that Iowa caucus or the winner of the New Hampshire primary may just win with 20, 25 percent.

BAIER: All right, Andy, let's go down to South Carolina there, and obviously, you had a Tea Party event just recently, a lot of candidates coming through there early now that South Carolina is early in the calendar. How does it look on the Republican side?

ANDY SHAIN, THE STATE: I think it's rather wide open on the Republican side at the moment. One of the questions that's going to be is South Carolina going to go ahead and draw a candidate who is going to appeal more to the social conservatives especially in our upstate like Newt Gingrich did in 2012? Right now there is a lot of chatter about Jeb Bush.  There is a lot of chatter about Marco Rubio. Rick Perry is going to be here tomorrow visiting Greenville and Columbia. And so right I think there is lot of the sort of feeling out process more or less going on in South Carolina.

BAIER: Andy, you have a South Carolina senator in Lindsey Graham who says he is thinking about it. What's the feeling on the ground?

SHAIN: Well, it's been interesting. I think everyone has had a bit of a smile about Lindsey saying that he is interested in running for president. It's going to be interesting to see if he even could win his own state. You know, he has got some issues with immigration. He did face a bit of a challenge in the primary last year for winning -- to win re-election. But, at the same time, I think he has got a point to make. He has certainly had a pulpit, being a regular on the Sunday morning news shows.  In fact, I wrote a piece once called "Lindsey vision" about how often he appears on those shows. So he certainly does have a pulpit nationally for that.  It will be interesting to see how that translates in South Carolina if he decides to run.

BAIER: Yes, national security issues definitely. Finally, wrapping up here, Jennifer, top issue in Iowa if you were to say what it is right now for most people, most potential caucus goers?

JACOBS: Well, on the GOP side they are real interested in the deficit for sure, but also national security issues. That terrorism issue was really prevalent at that summit this past weekend.

BAIER: And on the Democratic side?

JACOBS: Health care, jobs are the two tops for that side.

BAIER: OK, Jennifer, James, Andy, as always, thank you very much.  We'll be checking in, obviously, throughout the year before all these contests start. Thanks for the time. That's it for this panel and the panel. Stay tuned for a look back at the many faces of Joe Biden. 

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