This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, January 17, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: When it comes to covering presidential politics in Iowa, only one name and one name only comes to mind. That's David Yepsen, the political columnist for The Des Moines Register (search). He joins us here tonight.
Welcome back, David.
DAVID YEPSEN, THE DES MOINES REGISTER: Good to be with you.
BARNES: Thank you.
The undecideds in Iowa seem to be going not to Dean and Gephardt but to Edwards and Kerry. Why is that?
YEPSEN: Because undecideds have found something wrong with, with Howard Dean (search) and Dick Gephardt (search). Howard Dean had been a front-runner in this race for months ... but they've not been breaking through, they've been front-runners at 30 percent or 25 percent, with a lot of undecideds and, and a lot of people saying they could change their mind.
So it's pretty simple. The, the undecided caucus goer in Iowa has visited Howard Dean, they have visited Richard Gephardt, and for some reason found them wanting.
BARNES: But what is it that stopped, say, Dean's momentum? Was it that they thought he couldn't be elected against George Bush? Or was it the limits of the antiwar issue?
YEPSEN: I think it's both. I think there are some who, who -- these are activists. They do care about their party, and they care about who wins. But I think too that, particularly after the arrest of Saddam Hussein, Democrats were starting to rethink some of this and maybe looking around. Maybe they don't want an antiwar candidate.
MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: You know, Fred, there are a lot of centrists in the ... Democratic Party. It's not all people who are pacifists or doves. And I think all of that kind of working together, the other candidates just started pummeling Howard Dean, that had an impact. So it's a little bit of all of the above.
BARNES: Let me ask you about the weather. If it's really 4 degrees on Monday night, how does that historically suggest this thing's going to turn out? What's it going to do?
YEPSEN: Well, I think that could help Howard Dean, if the weather is bad, to keep people out. Because some of the support, and it could hurt Dick Gephardt, some, who has older supporters who may be afraid of, you know, falling down or something.
But, traditionally on something like this, people do tend to turn out. I mean, there's a reason why they call these people party regulars, because they regularly go to caucuses.
KONDRACKE: Now, has there been any dent from the story that John Kerry once upon a time was in favor of deeply cutting or eliminating the Department of Agriculture? Does ... have any bounce?
YEPSEN: No, that's, you don't hear that out there being talked about. There, everybody's got some vote in his or her past or something they said in the past. Caucus goers are focused more on the future.
BARNES: Well, well, if that doesn't get through, what, on the last weekend before the caucuses, what does get through to voters?
YEPSEN: I think it's turnout that you've all talked about, finding your people and simply getting them out. I think a lot of caucus-goers are weighing this with their friends and neighbors. And in fact, may not make a final decision until they have the chance to go into the caucus itself, you know, and talk to their neighbors.
You know, if, if you're my neighbor, Mort, I'm going to say ... Well, what do you think of these guys? Who's going to win? What do we want to do here?
BARNES: There, there's been all this polling out here, or particularly this tracking poll every day, new polling, and I have my doubts about it, but here's a question some people have raised. A lot of voters, particularly those with cell phones, and that would include a lot of the young people for Dean, really aren't reached in the normal polling that goes on.
What does that mean?
YEPSEN: Well, it means some, some of these polls that are working off old lists of caucus goers or just, or not, or just lists of registered Democrats are missing independents, or they're missing these young people with cell phones, they're missing labor people that Gephardt might have who are registered Republicans or independents. There are those people in labor unions who'll be turned down. And you can change your registration on caucus night, and participate.
So we, those, you're right, Fred, that some of those polls may be missing some of those activists.
KONDRACKE: Well, what about new registration? You can, you can be unregistered, you can show up at the polls and ... at the caucuses and, and register that night.
YEPSEN: That's right.
KONDRACKE: Now, are you anticipating, and does it suggest the intensity, maybe, of the Dean people that there will be a lot of new registrants in college towns and so on?
YEPSEN: There could be some, and those polls, again, will miss some of those people who are just coming into the process for a first time.
There was talk earlier about some fraud, you know, people would be coming in ... and trying to participate illegally. We don't have a big tradition of that. And I think the Dean campaign, other campaigns, people aren't trying to do that. They're simply trying to get their people out, not commit some criminal conspiracy here.
BARNES: In the past, presidents running for reelection who are not challenged in their own party's caucuses have come out to Iowa on caucus day anyway, just to show the flag. So far as we know, President Bush is not going to do that. Is that a mistake?
YEPSEN: Oh, I think it might be. I mean, President Reagan (search) came out here in 1984, President Clinton (search) came out here in 1996. It's a great way for a sitting president to just step all over the story of the challenging party. I mean, Bush, the Republicans are flooding the zone with, with other surrogates. But it's just not the same as having the president.
KONDRACKE: Now, just evaluate quickly for us the, the ground armies, and what their capabilities are and who's got the strongest one and how do you think they'll perform?
YEPSEN: I think Dean's has the biggest. I think Gephardt's has the best, because they're organized labor. These guys know what they're doing.
But I think Kerry has kind of got the silent campaign here. He's got some good people running his campaign, Mike Houhle nationally, John Norris here locally. These guys know what this game is all about. And they've been keeping a low profile on this. I think Kerry has done a lot of good organizing, particularly with the veterans' community.
BARNES: And what about Edwards?
YEPSEN: Not, not so much, not as good an organization. He's come up fast here in the end, but you don't see him having quite the same kind of organizational base.
BARNES: All right. David Yepsen, thanks so much.
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