This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Jan. 12, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Politics getting rough in Iowa. The candidates jostling for position as they head for the finish line. There are accusations of potential dirty tricks and campaign mailers that reek of dirty tactics. Joining me now from Des Moines to help size up the race State Democratic Party chair Gordon Fisher. That's today's big question, Mr. Fisher. Is the campaign in Iowa turning nasty in the homestretch?
GORDON FISHER, CHAIR, IOWA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: John, great to be with you. I don't think it's turning particularly nasty. There are some real sharp differences between the candidates, but they tend to be on issues, like trade, like taxes, and those are legitimate. Those need to be hashed out, so the caucus-goers can make an informed decision on January 19th.
GIBSON: Well, yes and no, Mr. Fisher. I know these are all your little children now at the moment until one emerges, but I have to say we see these ads ...
FISHER: No, no, no.
GIBSON: ... in which there's a gentle ribbing or another. And then a mailer hits the mailboxes. It's much more shrill, much more sharp, is leveling, you know, in some cases kind of nasty charges.
And these mailers tend to be under the radar. The press doesn't see a lot of them, and the voters themselves may just wad them up and throw them away before they read them close. Isn't that where the claws are starting to come out?
FISHER: Yes. I would caution all the presidential candidates and their campaigns because I think honestly negative campaigning does not particularly work well in Iowa.
GIBSON: OK. Mr. Fisher.
FISHER: And I'm not singling out any candidate or campaign.
FISHER: Hold on. Hold on. Generally, in a lot of places it does work, but here in Iowa there's more of a friendly, polite atmosphere. And I think there's really a question of how effective negative campaigning is ...
GIBSON: OK, but wait a minute ...
FISHER: ... particularly in a multi-candidate field.
GIBSON: The first thing you told me Gordon was that there isn't any, and now you are admitting that you are cautioning the candidates. This doesn't play in Iowa. So tell me how bad it's getting.
FISHER: No, I don't think it's getting particularly nasty, but if anybody wanted to turn nasty, I would caution them that this is not the place or the time to do it. I just don't think it would be effective in a multi-candidate field, John.
You end up -- you may end up moving people away from the guy you are attacking, but they may move to another -- a wholly different candidate, so it really doesn't make much strategic sense.
GIBSON: Well, then, it must be going on, Mr. Fisher. I mean, a barometer of this is Howard Dean (search). Only today he came out on the attack again and said, gosh, darn it, we're not going to take it anymore. We're getting hammered by these other guys and hammered by the national press, and I just don't have to take it. I'm coming out on the attack.
FISHER: Well, John, I think that sounds like he was attacking you more than the other candidates, with all due respect. I think he was concerned about negativity by the media, but that's a problem for a media critic or media expert.
GIBSON: He talked about attacks from Gephardt and he talked about attacks from Kerry, and they are starting to sharpen their attacks on him.
FISHER: Yes. I mean, there are sharp differences between the candidates, there's no question, on taxes, on trade, on other issues. There are differences between the candidates, and those need to be discussed. They ought to be discussed. Otherwise, caucus goers won't be able to make an informed decision.
But the most interesting moment in the last two televised debates, John, was when Carol Moseley-Braun (search) in the last debate and Howard Dean in the debate before asked all the candidates whether they support the nominee. All immediately raised their hand, so I think we will have a unified, united Democratic Party by November.
GIBSON: Yes, we'll wait and see on that one. All right. Mr. Fisher, let's turn to ...
FISHER: We will.
GIBSON: ... dirty tricks. There have been these letters that have been flying back and forth between the Gephardt campaign and the Dean campaign about the whole issue of packing caucuses with phonies, with ringers, out-of-towners who are there to support their candidate that are not Iowans and are not voters. And there's been a big debate about whether this is even really possible. Is it?
FISHER: Well, I suppose it's possible if somebody has that evil, malicious intent, but, you know, it's also possible, in fact, probable that they'll go to jail because what they would be doing is effectively committing purgery, punishable here by five years in jail and up to a $75,000 fine.
Additionally, the nature of the caucuses make it very, very difficult to do that on a widespread scale. The caucuses are very diffuse, as you well know, John. There's 1,993 precincts. It's not one person, one vote. We're electing delegates.
And so, you know, to organize all these and get "ringers" in to all these nearly 2,000 precincts would just be an organizational task that's almost overwhelming. I don't think it can be done.
And we've cautioned people time and time again that we will prosecute. We are going to take a look at all new registrations, and if there are folks that are from out of state that aren't Iowans that participate in the caucuses, they're making a big mistake, a very, very, very big mistake.
GIBSON: State Democratic Party chair Gordon Fisher, playing the role of referee, cautioning the contestants if they're thinking of low blows. Mr. Fisher, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.
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