Iowa journalists on state of presidential race

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," September 17, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, HOST: Welcome back to Newton, Iowa. We're in Uncle Nancy's Coffee House and Eatery. And we want to welcome in our local panel of experts to get some local perspective on the state of Iowa and this presidential race. Kay Henderson, news director of Radio Iowa, Bob Eschliman, editor of Newton Daily News, and Jennifer Jacobs of The Des Moines Register.

Thank you all for being here.

Bob, let me start with you. Here in Newton, in Jasper County, this is a place where this is a swing county. There are 99 counties in Iowa, 20 are pretty reliable Republican, 27 said to be reliable Democratic, and 52 swing counties.
Jasper County is one of those. Why is it that way? What is the big issue here?

BOB ESCHLIMAN, NEWTON DAILY NEWS: I think jobs and the economy are the big issues here. We have polled the readers with the Newton Daily News and that was the number one issue for 46 percent of our readers. And they obviously with the Maytag departure were concerned about finding good jobs again.

BAIER: Maytag was a big part of the community and left in '07 finally after pulling out, starting a pull-out over years. It was a big union place, and now, jobs are really the big issue.

ESCHLIMAN: Exactly. We have had a good -- done a good job of economic development, retaining some of those jobs, but they don't pay as well. So there is the concern about things such as the production tax credit for wind energy, because we do have two companies that are major employers that benefit directly from that.

BAIER: So maybe that is why we are hearing the president and his team talk about that again and again, Jennifer. It is amazing to see how much time each campaign and the candidates and the vice president and Paul Ryan have spent in this state. Six electoral votes, and the numbers are staggering.

JENNIFER JACOBS, DES MOINES REGISTER: Eight trips here by President Obama so far this year, six trips by Mitt Romney so far this year. If you combine Obama and the vice president and the first lady and the second lady, it's 18 trips so far this year. With Paul Ryan and -- sorry, with Mitt Romney and his people, it's nine trips this year. They are definitely trying to send a message to Iowans that they are important.

BAIER: Why do you think that is?

JACOBS: I think it's a couple of things. There are very few states in the nation that are actually gettable right now. That is the biggest reason. There are so few tossup states. This has potential for either side. Both sides see a path to winning here.

And also, for Obama, he's made it clear he has a soft spot to Iowa. This is one of his touchtone states. This is the state that launched him. He feels a deep affection for Iowa, and he is a competitive guy and he doesn't want to lose the state that gave him his first chance.

BAIER: You all will be polling soon.

JACOBS: We will be.

BAIER: We won't give any details away.

Kay, what is your sense to how this is backing up here in Iowa? Really can't get a sense of polls. There haven't been a lot of them. But you get a sense about talking to people. Where do you think the state is?

KAY HENDERSON, RADIO IOWA: I think it's split down the middle. It reminds me a lot of 2004 and even 2000 when this state was decided by just a few thousand votes in the general election. When you talk to people, Democrats are really in their corner and Republicans are really in their corner. I think the key for both of these campaigns will be figuring out how to attract those independents that maybe lean Republican or maybe lean Democrat.

And Jasper County is an interesting case and point for that, because Jasper County is about 26 miles away from the center of Des Moines, and a lot of people who live here commute. It's become a suburban oasis for people who don't want to live in the big city if you will and raise their children in rural America. So those are voters that both campaigns are competing heavily for.

BAIER: Bob, unemployment here is 6.7 percent, under the national level, but above the state of 5.3 percent. Interestingly, you pointed to your polling over a month and said the deficit and debt still plays high with people here.

ESCHLIMAN: When we polled the readers we asked them in groups of four specific, what they wanted to focus on when they went to the booth in November. And we had jobs and the economy as number one, national debt and national spending is number two. They were both in the 40s. So those are probably the two primary things that people are thinking about here as they go to the polls -- am I going to get a job? Am I going to keep a job?

BAIER: Jennifer, the spending on ads in Iowa, you can't turn on the television without seeing an ad. Some television stations and I'm sure radio, it's just bonanza.

JACOBS: It is. One thing I want to talk about what Bob was saying, one reason that Obama numbers are so soft in Iowa, you have swing voters who in general just think that Obama didn't live up to the hype. And they think that they are not excited to vote for him this time. You have a lot of swing voters in Iowa who are maybe, they don't think that Romney has made the case strongly enough yet why he is better than Obama, so you have a lot of swing voters who are saying they are ready to fire the president but not yet ready to hire Mitts Romney. So it's kind of at a stalemate. But the ads are overwhelming. It's everywhere.

BAIER: Kay, it could come down to the wire?

HENDERSON: It could indeed. One of the aftereffects of the advertising here is that the Congressional races in Iowa, four of them have become very competitive. Obviously it's reapportionment year so these candidates are introducing themselves to new people. But there has been some effect in making the Democrats go Democrat and Republicans go home.

BAIER: Kay, Bob, Jennifer, thank you so much. Very interesting.

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