In an exclusive interview Monday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 am to 8:00 am – host Michael Patrick Leahy spoke to long-time friend and resident of Iowa, Jim Larew. Larew is also a leading Democrat from Iowa who served as an aide and Chief of Staff to former Iowa Democrat Gov. ‘Chet’ Culver.
Towards the middle of the second hour, Larew pointed out how the Justice and Liberty Dinner for Democrats in Iowa is a very prominent pre-caucus event and indicator of the health of each candidate’s campaign. He also went on to comment upon the recent heart attack of Bernie Sanders and how this may play out among his intense base supporters.
Leahy: We’re joined now by our good friend in Iowa, our ambassador to the 2020 Democratic field. Jim Larew. Good morning Jim.
Larew: Good morning, Michael! How are you?
Leahy: I’m great and I’m looking forward to seeing you again in person. I was kind of going through this. We’ve talked on the phone a couple of times. But I don’t think we’ve met in person since we graduated from Harvard back in 1977. That’s a long time ago. (Chuckles)
Larew: It is a long time. And thankfully both of us have that gene that has us getting better looking as every year goes by. Maybe not. We are on the radio. (Laughs)
Leahy: Yes. On the radio, we look great. The other exciting thing about this for me is you will be joining me in studio three weeks from this Friday where we’ll be broadcasting live from the studios of WHO in Des Moines Iowa. WHO I’m pretty sure that’s where Ronald Reagan got his start. Isn’t it Jim?
Larew: Absolutely. He was a sportscaster there and learned the media well. No President has had a better communicating voice than the one he developed starting there and interestingly they were experimenting with broadcasting football games. The technology was new.
There are legendary stories where sometimes the power would go out from the football field and he would just make up the plays and keep going. (Leahy laughs) He did it well so he had quite a career there. And he’s remembered for having gotten his start there.
Leahy: So that will be a lot of fun and then that evening I will be going with you as my ambassador-guide to help me navigate through, what do they call this, The Justice and Liberty Dinner of Democrats? But it’s a pretty big gathering, right?
Larew: It’s the biggest deal of the pre-caucus season. Over time there have been candidates when Barack Obama won the first nomination. This was his breakout evening. You get a chance to see the candidates by now. They’ve had all kinds of opportunities to prepare.
They know which lines work and which ones don’t work as well. But they’re all on the same stage and then you can start to sort them out. It’s a huge arena. It’s filled with enthusiastic people. It really is a big deal on caucus here.
Leahy: So what it’s like 5,000 or so people show up? How many people show up?
Leahy: How many candidates will be there? 20?
Larew: That’s a good question. I’m not sure that 20 is all of them. There’s a few of them you don’t hear about. I suppose they may even come. With that many, people will be short. But you’ll still get a chance to see how they do and how their campaigns are organized.
They’ll be in the rafters volunteering. You can see which campaigns really have traction on the ground. They have them outside on the ground with people. You’ll get some sense of how the ground games are. Which isn’t always the same thing as how there going to do but it’s at least one indicator.
Leahy: So you, as a life long Democrat and former chief of staff of Governor Chet Culver a Democrat. Also General Counsel. Than a confidant in your earlier career of John Culver. That’s when we were roommates in DC one summer when you were working for Senator John Culver. You know and I think you’ve participated in just about every Iowa caucus that’s been held since what 1972?
Larew: I’ve been active most of them yes.
Leahy: Help me actually be able to be invited to these events and maybe keep them from (Laughs) throwing pitchforks or whatever at me since I’ve now become…
Larew: Iowan’s are I’m sure like most people in Tennessee, even when we have differences we’re respectful and polite. You’ll be received. But people treat you cautiously. (Leahy laughs) I’m not sure that Iowa deserves to be number one. Thought it’s kind of a privilege. But at the same time, I think it’s great that it starts in a state like Iowa.
Tennessee would be comparable where politics are still conducted eyeball to eyeball and not just simply to be decided by large media bias. It would be a completely different race if this were starting in say California or New York.
Here in Iowa, you’ve got to earn it the hard way and they do. That’s eyeball to eyeball shoulder to shoulder. That’s part of the deal here and I think its a good thing. It’s a good opportunity for these candidates to transform from all of them, maybe with Biden being the exception in this field. All of them really being local candidates all the way from Mayor Pete, a Mayor of a very small city.
To maybe a Governor or a Senator but that’s a much different deal then communicating to a nation. And they’ve got to start somewhere. And why not in a place where people are interested. They educate themselves. They ask hard questions respectfully. And it gives these candidates an opportunity to make a good start.
Leahy: And I think you make a good point. There are 50 states. And you got to pick one. A large state that’s either definitely red or definitely blue that wouldn’t be a good indicator. I mean you want to take a state that’s been Republican and Democrat over time and is of a size where you can have that individual connection with to the candidates.
And frankly, Iowa is just a good place to start as any. I can’t think of a better state. I mean where would you go other than Iowa as a starting point to get a good cross-section of America? I’m all for Iowa being first.
Larew: Well there are critics of it. But it’s good to hear we’ve converted a guy like you to the cause. (Leahy chuckles) You do have to start somewhere. It would be different for both parties if we started on either seaboard. A highly populated state where politics are mostly done by television. The game would start differently and I think the end would also be different than what we have.
Leahy: Yeah, I like that person to person where everybody gets to take their measure of the candidate. I like that a lot. Since last we talked Jim, Bernie Sanders has had a heart attack.
Leahy: And he apparently pulled out a million and a half of TV ads in Iowa. What do you make of that?
Larew: Well I think it’s a serious moment. And I’ll give you an analogy here that I still feel rather deeply about it. 20 years ago in 1999, I was quite active within the Bill Bradley campaign. In fact, they were headquartered in my law office in the Eastern part of the state. The national staff.
And he had a related but not the same but related in his insistence it’s was atrial fibrillation. But it had been the condition not disclosed to the public at a time. There wasn’t a warning. And the first that people thought of it he was rushed to the hospital. Of course, Bill Bradley was one of the great athletes to ever be in politics.
He was in a head to head battle with two candidates one a former vice president. It was devastating. Whatever the campaign said in making the best of the news. Part of his primary campaign in Iowa it’s a metaphor we could use because we have so many hog farmers here. We call it widdling the heard.
And that’s what goes on in a campaign and its very tough. If you’re a President and you have an event like this everyone sort of rushes emotionally to your rescue and you can revive from an event like that. Any number of Presidents have had health difficulties and done well. Dwight Eisenhower had a heart attack etc. But when you’re a candidate and you’re widdling the field and the differences amongst and between them if not huge.
Something like this has the potential to be a very big deal. I don’t know that his core following and they’re very intense. They’ve been through thick and thin with him. I don’t think you’re going to see huge attrition of support. But right now, starting in October is where people make their breaks or they don’t in terms of gathering.
Listen to the second hour:
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