IOWA: Jim Larew Weighs in on Democratic Presidential Field and Caucus Strategies


Live from Music Row Tuesday 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 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – Leahy was joined on the newsmaker line by longtime friend and ambassador to Iowa, Jim Larew to examine the current positioning of the Democratic presidential candidates in Iowa.

During the second hour, Larew explained to listeners how the 15% rule for caucuses works in Iowa, which enables certain candidates to continue campaigning. He noted Warren, Biden, Sanders, and Buttigieg (who’s campaign looks to be growing), were the top four at the moment. Larew felt strongly that Bloomberg and Steyer’s recent bombardment of TV ads in Iowa were not doing them any service. He states, “This is what I think makes Iowa a special place. You really just don’t buy voters with TV ads.”

Leahy: We are joined now by our very good friend and ambassador to the Iowa democratic presidential field, Jim Larew. Good morning Jim.

Larew: Good morning Michael. How are you?

Leahy: I’m good. What’s the weather like in Iowa today?

Larew: It’s very cold and it happened very suddenly We were in rather balmy weather for Iowa 24 hours ago and then it swept through with snow and cold air. It just feels like winter today.

Leahy: I think it’s coming our way because it was balmy here yesterday ad the forecast says it’s going to be cold this afternoon. So thanks, Jim.

Larew: Yeah. You’re welcome. (Leahy chuckles) It seems like it did us it will put your roads in a slippery way so watch out. We had big crash outs because it turned cold from warm so fast that it got slick. So watch out.

Leahy: We have not talked specifically about Iowa for a while. The big news is that Kamala Harris has dropped out. Any impact of that there?

Larew: She’s a charismatic politician and had a good following and a pretty good staff. You can tell different campaigns are vying for whatever that 5 or 6% percent or whatever that means and it means something to close a 4 or 5 person race in Iowa. But I think she had a presence here. Didn’t go where people thought it might. It looked like she might be the rising star of the party a year ago and it didn’t happen. And she’s no longer out campaigning.

Leahy: So you said maybe five. I know the four would be Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg. Who would be the fifth?

Larew: Well, I think that’s an open question. Yang could surprise people. He’s got a really charismatic tie to a certain segment of the voters. Steyer’s been out here spending a lot of money and a lot of commercials. I don’t know that anything’s caught on there. Bloomberg is flooding the television stations, he purports not to have a strategy but it must mean something.

I think there’s a fair amount of volatility still even this late in the campaign. Someone could surprise. But the problem that person would have is if you don’t have 15% in your caucus you have to dissipate. So anything under 15% and it doesn’t show up very well along caucus night. So just speculation I don’t think it’s realistic but it’s possible.

Klobuchar is an attractive candidate to Iowans. And she’s certainly got a good campaign so who knows, maybe it will be her. You and I have been talking Michael the last few months three or four tickets out of Iowa look most probable. And I’m not sure that’s changed. But also sometimes a person by this part of the race just leaps out ahead. And if it’s not Buttigieg then I don’t know that that’s going to happen with any of them.

Leahy: So we talked about this magic 15% number, and just for our listeners, if you would kind of remind them how many caucuses there are and what the 15% number means in each caucus.

Larew: Yes, there are over 1,600 locations for precinct caucuses. One is assigned to one’s neighborhood caucus. There’s an experiment of doing some extra caucuses to account for people who can’t show up. And that’s an experiment. I’m not sure how that will turn out. It won’t be a sizeable number. You are actually there eyeball to eyeball and toe to toe with your neighbors.

And when it’s announced by the chair, you must actually go to your corners or however many parts of the room there are to pick however many candidates are being supported. And you have to count heads. And you compare that number to the overall attendance at your own caucus. And if that doesn’t come to 15% you have to dissipate. You have to go congregate somewhere else.

Leahy: So as an example, if there are 100 people at your caucus and when they say go to your corners, then all the Warren people go to one area. All the Biden people go to another. And they literally count the number of people there.

Larew: Absolutely. So, it means that if you don’t have the 15% you can go to uncommitted. In some caucuses uncommitted can exceed 15% and there you have a bunch of strange bedfellows getting acquainted in a new way. (Leahy and Larew chuckle) in their corner.

They can elect a delegate to the convention as an undecided hoping that if enough of them appear at the next level which is the county convention they can get more than 15% of undecided and maybe persuade that group to go to one candidate or another. There is trading and bargaining that goes on amongst that group of people going into undecided.

Leahy: Trading and bargaining in politics. Who would of thunk? (Chuckles) 

Larew: Exactly. Who would have thought there was horsetrading in Iowa.

(Commercial break)

Leahy: Jim, I want to talk a little bit about the Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer television ads. Are they flooding the airwaves there in Iowa?

Larew: There are a lot of them here. Bloomberg doesn’t have a presence. Steyer is trying too. I’ll give you an example of why it’s not working. Sunday I dropped by the local coffeehouse where they said they were having a Steyer event. And there were 20 chairs set up and that wasn’t too many. (Leahy laughs)

A few miles away and a couple of hours away and a couple of hours later in Coralville, Iowa which is close to Iowa City, Iowa, they had a convention hall full of more than 2,000 supporters of Mayor Pete. So you get a snapshot of how those are going. One has a sense in the Buttigieg case that it was a campaign that was still growing.

As with Steyer, I don’t know if he’ll have more than that number at the next event that he does. It’s a tough go for Steyer especially with that 15% rule in Iowa. And this is what I think makes Iowa a special place. You really just don’t buy voters with TV ads.

And I don’t know that Bloomberg will spend more than just enough to keep a presence here. But other states down the road that are media-driven and media budgets matter, I think Bloomberg will be growing in what appears to be support for him. His commercials are extremely effective as you might expect from him.

And they appear to anticipate what objections the viewer might have to his candidacy if you’re a Democrat. And he seems to answer them in a slick way. So I wouldn’t underestimate him in the long run if having some presence. I don’t give Steyer from what I can see as much credit.

Leahy: Bloomberg I think is a better communicator than Steyer. Steyer just doesn’t have any charisma or any message other than he hates President Trump. I guess there are some people like that.

Larew: It isn’t compelling enough. He seems to be a good man that’s lived a good life and is trying to do good things. But that doesn’t translate into a good candidacy and so far he hasn’t.

Leahy: So the top four. The ebbs and flows among Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders. What’s going on there? What’s the momentum?

Larew: I think Buttigieg is for real out here in Iowa. You saw some of that. Just a growing part of it and acceleration when you were out here for the Liberty and Justice event back in early November. The event that I went to in Coralville on Sunday was just impressively put together. They are very well funded. Very well organized.

They know what’s going on. And I think he’s going to be coming out of Iowa as someone who will have to be considered. Whether he is the nominee is a different question. And I don’t see anything that’s happened in the last few weeks that would change that. Warren might be struggling a little bit.

She’s on the issue of Medicare for all. I think she pitted against Buttigieg has shown Buttigieg to have an uncanny skill for framing the issues. He’s framed the Medicare saying Medicare for all who want it compared to Elizabeth Warren who appears to advocate Medicare for everyone within a few years of her getting elected president.

And that puts a lot of people on edge who may have health insurance policies that aren’t great, at least they know what they have. And the future it’s a frightening proposal. Sanders is a different group. If Warren appeals say intellectuals, people who are professionals and I think she does, Sanders has a base there of people and his Medicare for all proposal for one says you’ll have to pay a little bit here. You’ll be better off in the long run. That part of it seems honest.

For him, Medicare for all appears in his supporters. You look at them in the crowd. That appears to be a step forward and a step up in an assurance that they need to live a good life. As for Warren, it seems to me that the same proposal it seems that people feel she’s taking something away.

And I see this Medicare thing to be an issue which is causing people to shift. Probably away from Warren. I know Sanders is increasing. But he’s not losing from what seems to be on the surface to be the same proposal, Medicare for all. Now Biden I think is the sleeper here and I’ll tell you why.

And by that I mean I think he’s going to do better towards the end than not. But here would be the reason why. On Friday night I was at an event he held in the Northeast corner of the state. 300 people came and filled an auditorium.

He was there with former Secretary of State, John Kerry who was our standard there back in 2004. Gave an eloquent and moving speech in favor of Biden. And there is Biden, you know, unlike these others who are fighting down in the weeds on particular issues. You have with Biden who comes across with authenticity,  compassion, maybe a little goofy sometimes.

Leahy: A little? (Laughs)

Listen to the second hour:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 am to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Background Photo “Iowa State Fair” by Phil Roeder. CC BY 2.0.





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