Transcription – Walter Shapiro Interview

Q:              Well, I want to get to what you learned about the individual candidates.  But before we do that, what did you learn about the process by which we choose our nominees for president, by doing this book?

SHAPIRO:   That’s — I’m just trying to figure out where to start with this.

Q:              Take your time.

SHAPIRO:   [00:09:00] Because there is so much.  First of all, it is — the most important thing about presidential politics is the decision to run.  Most of the press coverage treats the fact that every single politician in America is a uni-dimensional ambition machine, where it is without a doubt that they are running for president.  And it becomes a shock when someone like Al Gore in 2004 doesn’t run, or a Mitch Daniels, or Haley Barbour, or Jeb Bush doesn’t run in 2012.  But in truth, the most important thing is that moment where you look in the mirror, and say, “I am willing to devote two years of my life to this.  And if I succeed, my life will never be the same.  I will never have a [00:10:00] moment of privacy again.  And if I fail, I could be humiliated.”  And if I’m a politician — and just to give a more recent example, if I’m a Chris Dodd, I may end up losing my seat in the Senate, because I left Connecticut behind, to become president.  Joe Lieberman, who I wrote about extensively in my book, who was a major 2004 candidate, lost the Democratic primary for the Senate in Connecticut in 2006.  And partially because he was spending so much time in New Hampshire, running for president, that people thought that he had neglected them.

To just go off on a small Lieberman tangent, I remember somebody said, “It wasn’t that Lieberman was for the war, and I’m against it.  We do do know he was a hawk.  But we wanted to have him [00:11:00] listen to us, and we wanted to hear [inaudible].  And Joe wasn’t in Connecticut.”  And as a result, he lost, famously lost the 2006 Democratic primary, and then got elected as an independent, after a [inaudible] moment.

But these are the risks of running for president, that it is not — everyone is not automatically vaulted into the stratosphere of success.  Even John Edwards, somebody who I think will come up again in this conversation, had he not run for president, he would have either had an affair, or not had an affair in 2005 or 2006.  It would have been much smaller, and he probably might well still be the Democratic Senator of North Carolina now.  Or if he was back, practicing law in [00:12:00] North Carolina, he would be practicing law without the stigma of scandal.

So the whole decision to run — and smart people know, that there are downsides, as well as cheering parades and ticker tape, and taking the oath of office.  It’s probably the most important ingredient in the entire process.

Q:              What else does a candidate have to do, during this period, to have — to maximize his or her chance of success?

SHAPIRO:   Well, the second one — and this goes back to the Roger Mudd question to Teddy Kennedy in 1979, is a candidate has to know why they’re running.  And you know, often, candidates think that their biography is enough.  John Edwards, I was the son of a millworker.  And sometimes, it — or John Kerry; my long service [00:13:00] in the United States Senate.  But in truth, often, the people who know how the — who know why they’re running, are, to some extent the cause candidates.  Howard Dean, in 2004, had a clearer sense of why he was running, as did Joe Lieberman, than anyone else in the race.  They were on opposite sides of the Iraq War, but they were running in significant measure, because of the Iraq War, or that was part — an integral part of their appeal.

You know, someone like Dick Gephardt, who was an inside the Beltway — oh, I’ve used that — this whole interview, I’m going to ration myself to three “inside the Beltways,” and I’ve just used my first — (laughter) — was an inside the Beltway player, as Senate House Minority Leader.  Really thought [00:14:00] that his whole biography of son of a milkman, was — and the fact that he had been carrying water for the Democrats in good years, as well as bad, would be enough.  Clearly, it wasn’t.  But the second reason is really to think about, why am I running?  Sometimes the “why am I running?” changes radically.  I don’t think John Kerry ever realized how much the “I was for it before I was against it” and his contortions over Iraq were going to come back and haunt him in 2004.  But that is the second.

The third reason — and this is hiring staff.  Often, campaigns go through staff two or three times.  Certainly, to give the famous example, [00:15:00] Hillary Clinton’s decision to have Mark Penn, the pollster, who didn’t know that California was not a winner-take-all primary, as the first among equals in her 2008 campaign, played a lot — played a major role of why she is not president right now.  So that’s the third reason.

And the fourth reason is, Iowa has 99 counties.  It takes a long time to visit them.  Even New Hampshire, a much smaller state, you’ve got to go up to Berlin.  You’ve got to know how to pronounce “Berlin.”  You’ve got to do all of those things, to show voters in these few early primary states that you care.  And that requires an awful lot of time.  And [00:16:00] while we’re getting away from this, with rockstar candidates, like Hillary Clintons and Barack Obamas, the whole idea of listening to candidates talk in New Hampshire living rooms, early on, or in pizza ranches, as Rick Santorum did in Iowa, is just a wonderful bit of Americana.  And also a wonderful part that I still love about our political system, that you can make a lot of complaints against Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.  Two of them are exceedingly white.  One of them, New Hampshire, is exceedingly secular, and quite wealthy.  In Iowa, in particular, the Republican conservatives [00:17:00] are exceedingly conservative.  But for the most part, those three states are not a terrible way — place to begin.  They’re, each one, is very different from one another.  South Carolina being added to the mix does mean that there is a significant African American vote, as Hill and Billary — Hillary and Bill Clinton learned to their distress in 2008 in the Democratic primaries.

It also gives a different flavor to the Republican race, in the sense that, you have both religious conservatives in South Carolina, but you also have wealthy northern retirees, who are Republican along Hilton Head, and that whole strip, and you are now getting up in York County.  You’re getting the overflow from the Charlotte metroplex.  [00:18:00] So you also are getting the sort of middle-manager types.

So, if there’s one state in this process I love more than any other — and I have actually, at one point, offered to the party chairmen of both parties that I would do a TV ad boosting the state’s role in the process, and that is the state of New Hampshire.  My love of New Hampshire, because they do what they’re supposed to do — that, in New Hampshire, everybody votes.  I don’t have the statistics in front of me, but the level of citizen participation in the primary is stunning.  The problem with Iowa is the Iowa caucuses are such an odd-duck event, that has probably outlived its usefulness, and we’d be better off with an Iowa primary.  Because it’s a little [00:19:00] hard to justify to waitresses, say, who work evenings, that you — or to the elderly.  That you only — have to go out on a snowy evening, and you have to be there from 6:30 to 8:30.  Whatever your daycare situation is, in a world, in a country where we are having more and more early voting.  This is the ultimate late-voting.  And I think South Carolina’s a good addition to the mix.

But my shorthand on Iowa and New Hampshire has always been, Iowa is impossible to poll, because you have no idea who is going to turn out.  New Hampshire is impossible to poll, because voters can make — change their mind at the last minute.  The Obama campaign, before the 2008 primary, [00:20:00] their internal polls had Obama up 10 points.  Hillary Clinton narrowly won that primary.  In the same way, in 2008 — forgive me for drawing on 2008, because I know we are supposed to be talking about 2004, but it’s all of a piece.  In 2008, the Clinton and Edwards campaigns, run by very smart people, figured that the primary, the caucus turnout would be 130- to 150,000 people.  Only the Obama campaign, and the Des Moines Register’s final poll estimated that the turnout would double pre-existing records on — I think he had 230,000.  So, I mean, that is — rarely do you get turnout figures, estimates done by pros on…
[00:21:00] Jennifer O’Malley [Dillon?], who ended up, I think the Deputy Campaign Manager for Obama in 2012, ran Edwards in Iowa in 2008.  So here you have a terrific political operative, who missed the turnout of the Iowa caucuses by about 75 percent.  I could think of no other election, where smart people could be that wrong.  And I will say that, of the thrills in Iowa, of politics, the morning of the 2004 Iowa caucuses — notice I finally get back to our topic — it’s the only time I could ever think of, where you could have made a case that any of four candidates could finish first, or any of four candidates, could finish fourth.  That you had just no idea.  And in the [00:22:00] case of Iowa, in the case of — Kerry had suffered so grievously, been down so long, had blown all of his early leads, was desperate for money, so that he arranged for a $5,000 loaning himself, through a questionable decision of how much of his Boston townhouse was his, rather than how much was owned by his wife.  But John Kerry could have been first, or he could have been last.

John Edwards was surging.  Aaron Pickrell, who ran Iowa for Edwards in 2004, and later ended up running Ted Strickland’s campaigns in Ohio, for governor, and ran Obama in 2012 in Ohio.  But he has told me on occasion that if the caucuses were two days later in 2004,  John Edwards [00:23:00] would have won.  He was moving that fast.  Dick Gephardt had all the institutional backing.  You know, all the labor backing, had done all that kind of work.  And in an organizational primary, you should never underestimate that.  And Howard Dean had come out of nowhere.  A burst like a comet along the skies.  Somebody who was getting thousand-person crowds at Grinnell College, just four months earlier.  You could not rule him out either.

It didn’t work out.  It was — there were really two tiers.  It was Kerry-Edwards, then a long gulf back to Dean-Gephardt.  But you could have argued it either way, anyway, on the morning of the 2004 Iowa caucuses.