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How Democrats Can Reboot Campaigns After Iowa

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We still don't know for sure who's won the Iowa caucus, but what we do know is that at least two of the top-tier candidates - Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden - have some work to do today in New Hampshire, which holds its primary next week. Hillary Clinton faced a similar dilemma when she ran for president in 2008. Everyone expected her to win, but she came in third in the state's caucus, behind Barack Obama and John Edwards. Then a week later, she claimed victory in New Hampshire.

Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe was campaign co-chair for Hillary Clinton in 2008, and he joins us now. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

TERRY MCAULIFFE: Great to be with you, Audie. Thank you.

CORNISH: As we mentioned, you've run campaigns before. So when a candidate comes in fourth, donors get nervous, a lot of other supporters get nervous. How long can the Biden campaign kind of keep the lights on without a big win?

MCAULIFFE: Yeah, and I think they put a lot of chips on the table for Iowa. I think the vice president has to do very well in New Hampshire, come in second, and then have a good showing in Nevada and South Carolina. But then, Audie, the big issue is just a couple days later after South Carolina is March 3, and it's 14 states. It's 35% of the delegates. And you have Michael Bloomberg sitting there with unlimited amounts of money, and we've never seen that before in our party.

CORNISH: I want to come back to something you said. I mean, Joe Biden was originally considered the front-runner, and now you're talking about him doing well if he places second in New Hampshire. What happened here?

MCAULIFFE: Yeah. Listen. When you're the front-runner (laughter), that comes with a very distinct title. You've got to win. And he was the front-runner - obviously, vice president for eight years, senator for many years. And it didn't get organized or he didn't get the vote out in Iowa - 170,000 people voted. He came in fourth. And he's got to show - I mean, his argument has been that I am the one to beat Donald Trump. And that means that you can motivate and excite, enthuse voters to come out for you. You can't keep coming in fourth in exciting and enthusing, you know, not only donors but the activists.

CORNISH: So to jump in here, what does Joe Biden need to do, right? If his big problem was that he didn't essentially convince Iowans that he was the most electable, what is the moment he needs to get out of New Hampshire?

MCAULIFFE: He's got to excite people. He's got to get out there and start throwing the, you know, the 70-yard passes. He's got to get people walking away saying, yeah, he's the one to go out and can beat Donald Trump. People are worried - rightfully - after the, you know, the State of the Union. He'll be acquitted...

CORNISH: That President Trump will be acquitted, right.

MCAULIFFE: Going forward, we need a fighter. He's got to show that he's that fighter.

CORNISH: Bigger question - the Democratic Party came out of Iowa battered, right? And as former head of the DNC, how does the party recover from what happened in Iowa Monday night?

MCAULIFFE: No. 1, we can't let one state that is mostly white be such a big determinant in our nominating process. We need to have - rotate it regionally. Nobody should have this honor. Ninety-five percent of the African American communities vote for Democrats, 70% of the Hispanic, and yet this state is very white. They're great people, work hard. I love Iowans, but they should not have this place in our nominating process. No. 2 - eliminate all caucuses. You know, for people working, they're just not open. And we had, I think, it's 16% turnout. That is abysmal. In primaries in presidential years, you should be 50, 60, 70% turnout of Democrats. So...

CORNISH: But to jump in here, this time around, turnout for first-time caucusgoers was below 2016. It was way below 2008. Is this a problem for Democrats?

MCAULIFFE: Absolutely not. Since Donald Trump, go back to November 2016, look at 2017, look at Virginia - biggest turnout, biggest pickup of House of Delegates in a hundred years. Look at '18, the turnout - won the House, biggest pickup since '74, seven new Democratic governors, 300 new state legislative seats.

CORNISH: So Iowa's turnout does not disturb you.

MCAULIFFE: It bothers me, but I'm going to blame it on the caucus system. Now, if you and I are having this conversation next week after a primary, then there is, but we haven't seen any evidence of that. And I'm surprised it wasn't a bigger turnout, but I'm going to put it at a caucus.

CORNISH: Terry McAuliffe, the former governor of Virginia and adviser to numerous Democratic candidates, thank you for speaking with us.

MCAULIFFE: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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