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Franken: Caucuses hard to forecast

CNN's Bob Franken
CNN's Bob Franken

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DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) It's the day of the Iowa caucuses and, although recent polls suggest a tight race among the top four Democratic contenders, the caucus system does not easily lend itself to predictions. A Des Moines Register poll released Sunday showed Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt only a few percentage points apart.

CNN's Carol Costello spoke with CNN correspondent Bob Franken on Monday live from Des Moines about what some say will be one of the closest Democratic causes in Iowa history.

COSTELLO: It's a free-for-all right now, isn't it, Bob?

FRANKEN: The thing is, we don't really know what the preferences are going to be, because the polls can't really register to that degree. These caucuses are very fluid. You can go to them. You can change your mind. If your vote doesn't match up to the minimum needed to come up with a caucus consensus, you're pressured -- and I mean pressured -- to change your mind. And you don't know how that's going to work.

So, these dynamics, which are very quirky, can mean that the polls really have very severe limitations.

COSTELLO: Because the caucuses are so complicated and so confusing, it's difficult for most people to understand. But let's try to make it simple for people. Campaign workers are going to hit the streets. They probably are already out there this morning, drumming up more support, going door to door -- things like that.

FRANKEN: Twisting arms to the point that people are going to look like their arms are pretzels before the day is through. You're going to go from the volunteers for Howard Dean, who most of them are in college or barely out of college, to the ones who are out there for Richard Gephardt, who are more the Teamster type. And there are going to be volunteers for the other candidates, too.

It's going to be an interesting day, and I suspect that before the day is through, if anybody answers yes to the question, "Are you a voter in Iowa," he's going to regret it.

COSTELLO: It's really cold in Iowa right now, what, 3 degrees? But they're expecting voter turnout to be massive, aren't they?

FRANKEN: Well, massive is a relative term. They're expecting that maybe they'll get this time 20 to 25 percent of the Democrats in this state, which would be about twice as much as the last time around.

But you brought up the weather, and that's an interesting one, because people have to get out and go into this weather. And I can tell you from very sad personal experience that it's brutally cold.

The question is: If the weather is a factor, who will be the ones who will be affected? And the usual answer to that are the older voters, because they have less tolerance for cold weather, which could have an influence on the turnouts for the likes of Richard Gephardt.

COSTELLO: Oh, you're not kidding. So, things really start kicking off at 6:30 tonight Central Time. When might we know the results? Could it take a long time to tally, since the polls have the candidates so bunched up at the top?

FRANKEN: Well, they're hoping not. By the way, that will be 7:30 Eastern Time. And they're hoping it won't take a long time to tally results. They have a new Internet system, where the individual caucuses can speed their results to the State House, and they can be tabulated. And, of course, we all know how well we can count on computers to work.

So, either we'll know very quickly, or we might know this time next week.


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