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 Allpolitics Chat

Charles Cook, CNN political analyst

A chat about the Iowa straw poll

August 14, 1999
Web posted at: 5:20 p.m. EDT

(CNN) -- The following is an edited transcript of a chat with CNN Political analyst Charles Cook. Cook joined us from the Iowa GOP straw poll on August 14, 1999. CNN Interactive provided a typist.

Chat Moderator: Welcome CNN political analyst, Charles Cook!

Charles Cook: Thank you.

Chat Moderator: What do you think the results of today's straw poll will be?

Charles Cook: The consensus seems to be that Gov. Bush will come in first. But the crowds showing up for Steve Forbes tent are awfully big. It is safe to assume that Forbes will come in at least second. I think a win by Bush of 10 points or more would be a real victory. A win of less than ten would be somewhat less impressive, and a loss is a loss.

There is sort of a battle for third place. We are watching Gary Bauer and Elizabeth Dole very closely. I have not had a chance to see the Dole tent yet. After that, we are also watching Lamar Alexander

It will be kind of interesting to watch Dole and Alexander. Dole has more money and broader support in the polls, but Alexander has better organization.

Question from Roger_A: Why is so much credence being given to a poll where the candidates can actually PAY for votes?

Charles Cook: Two things: one, campaigns can buy tickets, but they still have to get people to come. To get people to drive two or three hours to come from all over the state to vote is a pretty good test of organization. That's what the caucus is all about: who can deliver the votes on caucus day.

In the past, though, the straw poll has not been an accurate predictor of the caucus order of finish. It has been a good indicator of trends for the caucus. For example, in 1979, George Bush beat Ronald Reagan in the straw poll, and then beat him in the subsequent caucus.

In 1987, Pat Robertson beat Vice President Bush in the straw poll, and then in the caucus, Dole and Robertson both beat Bush. In 1995, Phil Gramm tied Bob Dole and Dole was just barely able to win the caucus. So, it has been a good indicator of trends.

Question from Pame5Ashe: Do you think Bush will be speaking more to issues now or at least giving us some clue as to where he stands on the issues?

Charles Cook: Each of the candidates will only get ten minutes to speak, so it is unlikely that any of the candidates will get deeply into any of the issues. This will be the first exposure that most of these people will have to Gov. Bush. So, he really does need to introduce himself and create a comfort level with the attendees.

Question from Roger_A: Why do you think John McCain decided not to compete in this poll?

Charles Cook: McCain had been very active in Phil Gramm's campaign four years ago. He saw Gramm spend $800,000 in campaign when he tied Bob Dole, yet his campaign crashed and burned before the caucus even came up.

McCain built up a healthy skepticism of the straw poll, if not the caucus process. He also knew that he was getting off to a late start, and was not likely to do that well, anyway.

Question from MarleneJ: How do you think Iowans feel about John McCain not coming to the straw poll?

Charles Cook: There is probably a tiny bit of resentment. But, I think a lot of Iowa Republicans just don't know a lot of about John McCain. Because they are not familiar with him, they just don't know what he is all about. Al Gore, in 1988, snubbed Iowa, yet he seems to be doing very well out here right now.

Question from Cynd32: How seriously is the Republican Party taking Ms. Dole, either as president or vice president?

Charles Cook: She is drawing big crowds here, and a lot of enthusiasm, particularly among women. I watched her at a west Des Moines event the other day. She drew about 100 people, about 70 percent female.

She is drawing a lot of interest, but they are not the traditional caucus attendees. They seem to be people who have developed a sense of history: the first serious female candidate for president.

Question from Pame5Ashe: What is the "mood" among the candidates today? Is it friendly but reserved, or like a big "family picnic" there?

Charles Cook: It is more like a big family picnic. It's very festive. It's a gorgeous day, about 75 degrees, not a cloud in the sky. People seem to be having a great time. I came four years ago, and loved it so much that I brought my family this year. This is one of the more interesting events you will see anywhere in the country.

Question from julee: Do either Bush or Forbes really want to win, since a win is considered a jinx?

Charles Cook: I don't know anyone here who considers a win a jinx. The criticism here is that it is an event that can be bought, not that it is a jinx.

Question from Roger_A: Isn't the focus given to these polls by the media more of an influence on the trends than actual votes? Isn't this a distortion of the electoral process?

Charles Cook: You have to start off by saying that this is all about the Iowa Caucus, which will be on January 31st. In the caucus process, a relatively small number people from around the state spend two to four hours in a process to pick the delegates to the convention. That is an organizational feat for candidates to deliver their voters to the polling places around the state.

The straw poll is a different but comparable organizational feat. Someone that can deliver a lot of people to the straw poll is likely to be able to deliver a lot of people to the caucus.

Obviously, political circumstances change between the straw poll and the caucus, but it is a useful test. Has it been blown out of proportion? Yes, but it is still important.

Question from julee: Who has the best barbecue?

Charles Cook: I have only had the Alexander Barbecue. The lines were far too long for Forbes and Bush. But, after this chat I plan to go out and try some more!

:Question from TaxpayerToo: How's Quayle doing?

Charles Cook: I have not been to the Quayle tent yet, but I have heard that there a lot of empty buses arriving here for Quayle. The expectation is that he will not do well. Between Gary Bauer and Forbes, I think they have eaten up a lot of support that Vice President Quayle once had.

Question from Pame5Ashe: Who do you expect to be "gone" after the dust settles tomorrow?....what candidates will fold their tents and leave the campaign behind?

Charles Cook: I don't know if any of the candidates will terminate their campaigns because that would prevent them from being paid their matching funds on January 1st. What you will see though, is between two and three candidates suspending their campaigns. Quayle is the most likely. If Alexander does not come out ahead of Dole, then very likely he might drop. Maybe some more.

Chat Moderator: Thank you, Charles Cook, for joining us today!

Charles Cook: Thank you.

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