What to Watch With 10 Days Until Iowa

Mark Halperin takes your questions.


Attendees stand near a U.S. flag during an event with Hillary Clinton and singer Demi Lovato in Iowa City, Iowa, on Jan. 21, 2016.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

In a presidential race that has proven unpredictable from its start, some clarity may be found on Feb. 1, when Iowa caucus-goers kick off the nominating process. Mark Halperin, the co-host of Bloomberg TV's With All Due Respect, discussed the contest in a question-and-answer session with Bloomberg terminal users on Friday, moderated by Bloomberg Politics reporter Ben Brody. Here's an excerpt of the discussion.

We’re 10 days out from Iowa: What is going to be the key thing to watch there? Will it be the actual winners, or maybe the losers and drop-outs? The groups that vote?

On the Republican side, there's the battle for first between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. And can Marco Rubio finish a strong enough third to get momentum into New Hampshire? On the Democratic side, watch to see if Bernie Sanders can get his college backers to go home to caucus to spread his supporters around.  

Who could claim the most momentum with a surprise in Iowa? 

Bernie Sanders.

Bernie Sanders has been speaking for four decades about economic inequality, while Donald Trump does best with those who lack a college education and (seemingly) are threatened by immigration and globalization. How much is the economy, as opposed to dissatisfaction with the establishment, driving the dynamics of this race?

There's no way to disentangle voter concern over the economy with the more general anxiety about the direction and future of the country—and the unhappiness and anger over the performance of government officials.

As the race gets closer, it's getting nastier, particularly from the Hillary Clinton camp. Will the negative campaigning work?

Hard to say. Sometimes, negative campaigning works just as planned: Candidate A attacks Candidate B, Candidate B goes down in the polls. But this is a strange election cycle. There are indications that Sanders can turn negative attacks on him into something that will rally more support.

Do you see the possibility of a brokered GOP convention, or is the GOP establishment resigned to a Trump (or Cruz) nomination?

Some prefer the term "chaotic convention" since there will unlikely be any power brokers who can actually force a given outcome in Cleveland. If one or two of the four establishment candidates can emerge from New Hampshire in the mix with Cruz and Trump (assuming they both perform in the first two states as planned), then there's a decent chance that a three- or four-way race could keep anyone from getting a majority of delegates needed for nomination before the convention. At that point, I think the GOP would head into Cleveland not knowing who will be nominated. Therefore: chaos!

There's a lot of bad news coming out of the stock market -- not today but in recent weeks. Does turmoil benefit the Republicans?

It certainly doesn't help the mood of the country, and if the economy seems in bad shape come the general election, that could indeed help the Republican nominee. For now, I think if any of the Republicans can convince voters they have a plan for dealing with the economy overall, I think there's a pretty massive opening there.

Do you think Wall Street will get a candidate it can live and work with?

Yes. Because Wall Street is comprised of the world's most adaptable people.

Okay, back to the Democrats. Clinton has publicly laughed off Sanders's polling strength in Iowa and New Hampshire, saying her organization is stronger than his in later states. Could she really survive that long if she doesn't do well in Iowa and New Hampshire?

I don't think she is laughing at this point, and to be fair she and her team have always said this would be a difficult fight. No one in the world can tell you what things will be like if Sanders wins Iowa and New Hampshire. She would still be the front-runner. But Sanders would earn a ton of media coverage and raise millions more in contributions and, having achieved one of the greatest upsets in modern American political history, he would have the Big Mo.

This one is one I wondered about as I watched the last Republican debate. When Trump was fighting with Cruz, that was one of the few times I've seen Trump really look thrown. Do you think he's getting spooked?

Cruz is presenting a different type of challenge to Trump than some of the other Republican candidates have, but judging by polling, media coverage, and Trump's body language, I think he is very much on his game now. Some think this is a very rough spot for Cruz; I'm not sure about that. But I do believe Trump is on track with his plan.

Talk about Jeb Bush. What went wrong? Can it be as simple as Donald Trump calling him names?

Don't count him out yet. Too soon to do a post mortem. But resistance to having another Bush as the party's nominee has certainly been a problem. He has performed inconsistently as a candidate, although he is on his game now. And he has been out of the political game for a long time, and I think he was a little rusty and unfamiliar with what current-day campaigning calls for.

What about the other family members—Bill and Hillary? Are the former presidents helping or hurting?

Barbara Bush has shot a video for Jeb that has been unveiled today. I think that will help. George W. Bush might be out on the campaign trail soon. And I saw Bill Clinton campaign in New Hampshire this week and he was also on his game. All the legacy family members come with pluses and minuses. On balance, I think in the context of the nomination fights, they are clearly a plus.

YouTube: A Message From Barbara Bush | Jeb Bush

Is Bernie Sanders ready to portray himself as a leader—of his movement, of the party, of the country? Or is he just the messenger?

He is growing into the role of leader before our eyes. Certainly of a movement. Next step is to see if the Democratic Party will accept him as such, even though he hasn't been a member.

Can he be a wild-haired socialist and the Democratic Party nominee, or do we see that word disappear if he gets the nod?

He will not change or moderate with success.

Let's talk about potential vice presidential nominees. Who are a few you see on each side?

Way too soon to say.

To you, what's the most under-reported story of the cycle?

What we can tell about Trump's leadership abilities based on his past career AND why voters are so angry about the state of the government and the nation. So, two stories.

We haven't touched as much on Marco Rubio, who has been a big story in the past few months. What (electorally speaking) do you think keeps him awake at night?

Fundraising, delegates, finding a state he can win. Although to be clear, I don't think Senator Rubio has any trouble sleeping. He seems like a pretty Zen guy.

John Kasich seems to be gaining in New Hampshire, with a little help from Democrats and people who aren't registered with a party. Is that sustainable -- for him or the Republicans?

A lot of independents will vote in the Republican primary. Governor Kasich is trying hard to win his share, but so are many of the other candidates, of both parties.

All right, last question: What are the biggest things you're watching after Iowa, into New Hampshire and super Tuesday and beyond?

On the Democratic side, if Sanders can extend whatever success he has in Iowa and New Hampshire into states where he currently isn't doing as well. On the Republican side, can anyone but Trump and Cruz make it to the finals?

Watch With All Due Respect weekdays at 5 p.m. ET on Bloomberg TV and BloombergPolitics.com.

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