The road to the White House begins in Iowa today with the opening contest of the 2016 presidential campaign. Polls show tight races on both sides. Republican front-runner Donald Trump holds a small lead over Texas Senator Ted Cruz. In the Democratic race, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has rallied to close what was once a 40-point deficit behind Hillary Clinton. Iowa is one of the whitest states in the country. But as the first to vote on presidential hopefuls, the Iowa caucus plays an outsize role in the election cycle. Presidential campaigning now starts a year before the opening Iowa contest – that’s nearly two years before the actual Election Day in November 2016. Voters have been treated to months of visits from candidates and more than $150 million in political advertising. We are joined from Des Moines, Iowa, by Ed Fallon, host of the radio show “Fallon Forum” and former member of the Iowa General Assembly; he is backing Bernie Sanders in the race. We are also joined by Wayne Ford, co-founder and co-chair of the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum and a backer of Hillary Clinton. He is a former Iowa state representative and Iowa’s longest-serving black legislator.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
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AMY GOODMAN: The road to the White House begins in Iowa today with the opening contest of the 2016 presidential campaign. Voters will gather at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time to select their picks for the Democratic and Republican nomination. The Iowa caucus is different from a normal presidential primary: Party members gather and discuss their preferred candidates before ballots are cast. Caucus sites include homes, churches, gyms, halls, libraries, taverns and grain elevators.
As the caucus gets underway, the campaigns are watching an approaching winter storm that could hurt voter turnout. Polls show tight races on both sides. Republican front-runner Donald Trump holds a small lead over Texas Senator Ted Cruz. In the Democratic race, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has rallied to close what was once a 40-point deficit behind Hillary Clinton. Now they are neck and neck. On Sunday, Clinton told Iowa supporters she is the more qualified choice.
HILLARY CLINTON: But it is true, when you go to caucus tomorrow night, you are selecting not only the next president, but the next commander-in-chief. And I feel strongly that our country must continue to lead in accordance with our values, to further our interests, to advance our security. I know what it takes, because of the incredible experience that I’ve had over the years, to see the kind of challenges that come to the president that only the president can decide.
AMY GOODMAN: Sanders’ surge in the polls has been fueled by an influx of young voters and rallies drawing huge crowds. On Saturday, the Sanders campaign said it had raised $20 million in January alone. Speaking to NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sanders said he’s drawing voters fed up with the status quo.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Let me just say this. As you well know, when we began this campaign, we were at 3 percent in the polls. We were 50 points behind Hillary Clinton. Today, as you’ve indicated, we’re neck and neck. I think we have a real shot to win this, if there is a large voter turnout. And it’s not just young people. It is working people, it is middle-class people, who are sick and tired of status quo politics. That’s true in Iowa. It’s true in New Hampshire. It’s true all over this country.
AMY GOODMAN: Iowa is one of the whitest states in the country. But as the first to vote on presidential hopefuls, the Iowa caucus plays an outsize role in the election cycle. Presidential campaigning now starts well over year before the opening Iowa contest – that’s nearly two years before actual Election Day in November of 2016. Voters have been treated to months of visits from candidates and more than $150 million in political advertising.
For more, we’re going directly to Des Moines, Iowa, where we’re joined by two guests. Ed Fallon, host of “The Fallon Forum,” which airs on two radio stations in Iowa, he served as a member of the Iowa General Assembly from ’93 to 2006. He is backing Bernie Sanders in the race, just came out and announced that. Wayne Ford is co-founder and co-chair of the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum and a backer of Hillary Clinton. He’s a former Iowa state representative and Iowa’s longest-serving black legislator, having served for 14 years from 1997 to 2010.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Wayne Ford, let us begin with you. Give us the lay of the land. I mean, you have Iowa, one of the whitest states in the country, behind, what, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire – which is the next primary state – West Virginia, and then Iowa. It is determining – it is setting the stage. I mean, the person who wins is not necessarily the one who will win for president, but it really sets the tone for the entire presidential race. Can you talk about your state?
WAYNE FORD: Yes, I can, Amy. First of all, I’m very proud that we were the state that had got President Obama started, although we are the fifth whitest state. But just by electing the first black president means that people in Iowa, we look at the message, not the color. When Jesse Jackson ran in 1988, I had a meeting with him. I said, “Jesse, won’t you put your headquarters in Des Moines?” He said, “Wayne, I don’t want to be in Des Moines. I want to be in Greenfield, Iowa.” So he went to a white community, set up, and to this day, they still talk about Jesse Jackson. So, if you move a color issue and put it on message, since 1976, when Jimmy Carter came here and said, “I’m just a peanut farmer, I’m from the South” – so, I hear you, and plus we’ve got the highest voter turnout during presidential elections in America. We’re at almost 70 percent. So there’s no other state that can say during a vote time that high a percentage vote, although we’ve got a small population, Amy. I’m very proud of what we have done as a state by keeping these candidates on message.
AMY GOODMAN: What are some of the key issues that Iowans care about, Wayne Ford?
WAYNE FORD: From my perspective, when Hillary said criminal justice – we’re not too far from Ferguson, Missouri; Minneapolis; Kansas City. We’re in the Midwest. We have a lot of challenges here when it comes to race. Criminal justice is the issue that people are telling me – talk to me about. I’ve got young black men in innercity Des Moines who are saying, “Wayne, I’ve got a terrorist problem in my neighborhood. I don’t need to go overseas. I’m scared to walk across the street.” So whether it’s Minneapolis, whether it’s Chicago or Ferguson, you have a lot of black people in this part of the world who are really concerned about criminal justice. Lady Justice, she needs to be color blind, but many times she’s not. We’re one of the highest-ranking incarceration of black men in the country. We’ve got some challenges. Hillary said that will be her number one priority, reforming criminal justice, once she gets to – once she gets in office.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, I didn’t plan to get right into it. You two have both just recently endorsed candidates. Wayne Ford, were you with the Clintons this weekend?
WAYNE FORD: Yes, yes. I was very happy. But I didn’t make my endorsement until after the Brown and Black Presidential Forum. The Brown and Black Presidential Forum is the oldest minority forum in America. And I made a decision many years ago that I would never make a decision ’til people come to my forum. I was on the front row. I got a good example to listen to everybody. But when she mentioned criminal justice, when she mentioned from the grave – not to the grave, but when she mentioned from birth to college and to the cradle, I understood that. So she mentioned some things that were very exciting to me, and that’s why I was very happy to be with the Clintons this past week.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to go to some of the clips from that forum, but I want to bring Ed Fallon in, radio host who has just recently endorsed Bernie Sanders. First, Ed, talk about what you think is most important for people to understand about Iowa, and then we’ll have a little debate, discussion, about who you’re both endorsing.
ED FALLON: Well, Iowa is more diverse than most people think, and we are more urban than most people think. But rural issues obviously are very, very important here. One thing I’ve been very interested to see is the growth in interest about climate change. That issue has gone from very little conversation to quite a lot. There’s been a whole bunch of nonprofit organizations that have been helping to push that issue along, including The Climate Mobilization, which just staged a Climate Emergency Caucus, which Bernie Sanders won hands down. He cleaned up at it. I mean, I think there’s a real strong sense that Sanders is the best candidate to deliver the emergency economic transformation we need to fight climate change. And so that’s why I – that’s why I came around to endorsing him after that event.
But the other issue that’s of a particular interest to me is this proposal for a new pipeline across Iowa. You know, with the Keystone pipeline dead and the oil industry still wanting to get that Alberta tar sands oil to market, they’re trying to build a pipeline through Iowa. And that has united libertarians, environmentalists, landowners, farmers. And at first, like a year ago, you wouldn’t hear any candidate mention it. And now Bernie Sanders is in fact running advertisements about his opposition to it on the radio. He’s got fliers. He’s talking about it in every speech he gives. So, to me, it’s really encouraging to see that at least one candidate on the Democratic side and actually Rand Paul on the Republican side have both come out against that issue, because that ties so strongly into not just the issue of climate change and water quality, but also of land rights. You know, to think about how the government would have to approve eminent domain for a private oil company in order to take the land needed, it’s so wrong, and it riles people up in the state. About 75 percent of Iowans polled are against the use of eminent domain for that pipeline. So I’m actually surprised more candidates haven’t come out against it. We haven’t heard a word from Hillary Clinton on it, by the way.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to break, and then we’re going to come back to this discussion. Wayne Ford is with us, co-founder of the Iowa Brown and Black Forum. He has just endorsed Hillary Clinton, where – he’s in Des Moines and former state – he’s also a former state legislator. And Ed Fallon, the radio talk show host, who served in the Iowa General Assembly has just come out and endorsed Bernie Sanders. We’ll be back with them in a minute.