Transcript: Win Iowa

The full episode transcript for Article II: Inside Impeachment, Win Iowa.
Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter at the Democratic National Convention in New York on July 15, 1976.AP

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So You Wanna Be President? with Chris Matthews

Win Iowa

Donald Trump: (CHEERS) Friends, delegates, and fellow Americans. (MUSIC)

Hillary Clinton: I accept your nomination for President of the United States.(CHEERS)

Chris Matthews: So you wanna be president? I'm Chris Matthews from Hardball on MSNBC. I've watched so many people run for their party nomination, but only a few knew how to get it.

Archival Recording: Madam Chairwoman and delegates.

John McCain:I have a privilege given few Americans.

John Kerry:For all those who believe that our best days are ahead of us.

George W. Bush: I proudly accept your nomination. (CHEERS)

Matthews: So you wanna be president? This show is about what you have to do to get your nomination. These are the lessons learned from campaigns that win. Six episodes, six timeless things that separate winners from losers. I'll be joined by campaign veterans.

Some have had front row seats to the most important moments in presidential campaign history. We'll break down what worked for some candidates and what didn't for other. So you wanna be president? These lessons can help. Stick around.

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Matthews: So you wanna be president? I'm Chris Matthews from Hardball on MSNBC. Lesson one, win Iowa. It's the most astounding thing. Win Iowa, and it's nearly a lock you'll get your party's nomination. For the Democrats, nine of the last 11 nominees won Iowa. On the Republican side, more than half.

The Iowa caucuses are America's first battleground. Winning there means you get America's attention. You stand out for voters inside a national spotlight, as the election calendar races on to New Hampshire and beyond. But candidates haven't always thought winning Iowa was worth it. The first who saw its value was Jimmy Carter. He put the Iowa caucuses on the map.

Jimmy Carter: Jimmy Carter. Want to ask you to help me next, a week from tonight. I'm running for president. I need y'all's help, okay?

Archival Recording: Okay.

Carter: Good day. Thank you very much.

Matthews: In 1975 and 1976, Jimmy Carter went all in in Iowa. He needed to. Outside the South, the Georgia governor was unknown to most people. And he was up against a crowded, more established field. To win in Iowa, Jimmy Carter championed something called retail politics. He took his underdog campaign to the people.

Carter: Can you help?

Archival Recording: Oh, yeah.

Carter: Thank you very much. Hi, Jimmy Carter. I'm glad to meet you, ma'am. Hi, Jimmy Carter, I'm glad to meet you, sir.

Archival Recording: Hi, thank you sir.

Carter: Fine. I hope you'll go to the caucus next Monday night and help. Well, why don't y'all (UNINTEL). Hi, let me meet you. I'm Jimmy Carter.

Archival Recording: Hi.

Carter: I'm Jimmy Carter, I'm glad to see ya. I just want to ask you to help me next Monday night--

Archival Recording: Okay.

Carter: --in the caucus. I'll get it.

Gerry Rafshoon: We're shooting film of him meeting people, shaking hands. My name is Jimmy Carter, I'm running for president.

Matthews: Gerry Rafshoon was part of Jimmy Carter's campaigns in the early days, first for Georgia governor, then for the White House. Gerry ran the film shoots, created all the campaign ads, and was part of the team who dreamed up Jimmy Carter's winning Iowa strategy.

Rafshoon: It looked like if we won Iowa, we'd get all the national attention. It would all be directed, can this guy do it again in New Hampshire?

Woodruff: It was very clear that they were working the state and had it all mapped out.

Matthews: Judy Woodruff also watched Jimmy Carter in his early days as a politician. You know her today as anchor and managing editor for the PBS NewsHour. In the early 1970s, she was a rookie journalist working in Atlanta.

Judy Woodruff: I had just gone to work for NBC, and I started telling my bosses at NBC, you gotta pay attention to this Governor Carter. And they looked at me like I had a hole in my head.

Archival Recording: I'm afraid I'm prejudiced, because you are a farmer, and I am a farmer.

Carter: That's the kinda prejudice I like. (LAUGHTER) Well, I'm glad to meet ya.

Woodruff: Jimmy Carter was obviously not a creature of Washington, not somebody who they thought, thick Southern accent, who does he think he is? And I kept saying to them, you know, you really need to pay attention to this guy. He's going somewhere.

Matthews: Judy Woodruff was right. The Jimmy Carter playbook would go on to become lesson one for campaigns. Win Iowa with retail politics. Climb inside the national spotlight, and hang in there all the way to the nomination. The roots of Jimmy Carter's playbook in Iowa took shape long before his presidential run. Carter was then a first-time candidate for Georgia governor. He was up against some big-time politicians. He needed help. Gerry Rafshoon was a young advertising executive in Atlanta. A friend offered him a job on the Carter campaign.

Rafshoon: A fellow by the name of Hal Gulliver, who became editor of the Atlanta Constitution said, "Gerry, you oughta do Jimmy Carter's campaign. You oughta do the advertising. He's a friend of mine." And I said, "Hal, I can't do that. I just started the advertising agency."

But then I was driving my car down Peachtree on a Saturday, and I heard a commercial come on the air. And it was a country and western singer singing, "Jimmy Carter is his name. Jimmy Carter is his name. Jimmy Carter is his name, number one for governor." I almost ran off the road. I went to a filling station, and I called Gulliver, and I said, "Your friend Carter needs help." He says, "Damnit, I told ya. Why didn't you help?" I said, "No, just tell him to take that damn jingle off." (LAUGH) That's free advice.

So the following Monday night, I was babysitting. My wife was out, and Gulliver calls me up and says, "Carter just fired his ad guy, and he's got $60,000 to spend from now until the election, which is two months away, and wants to know how you're going to spend it." So I go up, and the headquarters was a suite at the Dinkler Plaza Hotel, where all the politicos hung out. The door opens, and in walks this guy Jimmy Carter.

And he's with three people. And so they said, "Well, what have you got?" I said, "Well, you need to do away with all your billboards. And you've got $60,000. Let's put it all on television, and we'll follow you around the state." And he said, "Well, what's the message?" And I said, "There's a man coming to your town. His name is Jimmy Carter. He's running for governor. They say he can't win. It's not up to them to decide who can win. You decide who can win. Go see him, talk to him, find out what he has to say. Better yet, you tell him what you have to say." Silence in the room, and the political science professor said, "This is a disaster. You never say you can't win." (LAUGH) And I said, "He's not number one, he's fourth." You know? It's not the truth. "That doesn't matter." And I said, "Well."

Matthews: What was Jimmy's reaction to all this chatter?

Rafshoon: He's sitting there watching me, and he turned to them and said, "Let me talk to this guy alone. I said, "Oh." And he said, "Don't argue with these folks, these are good folks and I need them. Now let's do your campaign."

Matthews: Oh wow.

Rafshoon: And I fell in love.

Matthews: Because he believed in you?

Rafshoon: Yeah. We followed him around the state. We shot footage, and it became a Carter trademark. He went to factory gates, and he went all over. And then he called me a few months later and said, "We're gonna do it again. Are you with me?" And of course I was. (MUSIC)

Woodruff: The only job I could get in journalism was the secretary in the newsroom of the ABC affiliate in Atlanta. And they hired me right out of Duke. I answered the phone, cleaned the films, emptied the trash, and ultimately persuaded them that I really wanted to report.

Couldn't get a job there, but was hired by the CBS station in Atlanta to cover politics. The first assignment I had was covering the Henry County fight over highways in Georgia, but it wasn't long after that, that Jimmy Carter and others announced. This was 1970, and Jimmy Carter and others announced they were running for governor, and he had his journey that year.

It wasn't the only assignment I had. I covered a lot. I was general assignment. But that was where I first met Jimmy Carter, first watched him out on the trail, met Rosalynn, and, you know, really was captivated by the Carter mystique, if you want to call it that.

Matthews: Did you get a sense that he could go national? That he was that kind of a big time, big league politician?

Woodruff: Not then, but after he was elected, sure. By the end of that year, and I saw him in office, and I saw how effective he was, I know the point came watching him deal with the Georgia legislature. And frankly, he didn't have a lotta respect for most of them. He worked with them, but he essentially liked to tell them what to do and what he thought. But that was the Jimmy Carter people watched when he was governor.

Matthews: Jimmy Carter had bigger plans. So did his closest advisors. Hamilton Jordan who ran the Carter campaign, Gerry Rafshoon, and others took the lessons they'd learned from the Georgia races, and put their heads together about the governor's chances in a presidential run. Iowa would be crucial to their national strategy.

Rafshoon: We told the governor we wanted to come see him about his future. And he said, "Okay." So we get to the governor's mansion, and we laid out why he had the advantage. The South hadn't had a president for 120 years.

Matthews: You didn't count Johnson. He's a Westerner.

Rafshoon: Right. But also he did not get elected the first time.

Matthews: Yeah.

Rafshoon: You're not a racist, you can beat George Wallace in the South. We went through the list of all the things. Being a governor. Watergate was going on, and he says, "Well, what do you guys wanna do?" And then we said, "We'll come back and bring you a plan, running in states."

Matthews: This is right after the Nixon sweep of McGovern.

Rafshoon: Won 49 states. And he said, "Okay, I'm gonna do it." And the plan was, beat Kennedy in the North in New Hampshire, and beat Wallace in Florida.

Carter: As of this time, here in the state that I love, surrounded by friends of mine from all over the nation, I'd like to announce that I am a candidate for president. (CHEERS)

Matthews: When he announced for president, did that surprise you?

Woodruff: At the time he announced, I knew for a little bit of time that he was gonna run. You know, he would have national politicians come to visit him. I remember Hubert Humphrey. I just remember a parade of Democrats coming through Atlanta. He was on the move. He was trying to be a player in national Democratic Party politics. So we knew he had great ambition, and the people around him, the young guys around him did.

Matthews: What did you make, do you remember a headline of the Atlanta Journal Constitution that said, "Jimmy Who is running for What?"

Woodruff: It's because he didn't have everybody's respect. I mean, first of all, locally a lotta people thought it was crazy for a Georgian to run for president. I mean, that it just didn't compute. Here was a guy who had been a peanut farmer. Yes, sure, he had had a progressive term in office, but where were the ingredients that were gonna propel him to the White House? And it just didn't add up.

Carter: I remember when I announced for president in December of 1974, there was a major headline on the editorial page of the Atlanta Constitution that said, "Jimmy Carter is running for what?" (CHEERS) (UNINTEL PHRASE)

Matthews: Carter announced for president more than a year before Iowa. Judy Woodruff knew what he was up against. She'd seen him run a ground campaign for governor as the underdog outsider. At the time, she asked the candidate about his approach for the '76 campaign.

Woodruff: There are still many people from outside the South apparently who are a little reluctant to accept the idea of a president from the South. How do you deal with that?

Carter: I don't believe that sectional prejudice still exists. I've campaigned all over the country. I probably traveled more, taught more, and listened to more people and questions than any other human being this year.

Carter: I started my own campaign. I didn't have any political organization, not much money. Nobody knew who I was. We began to go from one living room to another, one labor hall to another, up and down the streets, factory shift lines, barber shops, beauty parlors, restaurants, shaking hands, talkin' to people, and listening.

Matthews: When you saw his campaign style, you talked about your first impression. He was very much what we call a retailer. I mean, one to one eye contact. Spend some time with a person. Bill Clinton was like that a lot. We've met people. Did you think that would translate when he had to go national?

Woodruff: I would love to tell you, Chris, that I knew that he had some magic. What I knew was that he was deeply ambitious, organized, the people around him. And that they had some kind of plan. They weren't sharing it early on. And you had to take them seriously. They were looking at the country. They were looking at moving out and figuring out a way to get it done. I had no way of knowing they were going to win, but I knew that you couldn't just write these folks off.

Carter: It was not until Johnny Apple, New York Times, went out in the countryside in Iowa and talked to people, you know, teachers, and policemen, and I guess bartenders and others. And he sized up what we already knew about Iowa and wrote a headline in the New York Times, did the other reporters ever dream (THROAT CLEARING) that I might come in first in Iowa.

They were lookin' at me as comin' in fifth or sixth, because they very seldom got out of Des Moines. They would stay there, you know, and enjoy themselves and talk to each other. But he actually went out and got opinions from people around the state. And he projected that I was gonna win, which I did. That just amazed a lotta people, and it focused attention on me, which is very beneficial.

Matthews: That was Jimmy Carter appearing on C-SPAN recently about the legendary New York Times reporter, Johnny Apple. Apple and others on the campaign trail were known as the boys on the bus. Jimmy Carter's Iowa strategy was coming into focus.

It was working, and national reporters looked at Judy Woodruff for insights on the underdog's approach to winning elections one voter at a time. Those were the glory days of the boys on the bus. That's when you had the big names, Johnny Apple. And Broder was just starting really, a lotta them. Did they take him seriously? 'Cause you'd be bumpin' into them on the bus and elsewhere.

Woodruff: And Jim Wooten who was with the Times--

Matthews: Well, of course, the great Jim Wooten, and he did cover him. He wrote a book about it.

Woodruff: He covered him, knew him a little bit better, and there were some national reporters who had spent time in Atlanta. And there were folks like Bill Ship, you know, local Georgia reporters, Atlanta Constitution, who knew more about him. But even they didn't have an idea that he was, I mean, none of us could know how far he was ultimately gonna go. But we knew there was the ambition, and the rest of it.

But yeah, I mean, I remember talking to Johnny Apple, the beloved Johnny, the beloved David Broder early on, because they were curious about him. They looked at him and saw there was something different. But they were trying to figure out, "What's the secret ingredient here?" And they did talk to those of us who had covered him for a few years, you know, to try to understand.

Matthews: What'd you tell 'em, Judy? (LAUGH) The secret ingredient.

Woodruff: I mean, I learned a lot from those guys, but you're right. They were looking to me and a whole lot of other local reporters who had covered him for some clues.

Carter: (APPLAUSE) We've seen walls built around Washington, and we feel like we can't quite get through to guarantee the people of this country a government that's sensitive to our needs, that we can understand and control, that's competent, well-managed, efficient, economical, purposeful, and also a government of which we can be proud.

Archival Recording: Jimmy Carter, a leader for a change.

Matthews: Ads like this one were new for presidential campaigns. They showed the candidate on the campaign trail. They captured everything, the handshakes, conversations, the speeches.

Carter: Thanks again.

Archival Recording: Best of luck to you.

Carter: Thank you, ma'am.

Matthews: Gerry Rafshoon and his film crew pioneered the approach, and turned their footage into campaign ads for Iowa television.

Rafshoon: The myth was, you don't do television in Iowa. It's all on the ground, meeting, running around the state. Well, we had a guy running around the state, but it just happens that we brought our own television with him. And we were shooting film of him meeting people, shaking hands, "My name is Jimmy Carter, I'm running for president." So it looked like, if we could win Iowa, it would help us win New Hampshire.

Matthews: Why was it important that Carter was known for shaking hands with lots of people, thousands and thousands of people, staying overnight in their houses, sleeping on their couches.

Rafshoon: That's right.

Matthews: Why was it important to do that on film, and what was the connection between him retailing as we say in politics, and then you wholesaling it on television, basically the same thing, Carter shakin' hands.

Rafshoon: Because it was bringing the message to all the people that he didn't shake hands with.

Matthews: I see. (LAUGH) This is multiplying.

Rafshoon: It was multiplying.

Carter: I believe in balanced budgets. I believe in screening out or eliminating programs that have long past served their usefulness.

Rafshoon: He was perfect on television, but also we had spots of him talkin' about the issues. People were saying he wasn't talkin' about the issues. So I did five-minute spots. As I said, "If anybody spends five minutes with Jimmy, they're gonna vote for him."

Carter: I believe that when there's a choice to be made between government and private industry, if it's an equal choice, I'd go with the private industry. This is the kind of concept that is generally considered to be conservative. But at the same time, I believe in human beings, in equal opportunity and freedom and equality of opportunity. And I'll fight for it.

Archival Recording: If you agree that government should be sent--

Rafshoon: If you agree with Jimmy Carter on this issue, vote for him. (LAUGH)

Matthews: You know what this comes from?

Rafshoon: Why are you laughing?

Matthews: Because Gene McCarthy, Senator McCarthy who ran for president, he said, "The way to become an issues candidate is to use the word issues (LAUGH) over and over."

Rafshoon: I didn't know he said that. (LAUGH)

Matthews: And he said, "I'm running on the issues. I'm an issues candidate." As long as you say the word issues, the people think you're an issues candidate.

Rafshoon: Right.

Matthews So Carter--

Rafshoon: But this was an issues candidate (LAUGH) who's goin' around meeting people.

Carter: Thank you very much. Hi.

Martha Smith: Martha Smith. I also was in Atlanta (UNINTEL)--

Carter: Oh were you? Well, I'm glad you all remember me for that. (LAUGHTER) That's good.

Matthews: As Jimmy Carter criss-crossed Iowa, he was running against a big field. Before this year's campaign, 1976 was the largest Democratic field (APPLAUSE) in modern history. Carter's playbook dictated the importance of winning in Iowa. He did so by breaking away from that Democratic pack.

Archival Recording: The candidates were really not after delegates here in Iowa. What the candidates were after was a boost, some momentum, to carry them into the primary battles ahead. And a big boost is exactly what Jimmy Carter got here.

Matthews: Did you get to cover him on the ground in Iowa? To watch him doing that door-to-door, "I'm Jimmy?"

Woodruff: I did. Some of it. I saw some of it in the fall of '75 when we spent a few days traveling, you know, the state with him, driving around, watching him, interviewing people who had let him stay in their homes overnight, who were completely smitten with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. It was like they were long-time friends. It was like the Jimmy Carter magic. He just managed to win people over. He worked it door to door, person to person, coffee group by coffee group.

They knew who the key Democrats were that they had to win over to their side, and they worked those people really hard. And those folks were already very loyal. By the time I got there in, what, October of '75, those folks were already very loyal to him and talked about him like they knew he was gonna win.

Matthews: Political science question, okay? How did he distinguish himself from the liberal pack he ran against, without basically describing himself as not a liberal, not a progressive?

Woodruff: I think he was just very clever in the way he talked about it. I mean, I'm sure there was some formula behind it. It was just conservative enough on some things and liberal enough on others that it worked. And then there was the overlay of the personality.

You know, and the big, toothy grin, and the hair kind of falling in his eye, and the whole story. And the fact, you know, that he and Rosalynn didn't put on airs. I mean, they were themselves. (MUSIC) And they never hid the fact that they were from Plains, Georgia, small town. They weren't poor, and they didn't hide that. They made the most of that.

Matthews: These were all the ingredients of the Jimmy Carter Iowa playbook. I'm honest, I'm a farmer and a businessman and an engineer, and a Navy veteran. I'm not from Washington. I'm a little bit liberal and a little bit conservative, and it's nice to meet you. Carter took that message all over Iowa. Voters bought it. Reporters took note.

On January 19th, 1976, the date for Iowa's caucuses, the Jimmy Carter playbook was put to the test. Gerry Rafshoon and others on the Carter campaign were already pivoting to New Hampshire and beyond. Did you think you were gonna win in Iowa?

Rafshoon: Yes.

Matthews: And when you thought you were gonna win, what did you plan?

Rafshoon: Well, all the candidates were going to Iowa for election, for the night of that, and we thought we were gonna win Iowa anyway. So we decided that he would be in New York in the hotel watching it, because that was before all the networks, before the Today Show and the other shows were going to Iowa. They didn't do that. And so the results came in. Undecided was first, but of all the real people, Jimmy Carter was very much the winner. And so the next morning, he was on the Today Show.

Matthews: And then you headed to New Hampshire?

Rafshoon: Headed to New Hampshire.

Archival Recording: Here are the first political returns for the year 1976. Yesterday, about 50,000 Democratic in Iowa met in caucuses in homes, churches, and firehouses to choose delegates for their state party convention. Most of them are still uncommitted, 37%, but former Georgia governor, Jimmy Carter, did extremely well, with 27% of the delegate preferences, more than twice as many as Indiana Senator Birch Bayh, and three times as many as Fred Harris, the former Oklahoma senator. Carter was in New Hampshire today, grinning from ear to ear. His victory yesterday was of great symbolic importance. There were those today who were using the words (CHEERS) front runner to describe Carter.

Carter: My name is Jimmy Carter, and I'm running for president. (CHEERS)

Matthews: Jimmy Carter went on to win the Democratic nomination. His Iowa playbook had worked. I asked Judy Woodruff about what it all means for candidates today.

Woodruff: I mean, for me the big lesson is, somebody could come out of nowhere or what appears to be nowhere and win. That just because we don't know whoever it is in Washington, and they aren't connected to everybody we know on Capitol Hill and in the press, they can still rock it, make it to the top.

Matthews: Well, except for a couple cases where Gephardt won out there, and the local guy won there in '92, the winner wins. It's an astounding meaning, winning in Iowa. What do you think it is about that first stop. It just seems to give a tremendous gust of wind behind whoever wins.

Woodruff: And every election, people say, "Oh, that's not gonna happen again." You know, surely a place like this can't be the bellwether for an election. And it hasn't been for both parties.

Woodruff: I mean, we know the Republicans haven't seen, you know, that their winners in Iowa haven't always gone on to win the nomination. But Chris, I think Democrats really do want to fall in love with their nominee, with the person they're gonna vote for for president. And Iowa gives you a place to fall in love.

You're going door to door. People want to meet you in somebody's living room or kitchen or around the table at a coffee shop. They want to shake your hand. They want to look you in the eye. You know, it's gotta be somebody who believes what you believe, but it also has to be somebody you are personally comfortable with.

Matthews: And Jimmy Carter managed to win there again in 1980 against Ted Kennedy, a total upset again. And a friend of mine out there, Ed Jesser, who was working for Carter said, "Will the last person leaving Des Moines please turn out the lights?" (LAUGH)

Woodruff: Ed Jesser, I hadn't heard his name in years.

Matthews: He's still around. Let me ask you the last question. Can you skip Iowa and win the nomination of the Democratic Party?

Woodruff: I wish I was smart enough to tell you the answer, Chris. I think it's very tough, but I don't rule anything out. I think we are in a different moment right now with President Trump. He's somebody, as you know very well, who generates incredible loyalty and incredible distrust and dislike and worse.

It is hard to imagine how somebody who has't laid the groundwork, who hasn't been at this day after day after day and put in the (MUSIC) hard labor in Iowa and New Hampshire and the other states is gonna make it. But if these candidates don't look strong coming out of these early contests, I could see the possibility that the voters take a look and say, "Okay, you know, what does this guy have to offer?" So it's a maybe.

Matthews: Judy Woodruff who had a front row seat to Jimmy Carter's win in Iowa. Today she's anchor and managing editor of the PBS NewsHour. Gerry Rafshoon ran advertising for Jimmy Carter in Iowa, and went on to direct communications in the Carter White House. So you wanna be president? Here's a preview of lesson two. Year after year, voters want to see if candidates can show some spontaneity, something beyond the talking points, that the lights are on and somebody's home.

Archival Recording: You know, one of the parts of politics that we forget about is, you have to show that you are on an even keel. You're well-balanced, you get the joke, you're good-natured. We may give you the nuclear code someday if you win.

Matthews: We'll explain next time. I'm Chris Matthews with Hardball on MSNBC. Thanks so much for listening.