Former vice president and 1984 Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale stopped in Cedar Rapids Thursday and joined a couple dozen supporters at Hillary Clinton’s field office to watch the final Democratic debate before Iowa’s caucuses. Chips and veggies were served.
Mondale, a former Minnesota senator, talked with reporters before settling into a blue wingback chair to watch the debate. A steno pad was propped on his knee. Maybe he was writting down a few pointers for his candidate. “Don’t say you’ll raise taxes.”
Here’s a transcript of the 5-minute Q & A.
Q – Why are you here today?
MONDALE – “I’m supporting Hillary Clinton. I served a long time in American government, both in the Senate and in the White House, and I think I’ve got a very good notion of what this job requires. And I think Hillary has the experience, she has the strength, and she’s had it both in the Congress and in the White House.
“The nature of the problems we confront in the world, and they’re all serious, the war in Iraq, the way the rest of the world has become suspicious of our leadership, the economy that’s in trouble, the environment in duress. Not to mention needed changes like health care and so on. We need a leader who knows what he or she is doing from the first day. I know Hilary will. I’ve known her for 30 years. She’s a very nice person. She’s good and she’s strong. And so I’m pleased to support her.”
Q – You were once a frontrunner who was the target. What do you make of the notion that (Clinton) has stumbled in the last month or two?
MONDALE – “I went through that, where we get in these debates and it would be nine candidates attacking me, and I’d get equal time for the nine. That’s what happens. I thought she’s done very well. I watched the last debate, I forget when it was. I think she acquitted herself very well. And of course in just a minute or two we’ll be hearing the last debate here in Iowa, which is proving to be the pivotal state, no question about it. I think she’s carried herself very well.”
Q – Do you think she has to win here?
MONDALE – “Uh, I don’t want to get in the expectations game. She has to be successful here. What that might be, I don’t know. But this is a really close fight here. No question about it. And I think she’s doing very well, but the others are contesting it too. I think she’s going to come out all right, but I don’t want to put a number or anything on it.”
Q – No matter who gets the ticket, what advice do you give them in this election season?
MONDALE – “I think people are very anxious about America’s position in the world, and about some of the things I talked about. And they want leadership that spells out what should be done about it, and gains a mandate from the American people to get it done so that when they get elected they get elected with the public knowing what they want to do. I think Hillary can do that, is doing it and I think the public is just starving for some positive leadership after what we’re going through now.”
Q – Yeah, with the Iraq war I know every time a president gets elected we want a strong leader, but is the situation different now?
MONDALE – We don’t want a belligerent leader. We want a leader who can bring America and the world with America. I travel some. I’ve been in Asia. I’ve been in Europe and so on. I’m astounded at the way friends of ours, democracies of ours, have become sort of turned off by American leadership. It doesn’t work that way. We’ve got to get the world back with us. We’ve got to get positive again. And she knows that. She’s been around this and she understands it.”
Q — How important do you think debates are within the scheme of things in a campaign, especially this late?
MONDALE – Debates are about the only thing that happens in a modern campaign where it’s not contrived. In other words, you get questions, you have to answer questions, your adversaries are there. I think that’s one of the reasons people tend to tune into them, and they learn something. Now, the debates can get boring. We’ve been through a lot of them now. And you have kind of a guaranteed crowd-killer there with 10 or nine or 15 or however many trying to get the mike. So it’s not an ideal situation, but it’s the best that we have. And of course it’s not just the debates, but the debates, I think, are very important.
“And here in Iowa…and it’s hard to over-emphasize the, and I’ve had a lot of experience here, how important Iowa is. I know everyone tells you Iowa’s important, sure. But it is. And this is the one place where there’s retail politics, where you get to look the candidate in the eye, you get to measure them by your own standard. And then you have to go to the caucus and be heard. So it’s a very important state and what happens here is going to have a lot to say about who occupies the White House.
Q – So other than campaigning for Hillary, what have you been up to lately?
MONDALE – “I do some teaching at the University of Minnesota. I’m doing some civic reform work with the former Republican governor of Minnesota, Arnie Carlson, to try to change some of our laws to make democracy more accessible, fair. And I’m about to become the Norwegian honorary counsel general for this region. So that’s another thing I’m doing.”
“Thank you so much.”