DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – Iowa Democrats are bracing for what could be a record turnout of voters at the state’s precinct caucuses Monday night based on the field of candidates who have been attracting massive numbers of people to their forums and rallies for the past year.
Although Iowa Democratic Party officials say they are not able to put a hard number on what to expect, they have been advising chairpersons of the 99 counties and the 87 satellite caucus sites to prepare for larger than expected numbers at their caucuses.
Polk County Democratic Chairman Sean Bagniewski told Courthouse News turnout could be “historic” in the state’s largest county and home of the state capital.
Bagniewski said he is comfortable predicting a historic turnout in Polk County just based on Democrats’ engagement after the election of President Donald Trump, activism among suburban liberals, and population growth.
Polk County is prepared for as many as 60,000 caucusgoers Monday night.
“We’ve spent $25,000 on bigger sites this year where we usually would spend less than $2,000 on previous years,” Bagniewski said.
Iowa’s caucuses drew some 240,000 Democratic voters to their precincts in 2008 when Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards were in the running, which is considered the high water mark. That could be topped this year, party officials say.
“I think we’ll see our biggest turnout that we’ve ever seen,” Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price told the Des Moines Register in January.
As caucus day arrived, no clear winner has been identified by polls. The Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll that was to be released Saturday was scrubbed when a polling error was discovered.
Polls conducted through Sunday by other polling organizations had Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren bunched at the top of the heap, closely followed by Amy Klobuchar.
The best poll will be revealed at tonight’s caucuses.
The Democrats’ caucus process begins at 7 p.m., when registered voters will go to 1,678 precinct caucuses across the state to elect 11,402 delegates to 99 county conventions. Then, in March, those 11,402 county delegates will elect delegates to district conventions who will elect delegates to the state convention. Ultimately, 49 delegates from Iowa will go to the Democratic National Convention in July in Milwaukee.
Regular precinct caucuses will be held in school gymnasiums, public libraries, American Legion halls, churches and community centers. Democrats for the first time this year will also hold “satellite caucuses” at 87 sites for those who cannot get to their regular precinct caucus. Sixty satellite sites are in Iowa, and additional sites are in 24 other states and three are abroad – including one in Paris, France.
Republicans are unlikely to break their 2016 record of more than 180,000 tonight, as President Trump is not facing strong opponents.
In addition to Polk County in Iowa’s Third Congressional District, Courthouse News checked with Democratic Party chairs in each of the state’s three other congressional districts, and the story was the same in each.
“I expect record turnout in Dubuque,” in the First District, said Dubuque County Democratic Chairman Steve Drahozal.
“As far as an exact number, that is anyone’s guess. When we set up our sites, I said plan on double the attendance of 2016,” he said. “I think turnout was larger in 2008. In my precinct we had about 250 in 2016. We have 400 presidential preference cards in that precinct and we hope that aimed high. I would estimate easily a 30% to 40% increase over 2008.”
In Carroll County, in Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District that tends to vote Republican in the western Iowa counties, County Chairman Peter Leo said the party is prepared for large numbers tonight.
“I’m expecting about 1,300 people countywide. That would be a record by over 200 attendees. We had approximately 1,070 people caucus in 2008, which was the previous record,” Leo said.
In Lee County, the farthest county in the southeast corner of Iowa in the Second District, County Chair Mary Jo Riesberg said party officials there were advised by the state party to prepare for an increase this year.
That could be a problem for Lee County, she said, because of a limited number of caucus locations there.
“The estimates given to us by the [Iowa Democratic Party] are higher than turnout in past caucus years, but we’re limited in locations in our county,” she said. “Therefore, we weren’t able to change any of our locations that we had reserved last spring,” and Lee County Democrats were looking at options for handling overflow crowds.