Iowa Caucusgoers Focus on Electability

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (CN) – After months of campaigning by Democratic presidential hopefuls, Iowa voters made their voices heard Monday in the state’s caucus, the first in the nation, with voters in one western Iowa precinct focused on finding a candidate who can win the general election in November.

Caucusgoers from several precincts braved the near-freezing temperatures to gather at Thomas Jefferson High School in a working class Council Bluffs, Iowa, neighborhood on Monday evening to elect delegates to the state convention who will later select delegates to the national convention. 

Many there said they were participating in their first caucus and expressed enthusiasm for removing Republican President Donald Trump from office.

Caucusers in Council Bluffs, Iowa, sign in at Thomas Jefferson High School. (Ted Wheeler photo/CNS)

Dianne Chubick, who arrived undecided, said, “I want a candidate who will beat Trump.” Her preference is for moderate candidates Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg or Amy Klobuchar, and she ended up joining the Buttigieg supporters after a first alignment period.

Vickie and Tori Rodriguez, mother and daughter, also experienced their first caucus.

“It’s cool to be first in something,” Vickie said, noting that Iowa usually doesn’t get much national attention in the media. Though the two are both supporters of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Vickie said that it wouldn’t bother her if someone else won the nomination. 

“So long as they get Trump out,” she said.

Rose Viola, also a Sanders supporter at her first caucus, said that she sees herself as a very motivated voter who is influenced most by the results of the 2016 election.

“I was hoping to vote for Bernie last time,” she said. “There was no question this time.”

Robert Smith, a retired Air Force veteran who was born and raised in Council Bluffs before he spent most of his life in Texas, showed up to support Pete Buttigieg.

“I’ve gone away from the more liberal candidates. I saw them all, and saw Pete twice, before I decided on him,” Smith said.

After leaders from the different camps were invited to give a short speech on behalf of their candidate, an initial tally of support was taken among the 62 total caucus participants in this Pottawattamie County precinct. After the first vote, Sanders led with 21 supporters, although Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Buttigieg and Biden were also “viable” for the second realignment period.

Andrew Yang was the only candidate to receive some votes but not enough to continue to the next round, so the other groups were given a chance to persuade his supporters to realign for the final vote. In the end, Sanders prevailed in this precinct with 23 votes, capturing 37% of the total. Warren finished second with 16 votes.

While most Iowans express pride at their first-in-the-nation status, turnout is traditionally very low for caucus-style elections, and Iowa is no exception.

Bernie Sanders supporters await results during the Iowa caucus. (Ted Wheeler / CNS)

Those who spoke with Courthouse News acknowledged the economic benefit of having hotels and restaurants filled with campaigners and media members for most of the pre-election cycle, but few were enthusiastic about keeping the current system.

Smith, participating in his second caucus, said he would prefer a primary to the more arduous caucus system, as it would boost turnout and represent more of the state. 

“The caucus is important for the lesser-known candidates, but not personally for me,” Smith said. “I voted in every primary when I lived in Texas.”

Although this was only the second caucus for Richard Yopp, a Biden supporter who has lived in Iowa for 75 years, he said that he would hate to see Iowa lose its first-in-the-nation status. “It gives us a foothold,” Yopp said.

His wife Sandy Yopp agreed. “Having Iowa vote first is important for the Midwest,” she said.

Harrison Roundtree, a lab tech at a plasma donation center, said that he wouldn’t be sad if the system changed. If it was up to him, everyone in the country would vote on the same day.

Roundtree went to a caucus with his grandmother as a child but this is his first time participating as a voter. He recently moved back to Iowa after leaving for college.

Iowa will award 41 pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention, with these being split between delegates awarded at the congressional district level (27) and statewide winners (14).

Among other changes to the process for this year, the Iowa Democratic Party set up 92 satellite locations to allow Iowans to caucus even if they move south for winter or study abroad. Satellite locations include spots in Arizona, Florida, California and Paris. There’s even a satellite spot in Tbilisi, in the Republic of Georgia, for all those who wish to caucus in the Caucasus mountains.

While Democrats in Council Bluffs met in the commons and auditorium of Jefferson High School, a couple dozen Republicans met in the gymnasium. Trump, as the incumbent, lacks a serious Republican challenger.

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