Iowa Caucus 2020 | Minnesota Public Radio News

Iowa Caucus 2020

Coverage of the Iowa Caucuses from a Minnesota perspective.

  • Sanders supporters talk about the future

    Z-Shan Bhaidani says he wasn’t sure who he’d caucus for a few weeks ago, but the narrowing of the field and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s environmental and foreign policy plans “have put me in the [Sen. Bernie] Sanders camp pretty strongly.”

    His fiancé Qynne Kelly says she’s supported Sanders from the beginning, after caucusing for him in 2016. Kelly works as an associate principal for Des Moines public schools and says Sanders’ education proposals make her hopeful for the future.

    “My everyday is seeing kids come in as victims of oppression, whether it be poverty or barriers they face as immigrants, lack of health care, huge medical costs — I know what that looks like,” she says. “And for me, if those basic needs are met [along with] free college, what would this school be like if every single kid actually had a true shot at college? This is a world I have yet to see but thinking about it and now that it could potentially become a reality is truly exciting for me.”Meanwhile, Kira Weldon started volunteering for Sanders in Columbus, Ohio, in 2015 but calls the Vermont senator a compromise candidate.

    “I’m an actual socialist. I’m to Bernie’s left,” Wedin explains. “But I appreciate that he’s interested in building a workers’ movement.”

    Wedin says what happens on caucus night matters beyond the campaign.

    “I’m really interested in building the movement in Columbus and using Sanders as a process by which to build socialist organizing in Ohio,” Wedin says. “If he can’t do well here, do we have a chance to do the kinds of things we want to do?”

  • Iowa Dems train to fight caucus disinformation

    The last time Iowans gathered for their first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, it was something of a mess.

    On the Republican side, then-candidate Donald Trump accused Ted Cruz of “stealing” the caucus for spreading false information about Trump’s health care position and that rival Ben Carson had dropped from the race.

    Democrats had problems, too. Hillary Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders by a razor-thin margin after a hectic caucus night that wound up using coin tosses to award delegates in a few cases.

    “Once again the world is laughing at Iowa,” the Des Moines Register’s editorial board wrote shortly after the 2016 caucus fracus.

    The 2016 Iowa caucuses foreshadowed just how much impact disinformation spread over social media would eventually have in the general election. Knowing the same scenario could play out again this year, Iowa Democrats have made changes to ensure the caucuses remain fair and free from outside influence.

    “The Iowa Democratic Party is instituting the most historic changes to the caucus process since its creation in 1972,” reads a party document. “These changes include opportunities for people to participate at satellite caucus sites, streamlined realignments,and new recount procedures.”

    Dems get training from Harvard

    With President Trump running virtually unopposed in his party for reelection, the Democrats have the only competitive caucuses in Iowa in 2020.

    Ahead of the 2020 campaign, staff from the Defending Digital Democracy Project within Harvard’s Belfer Center helped election officials from both parties across the country, including Iowa, prepare for disinformation in their caucuses.

    Maria Barsallo Lynch, the project’s executive director, said meddling in U.S. elections, whether it be from Russians, people inside the country or other adversaries, prompted the project.

    “We felt like caucuses like Iowa that have an outsized impact on the election process could be a target for an adversary who want to continue to look at ways to attack our democratic processes,” said Barsallo.

    Lynch said “bipartisan cyber incident simulation” exercises helped train election officials for some of the threats they may face before, during and after caucuses.

    “The exercise kind of looked to bring to life a range of topics from potential cyber and information attacks ... to operational threats that they might occur on a typical caucus night,” she said.

    Barsallo said one potential issue could be with long lines at caucuses, complicating the process and adding another layer of complexity to the process.

    The exercises “are a really important tool to help decision makers practice and update their response processes and actions and preparing for cyber and information threats,” Lynch said

    Caucus apps a security threat?

    Iowa Democrats will use a phone app to help tabulate and send caucus results to party headquarters this year.

    Party officials say the app is safe, but NPR reports that Democrats’ choice to keep private the app’s technical details is problematic.

    "The idea of security through obscurity is almost always a mistake," Doug Jones, a University of Iowa computer science professor and former caucus precinct leader, told NPR. "Drawing the blinds on the process leaves us, in the public, in a position where we can't even assess the competence of the people doing something on our behalf."

    However, one former Democratic party chair said using an app to help with results isn’t new. Megan Suhr, a Knoxville, Iowa, city council member who used to be her local Democratic leader, told MPR News that she used a caucus app in previous elections.

    Suhr said she isn’t worried about disinformation in the caucuses, either. While caucuses are complicated — involving intricate math and sometimes confusing rules — Suhr describes them as a gathering of community members to pick their best candidate.

    “The caucus isn't an election. It's an organization with your neighbors to choose the most viable candidate moving forward,” she said. “There's not a way to rig any of the caucus process.”

  • Voters in Iowa hope to find party unity

    Iowa voters narrowing down their Democratic caucus options say they worry their party could be forced into a drawn-out nomination fight.
     
    Candidates sprinted across Iowa Saturday with the first-in-the-nation race still in flux. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar was making seven stops this weekend before heading back to Washington.
     
    At an event for former Vice President Joe Biden, voter Jerilyn McCarty of Iowa City said she’s been impressed by the field of choices but wants clarity in the race. She’s leaning toward Biden.
     
    “I do not want to see a split in the Democratic Party. We have got to be united. We must be united, and I fear division even after a candidate has been selected."
     
    More than one candidate is likely to claim victory on Monday because the Democratic party will provide three sets of results based on overall strength as well as delegates awarded.
     
    — Brian Bakst, MPR News
  • Democrats focus on unity as tensions from 2016 linger

    Getty

    By Alexandra Jafee | Associated Press

    NORTH LIBERTY, Iowa (AP) — Democratic presidential candidates promised voters in Iowa on Saturday they would unify the party to take on President Donald Trump even as they kept up their criticism of each other and navigated the lingering divides from the 2016 campaign.

    “I’m confident Americans, Republican voters, Democratic voters and independent voters want us to come together," former Vice President Joe Biden said in North Liberty. “I’m going to do whatever it takes to make progress in the areas that matter most.”

    About 20 miles away in Cedar Rapids, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren updated her stump speech to include a more explicit call for unity.

    “We’re down to the final strokes here," she said. “But we understand that, we will and we must come together as a party to beat Donald Trump and I’ve got a plan for that."

    And Bernie Sanders insisted he would back the ultimate Democratic nominee even if it's not him.

    “Let me say this so there’s no misunderstanding," the Vermont senator said in Indianola. “If we do not win, we will support the winner and I know that every other candidate will do the same."

    The candidates made the pledges during a frenetic final weekend of events ahead of Monday's caucuses. After a year of campaigning, most polls show a tight race between Biden, Warren, Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Those candidates, along with Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and businessman Andrew Yang, crisscrossed Iowa on Saturday seeking a breakout victory that would propel them deeper into the contests that will decide the Democratic nomination.

    The White House hopefuls have focused on a wide variety of policy issues ranging from free college tuition to the role of government in health care, criminal justice reform, gun control and solutions to climate change. But the biggest issue on the minds of many voters is landing on a candidate who can beat Trump.

    That's one of the reasons the White House hopefuls stepped up their commitment to swiftly unite the party after the primary. Worries remained that the bitter fight between Sanders and Hillary Clinton in 2016 helped Trump win the White House that year. That anxiety grew over the past two weeks after Clinton twice criticized Sanders for not doing enough to bring the party together after their bruising battle.

    The divide was on display Friday when Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., appeared at a Sanders event in Iowa and booed at the mention of Clinton. She later issued a statement saying she “allowed my disappointment with Secretary Clinton's latest comments about Senator Sanders and his supporters get the best of me" and would “strive to come from a place of love and not react in the same way of those who are against what we are building in this country.”

    Sanders' campaign manager retweeted her statement and said: “We love your passion and conviction. Don't change.”

    Still, the incident underscored questions about how Democrats can thread together vying factions to develop a coalition that spans generations, races and economic status to defeat Trump. With Sanders showing some signs of strength in Iowa, some voters said they wouldn't support him because of concerns he would divide the party.

    Lisa Stolba, a retired school counselor from Cedar Rapids who attended a Biden event in North Liberty, said she’s undecided, considering Klobuchar, Buttigieg, Biden and Warren.

    Sanders was not on the list for a few reasons. He was too “socialistic," she worried about his health and age — Biden’s too, she added — and she’s wasn't confident Sanders could unite the party. Stolba, 59, noted she was still smarting over whether he told Warren that a woman can’t win. Sanders denied the comment. “I think that he said it,” she said.

    But Stolba said she’ll still vote for Sanders if were the the nominee. “If he’s the only one, yeah, I’m not going to vote for Trump.”

    Sanders, for his part, has drawn crowds stretching into the thousands at his events, a clear demonstration of the enthusiasm surrounding his campaign. It's that energy, he and his supporters argue, that will bring the party together and inspire voters across the spectrum to support his candidacy in November.

    Some candidates saw an opportunity in the infighting. The 38-year-old Buttigieg has made generational change a central argument of his campaign and said Saturday that the divides underscore his point.

    “I didn’t much enjoy as a Democrat living through the experience of 2016 and I want to make sure 2020 resembles 2016 as little as possible,” he told reporters after a rally in Waterloo.

    Buttigieg went on to emphasize that the candidates “are much more aligned than you would think.”

    But on stage later in the day, he revived his criticism of Biden and Sanders, outlining what he called “a respectful difference of approach among people who share the same values, share the same goals.”

    “The vice president is suggesting this is no time to take a risk on someone new," he said. “I’m suggesting this is no time to take a risk on trying to meet a fundamentally new challenge with a familiar playbook. It’s going to take something new.”

    Buttigieg criticized Sanders for "offering an approach that suggests it’s either revolution or it’s the status quo, and there’s nothing in between.”

    Some voters said they felt that, regardless of the divisions within the party, Trump was enough of a unifying factor on his own that Democrats will have no issues after the primary. Tom Taiber, a 73-year-old from Waverly, said he wasn't worried about Democrats coming together to rally around the party’s eventual nominee, even if the primary becomes divisive.

    “The family of Democrats, we’re going to have differences of opinion,” he said.

  • `Zombie' campaigns could pick up support in Iowa caucuses

    By Alexandra Jaffe | Associated Press

    FORT MADISON, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa caucuses could feature an attack of the “zombie” candidates.

    As some Democrats prepare for Monday's contest, they say they're planning to side with candidates who have been out of the race for weeks, even months. By caucusing for Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, voters say they want to establish a record that those who bowed out early did indeed have supporters.

    “I really still feel that for me, Cory Booker’s the right person to be the president," said Bryce Smith, the Dallas County Democratic Party chairman who had endorsed Booker and was organizing for him in his precinct. “I think it sends a clear message that Cory was important in this race.”

    Such tactics reflect the unique and complicated nature of the caucuses.

    In a primary, voters simply choose their preferred candidate. Caucuses require strangers and neighbors to spend a winter evening in high school gyms or community centers. Participants first line up for their favored candidate. If that candidate doesn't receive more than 15% of the vote in the room, the candidate is eliminated and supporters can align with one of the remaining White House hopefuls.

    The results are counted again. Delegates are awarded based on that final number.

    The caucuses have an added twist this year because the Iowa Democratic Party will release more data than ever. While the party previously only released information on delegates, it will now report the first round of voting, the second vote “realignment" and the final delegate count.

    The Associated Press will base its race call of the winner on state delegate equivalents because delegates are the measure used to decide the eventual winner of the nomination. But the new information is causing some voters to take their first round choices more seriously because those decisions will now be public.

    Ruby Bodeker said she and her 17-year-old daughter both plan to caucus for Harris during the first round.

    “This is her first caucus,” Bodeker said of her daughter. “She was devastated when Kamala Harris dropped out. As a member of the LBGTQ+ community she feels there is no one left who speaks to her.”

    Caucusgoers can theoretically support whomever they like on the first round, so any of the other candidates who have dropped out could receive votes as well.

    Some voters said they'll caucus for a former candidate to eat into whatever advantage Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders hopes to build during the initial round of voting. Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, and his team have said they want to win each category of voting, but have placed special emphasis on the first round.

    Helen Grunewald, a 69-year-old retired community college teacher who will serve as her precinct caucus chairwoman in Blairstown, said after Harris quit the race, she couldn’t find any other candidates that she cared about. The only candidate who drew her passion was Sanders, who she opposes.

    “Since I didn’t feel strongly about any of the candidates, and the only one I feel strongly about is the one I don’t want to get it, figured the thing to do is to stick with Kamala,” she said.

    Grunewald doesn’t expect Harris to win the 15% support she’d need to be viable on the first alignment, so she plans to support whichever candidate looks the strongest against Sanders on the second alignment.

    Smith, the county chairman, also expressed concerns about Sanders’ strength in the race, as did Gary Dickey, a Des Moines-area lawyer and former aide to former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who endorsed Booker. Dickey tweeted he plans to caucus for Booker on the first alignment and said he’s heard from numerous people in response that are considering doing the same thing.

    He and his wife like former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden and said they will support whichever one is stronger against Sanders on the second alignment.

    “We are both very concerned that if Bernie Sanders were to win Iowa and New Hampshire and get some momentum, we don’t think that's good for the party, and we don’t think it’d be good for Democrats in a general election,” he said. “I worry that an admitted democratic socialist creates headwinds that would make the general election unnecessarily difficult.”

  • Amid The Buttigieg Fans, Some Still Undecided

     

    Pete Buttigieg started his Saturday in a suit and tie at the historic National Cattle Congress Electric Park Ballroom in Waterloo, Iowa. Rally-goers filed past neon signs into a domed hall that once hosted musical acts like Buddy Holly.

    Overwhelmingly, the crowd was already committed to the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., but there were a few undecided voters who were torn between other more centrist candidates, like Amy Klobuchar and Joe Biden.

    Laura Smiffin, 62, came from nearby Cedar Falls. Newly retired, her first pick is the Minnesota senator and her second choice is the 38-year-old Buttigieg.

    "But that’s the ticket I’d love to see, is Amy and Pete with Amy at the top of the ticket,” she said. “She is a get-it-done individual and I believe Pete is also.”

    Smiffin doesn’t think she will know who she’s voting for until she walks into the caucus on Monday. But no matter who wins the Democratic nomination, Smiffin would vote for him or her in November with “no hesitation.”

    And that’s because of President Trump.

    "He’s made it OK for all these groups to come out in the open and say things and encourage hate and I don’t like that at all," Smiffin said. "All this stuff that has been shoved down, I guess, for many years, all the racism, all the hate and I thought we were doing better, but now it’s worse than ever."

    — Eliza Dennis, NPR Producer
  • Caucus Organizers Expect High Turnout

     

    Iowa Democrats across the state are bracing for what could be record turnout for this year’s caucuses. The biggest caucus site in the state in 2016 was at City High School in Iowa City, where 935 people showed up.

    “The line of people waiting to get into their caucus site stretched out the door and down the hill some 500 feet away,” said organizer Tom Carsner. This year, Carsner and his fellow organizers are expecting more than a thousand people — who are supposed to fit into a high school auditorium with a capacity for 734.

    Problems with high turnout date to at least the 2004 caucuses when John Deeth remembers running out of voter registration cards and signup sheets.

    “I never saw the pizza box that people supposedly signed in on, but I did get paper towels back with people signed in,” Deeth recalled.

    Still, even if caucus turnout is relatively high, it’s likely that fewer than 20% of Iowa’s registered voters will take part.

  • Sanders Supporters Talk About The Future

    Z-Shan Bhaidani says he wasn’t sure who he’d caucus for a few weeks ago, but the narrowing of the field and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s environmental and foreign policy plans “have put me in the [Sen. Bernie] Sanders camp pretty strongly.”

    His fiancé Qynne Kelly says she’s supported Sanders from the beginning, after caucusing for him in 2016. Kelly works as an associate principal for Des Moines public schools and says Sanders’ education proposals make her hopeful for the future.

    “My everyday is seeing kids come in as victims of oppression, whether it be poverty or barriers they face as immigrants, lack of health care, huge medical costs — I know what that looks like,” she says. “And for me, if those basic needs are met [along with] free college, what would this school be like if every single kid actually had a true shot at college? This is a world I have yet to see but thinking about it and now that it could potentially become a reality is truly exciting for me.”

     

     

    Meanwhile, Kira Weldon started volunteering for Sanders in Columbus, Ohio, in 2015 but calls the Vermont senator a compromise candidate.

    “I’m an actual socialist. I’m to Bernie’s left,” Wedin explains. “But I appreciate that he’s interested in building a workers’ movement.”

    Wedin says what happens on caucus night matters beyond the campaign.

    “I’m really interested in building the movement in Columbus and using Sanders as a process by which to build socialist organizing in Ohio,” Wedin says. “If he can’t do well here, do we have a chance to do the kinds of things we want to do?”

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