The On Point Iowa Caucus: Where Do Voters Stand?

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Former Iowa Democratic Party political director Travis Brock leads a caucus training meeting at the local headquarters for Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, in Ottumwa, Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)
Former Iowa Democratic Party political director Travis Brock leads a caucus training meeting at the local headquarters for Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, in Ottumwa, Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

We’re going to hold our own mini-caucus with Iowans who watched the latest Democratic presidential debate. What’d they think? Who are they pulling for?


Lawrell Wenzel, undecided voter leaning toward Andrew Yang and Sen. Amy Klobuchar. She's in Precinct W-102. Director of Marketing at YMCA of Blackhawk County. Marketing rep at printing company Strategic Imaging.

Tom Fuller, undecided voter leaning toward Joe Biden. He's in Precinct CR-19. Retired maintenance supervisor for city of Cedar Rapids.

Anne Salamon, supports Sen. Cory Booker. She's in Precinct 24. Hospital pharmacist.

Libbey Slappey, supports Pete Buttigieg. She's in Precinct 24. Development director for Kids First Law Center.

Barney Bahrenfuse, supports Sen. Bernie Sanders. He's in the Jasper County Precinct. Livestock farmer.

Mike Tramontina, supports Sen. Elizabeth Warren. He's the Warren Precinct Captain in Des Moines 62. He formerly worked at Iowans for Social and Economic Development (ISED Ventures), an asset development organization with the mission of creating opportunities for low and moderate income Iowans. Formerly with the Iowa Department of Economic Development.

Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst. (@JackBeattyNPR)

A Closer Look At Our Caucus

One of the more intriguing pairings during our "mini caucus" came from two Iowans well-acquainted with each other: Anne Salamon and Libbey Slappey.

They're neighbors. They belong to the same church (although, they attend services at different times of the day). But they don't currently support the same Democratic candidate for president.

Anne is a Sen. Cory Booker supporter. Of course, Booker dropped out of the race at the beginning of this week. Still, come caucus night, she plans to support the New Jersey senator.

"Out of principle, I will stand for him," she told On Point's Meghna Chakrabarti. "And then I've got to decide on my second and third preference. And that's where I'm at, at this point, trying to make up my mind on those second and third choices, in case my second isn't viable also."

Anne has been leaning toward Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., as her second choice, but she has concerns about "electability."

"I do like her. I worry about her electability. Even though this was an issue last night [during the Iowa debate],  I worry about Americans' perception of electing a woman," she said.

Her other concern is about the party's more progressive candidates. Anne says "moderate Americans, disillusioned Republicans, may not like Trump, but there's no way they're going to vote for Warren or Sanders."

So where does Libbey stand on all this? She's a supporter of Pete Buttigieg. And her case to Anne, in favor of the South Bend, Indiana, mayor?

"I would encourage Anne to look at who has voted for Pete Buttigieg in the past," Libbey said. "Remember, he's from Indiana. So people who have voted for Mike Pence, as governor, have voted for Pete Buttigieg. Frankly, people who have voted for Donald Trump have voted for Pete Buttigieg, as mayor."

Libbey added that Buttigieg brings a perspective outside of establishment Washington, and the country is ready for another president like that.

Anne says it's not necessarily an advantage: "President Johnson in the '60s was able to develop his Great Society because of his background, his connections with the other senators, and stuff that he came from. So he was able to do backroom deals, or whatever. He knew the strings to pull and stuff."

The back and forth continued, with Libbey adding a bit more context: "I think the last thing that the country wants right now is backroom deals. I think what the country wants is someone who is an optimist, and, in Pete's case, a veteran, I think is very helpful, a man of faith. Someone who is realistic. Pete Buttigieg is inspiring, but realistic at the same time. I mean, his leadership shows."

Ultimately, Anne and Libbey ended their conversation where they started: Anne is still undecided beyond her support for Sen. Booker, and Libbey backs Pete Buttigieg.

But On Point listeners got to hear the democratic process of the caucus at work — a sneak preview of Feb. 3, 2020, a night when Anne and Libbey will caucus in the same location.

For now, the debating and convincing continues, on the ground in Iowa.

"I'll be working on Anne in the meantime," Libbey said.

From The Reading List

The Des Moines Register: "What's the expected turnout on caucus night? Iowa Democrats are using the h-word: Huge" — "Johnson County has never had a year when more than 1,000 Democrats from a single precinct have shown up to caucus.

"This year, they're preparing to break that streak.

"Caucus organizer John Deeth said he expects at least 21,000 people to caucus in his county, which has about 45,000 active registered Democrats. If his projection is correct, attendance would easily surpass the 19,500 Democrats who showed up in 2016, the previous record.

In the largest Iowa City precinct, which set a record in 2016 with 935 people, Deeth is preparing for a four-digit turnout. He said he's based his estimates on past election years, coupled with the large number of Democratic candidates this year.

"'One of the things you learn working on campaigns is: More candidates usually means more turnout,' said Deeth, who has been one of his party's caucus point people since 2004. 'You’re more likely to find someone you click with.'

"His estimates reflect a consensus among Democratic party leaders: Caucus turnout is expected to be huge. It will probably rival the 2008 record of nearly 240,000 people, which included unprecedented numbers of first-time caucusgoers, who showed up statewide to propel Barack Obama to victory. Party officials and volunteers are preparing for a massive turnout.

"'We're having to resort to pretty drastic measures,' Polk County Democratic Party chairman Sean Bagniewski said."

CNN: "Iowa poll: Likely Democratic caucusgoers are fired up by the election but also exhausted by politics" — "Majorities of likely Democratic caucusgoers say they're optimistic, fired up, feminists and ... exhausted by politics. A new poll from CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom finds fewer soon-to-be caucus attendees consider themselves socialists than capitalists, and almost a quarter are regular Twitter users.

"Three-in-five likely Iowa Democratic caucusgoers say they're fired up, especially those who are very liberal (76%), extremely enthusiastic about their first choice candidate (76%), and have locked in who they'll caucus for (71%). Likely caucus attendees who say they'll 'definitely attend' rather than 'probably attend' the caucus are more likely to describe themselves as 'fired up' (66%).

"But just as caucusgoers are fired up, they're also pretty tired. Over half (54%) say they're "exhausted by politics." Lynn Richards, a retired social worker in Iowa, says she can't turn on the TV without being bombarded by political ads.

"'There are some days that I don't even turn the TV on,' Richards told CNN. 'You just get so sick of it! I'll be so glad when the caucuses are over. At least we'll hear a little less about it. My kids were here over the holidays and they're like, "For crying out loud, is that all you get on TV?"' "

The Hill: "30 days from Iowa: It's anybody's ballgame" — "The Iowa caucuses are 30 days away and it’s anybody’s ballgame, with a half dozen candidates having reason to believe that the Hawkeye State will set them on the path to the nomination.

"The campaigns are on edge and political analysts are flying blind, as a drought of public polling has produced uncertainty about the state of the race ahead of the Feb. 3 contest.

"Political operatives on the ground are buzzing about Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) ascendant campaign after he posted blowout fourth-quarter fundraising numbers, but former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg is matching Sanders in attracting large crowds of enthusiastic supporters.

"Joe Biden continues to be a daunting figure in the field and has been the leader in national polls for more than a year. The former vice president’s case that he’s best positioned to defeat President Trump in a head-to-head matchup is appealing to many Democrats and could set him up for an unexpectedly strong finish."

This program aired on January 15, 2020.


Headshot of Meghna Chakrabarti

Meghna Chakrabarti Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.


Wes Martin Freelance Producer
Wes Martin is a freelance producer for On Point.



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