- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2020

ADEL, Iowa — Iowa Democrats made the quadrennial pilgrimage to their state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses Monday, kicking off the 2020 presidential nomination race dogged by fears that they will make the wrong pick.

Voters traveled to 1,678 caucus sites across the state, in high school gymnasiums, middle school cafeterias and churches. They backed different candidates but shared the same goal.

“Everyone’s concern is the same: beating Trump,” Cathy Jorgensen, a 69-year-old hairdresser and precinct director for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden said as she organized tables and chairs for like-minded voters at ADM Middle School — the “Home of the Tigers.”

Her neighbor Jan Price, 84, chimed in: “He’s a horrible person.

“And if people follow him, this whole country is going to be horrible,” Ms. Price said. “I scream a lot at the TV — I do.”



The caucus results were not known at Monday night’s publication deadline.

Bryce Smith, chair of the Dallas County Democrats, said his caucus, which attracted 94 voters, was the largest in the history of the rapidly growing county just west of Des Moines.

“Let’s never forget what brings us here today, and that is to make sure Donald Trump is not reelected in 2020,” Mr. Smith said.

But the question of who has the best chance to oust Mr. Trump has tied voters in knots.

Was it the “safe” choice in Mr. Biden? A liberal hero such as Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont or Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts? A youthful moderate such as former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, or Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota?

The president, it seemed, was living rent-free in the heads of many Democratic caucusgoers, who were terrified that making the wrong choice would set a trajectory for the Democratic race that would end with Mr. Trump’s reelection.

“I think they’re very much on edge, and they very much believe that this is our opportunity. We’ve got to get this right,” said former Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge. “People are thinking, ‘OK, this candidate is the right one,’ and then there will be something in the news, there will be something on TV, there will be a commercial, something. ‘Oh, maybe not, maybe not.’”

Indeed, picking someone who can defeat Mr. Trump was more important to the caucusgoers than picking someone who shared their views on issues, according to an NBC News entrance poll.

The survey found that 63% of respondents said their primary concern is nominating a candidate who can beat Mr. Trump compared with 35% who said their first concern is getting behind a candidate who shares their ideas.

Tara Starr, a speech pathologist from Indianola, said she was supporting Mr. Sanders but was still grappling with the choice.

“I think I’m nervous about every candidate, every state. I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Ms. Starr, 62. “Mr. Trump seems to get away with so much, so I don’t know.”

She described herself as having made up her mind but still not 100% decided.

Since 1972, when Iowa assumed its first-in-the-nation status, seven of the 10 top-finishing Democratic candidates in contested caucuses went on to become the party’s presidential nominee that year.

Just two Democrats since then — Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama — finished as the top candidate in a contested caucus and went on to be elected to the White House. Iowans chose “uncommitted,” which was an option for caucusgoers in 1976, as their top choice, but Mr. Carter was the top candidate.

The year-plus of Democratic organizing in the Hawkeye State could take a back seat to other priorities starting Tuesday. Mr. Obama carried the state twice, but Mr. Trump won it by close to 10 percentage points in 2016, and some Democrats are more bullish on flipping states like Arizona than returning Iowa to their column in November.

That means Monday’s caucuses could well mark the most consequential votes Iowa Democrats take for the next four years.

“I think Iowans feel huge pressure, a huge sense of responsibility,” said Christine Dahl, 69, a retired dentist from Bettendorf. “And that’s why so many people are undecided, is that they’re just in anguish over making the right decision because it’s so important, especially after this whole Trump trial.

“It’s a farce. It’s even more important that the election remove him from office,” said Ms. Dahl, who said Ms. Klobuchar and Ms. Warren were probably her top two choices.

Grace Welveart, an 18-year-old high school student from Bettendorf, was considering caucusing “uncommitted.”

“I haven’t informed myself enough yet for me to make a certain stance,” she said. “I think definitely some people feel the stress … me personally. I do feel the pressure of, ‘We have to decide on someone.’”

Fans of Mr. Biden are convinced that nominating someone like Mr. Sanders, an avowed “democratic socialist,” would spell doom for Democrats.

Deb Batey, a retired teacher from Mount Pleasant, said she was “horribly nervous” about someone like Mr. Sanders winning the nomination.

“Scared to death,” Ms. Batey, 67, said with a laugh. “I don’t think he can beat Trump.”

Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a top surrogate for Mr. Biden, said Iowa has done its job of narrowing the field, playing a leading role in whittling the list of candidates down from more than 20.

“Our job is to basically say, ‘You know what? We vetted these votes. We gave them an opportunity to come into our homes and communities, and this is kind of who we think merits to go on,’” Mr. Vilsack said.

As Democrats nervously gamed out their prospects, Mr. Trump swooped into Des Moines last week and basked in the adoration of thousands of admirers at Drake University.

Though the outcome of the Republican caucuses was expected, his team was putting on a show of force by planning to deploy 80-plus surrogates to the state, including his adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump.

Fans of Mr. Trump said he isn’t scared of facing anyone, including Mr. Biden, who has tried to hammer home the idea that he is the most “electable” Democrat.

“I don’t think Trump’s afraid of Joe Biden or facing him at all. I think it’s just another one of the [Democrats’] little ploys,” said Darcey Widmann, a 62-year-old retiree from Altoona. “They’re on a roll with the impeachment and everything — they’re just trying to do everything they can to discredit Trump.”

Ron Sones, a retiree from Carlisle, said Democrats have been talking about impeachment since the day Mr. Trump was inaugurated.

“We think if he stays in, he’ll be our next president,” Mr. Sones said.

Ms. Widmann and Mr. Sones said they weren’t particularly nervous about the prospects of any other Democratic contender going up against Mr. Trump.

“The things that Trump has done for the USA — why shouldn’t we be voting for him? That’s the way we look at it. He’s done a lot for our economy, I think,” Mr. Sones said.

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