CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg have crisscrossed Iowa in the final days before the Monday caucuses, making their closing arguments to voters while leading competitors remain trapped in Washington for the impeachment trial.
The Senate impeachment trial has kept Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota off the campaign trail, opening the door to Buttigieg, Yang, and former Vice President Joe Biden to make their case to caucusgoers in the absence of three primary competitors with swelling support.
Buttigieg’s supporters we spoke to, however, largely characterized their candidate as a mere preference rather than a candidate who has their undivided loyalty going into the caucuses on Monday. Approximately a dozen likely caucusgoers who attended a Buttigieg town hall in Independence, Iowa, on Thursday told The Federalist they remained undecided on who they support, and several cited Biden as their likely pick.
Buttigieg’s declining poll numbers might be playing a role, as the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor once held a comfortable first place lead in Iowa just a month ago and now comes in third in most recent polls.
Yang is polling in 6th place in the state with almost 4 percent, according to the Real Clear Politics latest aggregate, making it likely that Yang will lose viability in many precincts across the state when he fails to meet the required threshold for subsequent rounds of voting. Under the rules for Iowa Democratic Party caucuses, a candidate must secure at least 15 percent of the vote in any given caucus to be considered “viable” and continue to the second round of voting.
Democrats across Iowa remain largely undecided on who to caucus for in the first-in-the-nation contest now just three days away. According to a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday, 54 percent of likely caucusgoers reported being persuadable toward one candidate or another.
Many Iowa Democrats say they feel paralyzed by the array of options as they are bombarded with ads appearing on their televisions and doorsteps.
“The problem is, at this point in time we do have a very good slate of candidates,” said Paul Evans, a pastor who attended the Buttigieg event in Independence on Thursday. “It’s hard to pick one that’s going to be the one that you want when you have that big a slate.”
Tiffany Martinson, who brought her two kids to the Buttigieg town hall, admitted she arrived undecided.
“I’ve been going between Biden and [Buttigieg],” Martinson said, adding she is concerned over Buttigieg’s youth and inexperience holding higher office.
One thing that united Iowa Democrats across candidates was a deep desire to defeat Donald Trump this fall, regardless of which candidate ends up the party nominee. John Deeth, Democratic caucus organizer for Johnson County, which is home to Iowa City and the University of Iowa, said Iowa Democrats were focused on “one issue: how to beat Trump. That’s it.”
“I’ll support whoever gets the nomination, whether it’s Biden, Sanders, Warren, whoever it may be,” declared Beckie McAreavy, who will caucus for Buttigieg on Monday.
At a town hall for Yang an hour’s drive north of Cedar Rapids, Sally Rayzor echoed the sentiment. “I want to caucus for Elizabeth Warren but I’ll be happy for whomever it’s going to be,” she said.
Deeth said Yang was likely to have viability in places like Iowa City, a college town just south of Cedar Rapids where students have flocked to support Yang and Sanders in what is for many their first presidential caucus, but noted that Yang was unlikely to see a swell of support beyond the young leftist enclave of the college town. Many speculated that as Yang loses viability in other places, his supporters will rush to Sanders.
Yang himself said he would not be surprised if many of his supporters backed Sanders if he lost viability after the first round of voting in some precincts, noting there is an “overlap” between the two candidates’ progressive base.
“I think that Bernie and I do have a lot of overlap in support so it wouldn’t be surprising to me if many of our supporters head in that direction,” Yang told Bloomberg.
Andrew Smith, a sophomore studying mechanical engineering at the University of Iowa, said he would caucus for Sanders if Yang failed to meet the viability threshold. Right now, Smith maintained he was “Yang all the way,” but “other than that, probably Bernie.”
Smith, who supported Sanders in 2016, pointed out that Sanders and Yang enjoyed the bulk of support on campus.
“On campus there’s a lot of people that support Bernie,” Smith said, adding that Yang’s support on campus began to grow in recent months. “I think I saw a ‘Math’ hat here or there, and as the months have been progressing and the weeks going by, I’ve been seeing progressively more buttons, hats.”
Yet Smith rejected the idea that Yang supporters would move for Sanders if Yang’s candidacy sank at the caucuses.
“I have not heard anyone say they will switch to Bernie in the caucuses if Yang is not viable,” Smith said.
Sanders carried Johnson County by nearly 19 points against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016, and this year, students are poised to back both Sanders and Yang.
John Pintozzi, a senior at the University of Iowa, also concluded he expects to see Sanders and Yang do well in Johnson County.
“Bernie and Yang supporters are more likely to be there,” Pintozzi said, emphasizing the two candidates as the dominant forces on campus.
Of course, anything can happen in Iowa, and this year could be the most unpredictable caucus voting in many years. Buttigieg’s supporters may well flee to Biden, Sanders, or Warren, while Yang’s supporters could either pull votes away from Sanders or propel Sanders in a state where poll results have been consistently close.