How the Iowa caucus might change the game for fringe candidates

Tom Hawks, an Iowan retiree and navy veteran, stands up to ask a question to Cory Booker during his rally at Adam’s Street Espresso Cafe in Creston, Iowa on Jan. 1, 2020.

Published: January 7, 2020

By: Lara Nicholson, LSU Manship School News Service

DES MOINES, Iowa—The Democratic presidential race is evolving into a two-tier contest: the top four candidates, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and the remaining fringe candidates fighting for the chance to catch fire.

Host David Yepsen of Iowa’s public TV show, “Iowa Press,” said no one metric — including polls, fundraising or crowd sizes — can predict a winner. According to Yepsen, a former political reporter here, the only way to know who will win is from old fashioned word-of-mouth and assessing grassroots campaign efforts.

“I don’t put any faith in polls,” said Iowan retiree Tom Hawks. “We never answer our phone for any of them, so there’s one whole number they never get.”

Iowans also tend to decide late. They take the caucus seriously and will attend as many as five candidates’ events before making a decision on caucus night Feb. 3.

It may be a long shot for these candidates to beat the four leaders in the race, but it’s not impossible.

In 2004, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts unexpectedly took both the Iowa caucus and the presidential nomination after lagging in the polls. From September 2003 until shortly before the Iowa caucus, candidates Howard Dean of Vermont and Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri led in the polls, beating Kerry by over 10 points for most of that time.

Caucuses are a complicated process, a “social experience” as some Iowans say, and only occur in six states: Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Nevada, North Dakota and Wyoming.

As Iowa is the first, it can often determine which candidates can fight on in another state. The Democratic winner of the Iowa caucus has won the party’s nomination in every election since Kerry’s 2004 upset.

Read more at The Daily Advertiser.

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