Iowa Democrats Ready Caucuses That Will Shape Presidential Race
File Photo: 2020 presidential candidates Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, stand on stage for the Democratic presidential debate in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. (Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg)

Iowa Democrats Ready Caucuses That Will Shape Presidential Race

(Bloomberg) -- Iowa Democrats prepared to pack firehouses, schools and community centers across the state Monday night to give the first read in the race to challenge President Donald Trump in November.

Unlike a primary, caucus participants gather in their local precincts to publicly declare their support for a candidate. Candidates must have at least 15% support in the first round. The rules allow supporters of candidates who don’t reach that threshold to shift allegiance to another candidate, declare themselves uncommitted or just go home.

The process begins at 7 p.m. local time and takes several hours to complete. The winner will be decided based on the proportion of Iowa’s national convention delegates each candidate can expect to be awarded on results of caucuses in 1,678 precincts and 87 satellite locations. But because the state party this year also is reporting the raw vote totals in each precinct, the result could be muddled with multiple candidates declaring victory.

Iowa Democrats Ready Caucuses That Will Shape Presidential Race

Polls show Senator Bernie Sanders as the first choice of an increasing number of Democrats going into the first-in-the-nation caucuses. But the result in Iowa, unlike states with primary elections, often turns on voters’ second choice, a quirk that could boost former Vice President Joe Biden when supporters of other, low-performing moderate candidates seek an alternative to Sanders’ brand of democratic socialism.

“We’re going to survive all the way through this whole thing,” Biden told reporters outside one of his Des Moines field offices before Iowans assembled for the caucuses.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who once was riding high in Iowa to lead the party’s progressive wing with a lengthy and detailed list of policy proposals, has found her support sagging in polls during the weeks leading up to the caucuses.

Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has been competing with Biden as the centrist alternative to Sanders and Warren and has highlighted his youth relative to the other top-tier candidates.

The only other candidate with a realistic shot at coming away with delegates is Senator Amy Klobuchar from neighboring Minnesota, who has been running in the same pragmatist, centrist vein as Biden and Buttigieg. A poor showing in Iowa will force Klobuchar to decide whether to continue in the nomination races.

Several other candidates, including entrepreneur Andrew Yang, Senator Michael Bennet and Representative Tulsi Gabbard, will also have to determine whether they can sustain a campaign. Billionaire Tom Steyerwould have the resources to continue on.

Four of the satellite caucuses -- which are for Iowans out of the state or country on caucus day -- were completed earlier in the day. The Associated Press reported unofficial results showing Amy Klobuchar with 56 supporters. She was followed by Pete Buttigieg with 41, Joe Biden with 33, Bernie Sanders with 31 and Elizabeth Warren with 20.

But those results amount to little more than a straw poll until the state party converts those numbers to state delegate equivalents at the end of the night.

Iowa Democrats were working Monday to prevent delays in the final tally after some precinct chairs across the state reported they are struggling to use the new phone application for reporting caucus results.

The application is one of the ways local officials who oversee individual caucuses are able to send results from each precinct to the Iowa Democratic Party, which compiles and checks the results.

If that doesn’t work, local officials would have to call in their results to the party via a hotline number. That potentially would delay full reporting from those caucus sites.

As the caucuses opened, Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price said there were no reports of major issues.

“We had some reports of some folks having trouble as they were logging into the app for the first time,” he said. “We expect to report results in a timely manner this evening.”

The state party will report three sets of numbers for each candidate, giving a more complete picture of how support shifted between the first and second round of caucusing.

The first number will reflect each candidate’s support on the first round, before the 15% threshold is applied. After a 15-minute realignment period — sometimes referred to as the “apple cart turnover” — the groups will be counted again for a second round. The party will then convert those numbers to state delegate equivalents based on the size of each precinct.

Those three sets of numbers could allow candidates — especially lower-polling ones — to claim grassroots support even if it doesn’t translate to delegates.

“Campaigns are going to spin as campaigns spin,” Price said. “The fact of the matter is, this is a race for delegates.”

Iowa awards about 1% of the delegates needed to claim the Democratic nomination, but the results of the caucuses catapult the top finishers into the next three rounds of contests this month. Then, those caucuses and primaries are likely to determine how many candidates make into the 14-state “Super Tuesday” primaries that will award more than a third of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

Next week is the New Hampshire primary where Sanders, from neighboring Vermont, is a heavy favorite despite polls showing the top candidates tightly bunched.

Every Democrat who’s won both Iowa and New Hampshire since the states became first and second in the voting order, has gone on to won the nomination. But the large field of candidates, and the desire among Democratic voters to find the candidate mostly likely to beat Trump in November in a bitterly divided nation, has rendered many of the usual benchmarks unreliable.

Sanders, Warren, and Klobuchar all had been pulled away from full-time campaigning in the state for past two weeks during the Senate impeachment of Trump. They had to return to Washington Monday for several hours as the House prosecutors and the president’s defense presented their final arguments.

Elizabeth Warren held a virtual town hall Monday morning for Iowa voters while she was in Washington. The senators all returned to Iowa later Monday.

(DISCLAIMER: Michael Bloomberg is also seeking the Democratic nomination for president. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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