Iowa Caucus
Iowa's Clout: The Democratic Presidential Candidates Prepare to Be Nominated
Voting for the next Democratic presidential candidate to take place on Monday. After more than a year of campaigning the candidates gather in the state.

Every four years the state of Iowa becomes the US Mecca of democracy. With a little more than 200,000 residents the capital of Des Moines is saturated with billboards plastered with candidates' faces. Every week for more than a year candidates have organized rallies and public events, canvassed voters, and appeared on local radio and television programs that they typically wouldn't bother with in any other state. These same politicians see to the concerns of citizens at meetings orchestrated in some diner straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

"This is the real United States," is one of the clichéd phrases of politicians who visit this state with a population that is 90.6% white and 70% Christian. "This is the United States of traditional values and simple people." On first glance, visiting the bars and cafés and touring the streets, it's not clear what it is that makes this part of the United States more real than other parts, for example, those on the coasts: the "coastal elites" of New England or California or the large cities such as Chicago and Detroit - that other United States where migration, diversity and poverty are more apparent.

[AMLO dismissed Trump's statement about the wall: "It's election time in the U.S."]

"I am the District Captain. My job is to raise morale and organize our supporters," explains Derek, a 22 year-old who works for Andrew Yang's campaign. Derek came here from Kansas where he studies political science. He arrived in Iowa six weeks ago in order to dedicate himself full-time to promoting Yang's candidature.

This Monday the caucus will convene - 1,681 districts from all over the state - to decide which candidate to support. Once gathered, Iowans will be divided into groups in a hall according to which candidate they want to support. There is also an area for citizens who remain undecided. Each group of supporters can "sell" their candidate to other attendees, especially to undecided voters. If in the first count the candidate in question does not have at least 15% backing of those present, they are considered "not viable" and their supporters have to integrate themselves with another candidate's group. In Yang's case, for example, the majority of his supporters have Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren as a second choice. At the end of the day the candidate with the most districts won will receive the nomination of the Democratic representatives for the State of Iowa.

 

Andrew Yang greets a supporter in Iowa.

"I like Andrew because he's not as emotional as Bernie or Elizabeth Warren," explains another Andrew, a programmer. The son of a cattle rancher and from Iowa, the other Andrew voted for the Green candidate Jill Stein in 2016. His main reason for opposing Trump is that he is afraid that the economy will collapse after another four years of Trump Inc. "But I'm also interested in foreign affairs," he tells me. "When Trump announced that he wanted to pull out of Syria I said that's very good but then what he did after that did not seem good at all."

Even though he is far behind the four leaders in the competition Yang is one of the most significant phenomena in this electoral cycle. The businessman and technology activist who is competing for votes with Warren and Sanders is championing a platform "motivated by data." "Make America Think Harder" is his campaign slogan. And it's no coincidence that the first letter of each word spells ‘math'. His followers, known as the Yang Gang, wear peaked caps and T-shirts with this slogan. Many of them work in fields related to numbers - programming, data marketing, mathematics, etc.

With the wave of political events in Des Moines it is commonplace for supporters of one candidate to appear at their rivals' events. This Trump voter, nevertheless, was not received enthusiastically by the Yang Gang.

On Saturday night at the Des Moines Marriott, Yang gathered hundreds of followers to conclude his campaign in the state. After speaking with numerous volunteers, supporters and staffers of the activist it's clear to me that the division within the Democratic Party has served to open the door to new propositions. It is very unlikely that Yang will win this state and will probably not win the Party's nomination but his influence on the future Democratic platform will be undeniable.

In addition to supporting universal health care, Yang has proposed a basic universal income for all citizens. Facing the threat of automation and the related expected loss of jobs the candidate has suggested a stipend for anyone who needs it. To get things started Yang paid $1,000 a month to 10 people as part of his pilot program.

At the rally I met "Juanito" a volunteer who already receives $1,000 per month - not from Yang but thanks to an anonymous donor who supports the candidate's platform. On his calf "Juanito" proudly shows off a tattoo of the candidate's face.

Winning Iowa does not guarantee winning the presidency. Fact: starting in 1972, of the 10 Democratic candidates who won Iowa, seven ended up winning the party's nomination. Of those seven, only two arrived at the presidency: Jimmy Carter and Barak Obama. So people say three tickets to the White House come out of Iowa, i.e., the three best candidates in Iowa emerge with a strong chance of getting to the White House.

In 1968 after a disastrous internal election the Democratic Party decided to space out the dates for their internal elections over the course of a year in order to breathe fresh air into the process. Iowa, with its old school "caucus" method decided that they would be the first one to choose their nominee. The Republican Party made the same decision years later and that is apparently how the state coincidentally became the first stop on the way to the White House.

A volunteer for Senator Elizabeth Warren's campaign who - according to specialists has the best team in the state - commented, "The politicization of people in Iowa is quite impressive." People are used to talking politics all the time - something not as common in other areas but that because of the political weight of this state, is normal here. "The people of Iowa understand the value and responsibility of their decision," she told me.

While President Donald Trump will be the indisputable nominee of the Republican Party, a little more than ten months to election day, the Democrats are still deciding among half a dozen viable candidates. The state of affairs has improved significantly since last year when there were 27 candidates for the nomination but this Monday February 3 -internal party election day in Iowa - there are still many contenders vying for the party's nomination.

According to FiverThirtyEight, a polling analysis website, the four leaders in the state are: Senator Bernie Sanders of the progressive wing of the party with 12.9% of voter preference; former vice-president Joe Biden who still leads the polls nationally thanks to his eight years in the White House, with 12.5%; in third place the mayor of South Bend Indiana Pete Buttigieg with 7.1%; and Senator Elizabeth Warren, another progressive with very similar ideas and proposals to Sanders with 6%.

Given the context of this electoral cycle, it's hard to imagine that one of the four leaders would drop out of the race after Iowa. Below them there are still contenders such as magnates Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg who are funding their way into the race via their deep pockets and activist Andrew Yang who has managed to build a true organic movement of enthusiastic and loyal followers.

This weekend, the last one before state-wide voting occurs, candidates are preparing to close out their campaign efforts on a grand scale in order to win the votes of "real" people in the United States.

Bernie Sanders, who along with his colleagues in the Senate, was unable to campaign because of Trump's trial in Washington, did however manage to convene two gatherings in small cafeterias: one in Cedar Rapids and another in Iowa City that had a surprise show by the band Vampire Weekend - a spectacular closing for this veteran of the Senate.

His colleague Elizabeth Warren did her own thing in Cedar Rapids and hosted an event in Davenport with the support of former presidential candidate Julián Castro who joined her campaign the day after he announced that he was leaving the competition.

Biden meanwhile has focused on strengthening his relationship with the African-American community, one of his strongest bases going into the election. It is worth mentioning that Biden's campaign strategy has not been characterized by its boldness.

Warren and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley hug in Iowa.

And the thing is that for many anti-Trump voters, this is the question. Beyond Warren's perfectly outlined plans, Sanders' integrity or Joe's likeability, at the end of the day the most important thing is to nominate someone who can win the national election. What they want to avoid is another 2016.

When on Sunday, under the Miami sun the San Francisco 49ers compete for Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs, 2,500 kilometers away and buried under snow, the Democratic citizens of Iowa will decide who to support on Monday. For the majority the key question is, "Who can beat Donald Trump?" 

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