Just over two dozen workers gathered at the headquarters of the local United Food and Commercial Workers, with 14 casting their votes for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. One attendee cast their vote for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Satellite caucuses will continue to be held at union halls, senior centers, and universities throughout the afternoon, leading up to the regularly scheduled caucuses on Monday evening at 7 p.m. central time.
The turnout for Sanders among union members reflects the campaign’s strategy of mobilizing nontraditional voters. Many of the Ottumwa meatpackers are immigrants, largely of Ethiopian origin or descent — not the corn-fed farmers typically associated in the popular imagination with the Iowa caucuses.
The Tbilisi caucus was conducted successfully, over a traditional Iowan meal of pizza and ranch dressing – accompanied by Georgian wine. The results will be reported along with the rest of the results after the caucuses in Iowa take place. pic.twitter.com/SraYlfxAUq
— Joshua Kucera (@joshuakucera) February 3, 2020
Iowa polls have shown an extraordinarily close and volatile race, with Sanders capturing late momentum heading into the caucus. A number of recent polls showed Sanders consistently surging in the days leading up to Iowa, followed by a slew of stories on how Democratic party stalwarts were strategizing and spending to keep Sanders from winning the nomination.
Their argument centers on the question of electability, and the idea that Sanders is not equipped to beat President Donald Trump. Sanders does lead Trump in a handful of polls when they’re put head to head, and where he’s behind the president, he performs fairly close to the center’s idea of electability: former Vice President Joe Biden or former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Warren performs similarly to Sanders. On Sunday, the Sanders campaign released an ad highlighting his ability to defeat Trump in the general election.
The center’s attempts to derail Sanders’s nationwide surge have seemed to backfire. Outside PACs spent big to back Biden and Buttigieg, and a Democratic pro-Israel group with deep ties to the far-right Israel lobby group, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee spent on the first ads attacking Sanders by name just last week. Clinton launched another attack on Sanders in a podcast interview. The attacks only boosted Sanders’ war chest — his campaign raised $1.3 million in a day after the attack ads ran in Iowa.
States that hold caucuses instead of primaries use the process to elect state delegate equivalents. Iowa’s 41 pledged delegates will vote at the state party convention in June. The number of state delegates for each candidate determines how many national convention delegates they get — those national delegates vote in July at the party’s national convention in Milwaukee.
None of the backlash to Sanders’s rise comes as a surprise. He faced a similar battle against Clinton at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, struggling to beat her superdelegate count in multiple states where he won the popular vote comfortably. That included Washington state, where he won close to 73 percent of the vote, Colorado, where he won 59 percent of the vote, New Hampshire, Kansas, and Maine. “If I win a state with 70 percent of the vote, you know what? I think I am entitled to those superdelegates,” Sanders said.
The Democratic National Committee attempted to address those concerns with a historic rule change in 2018, stripping superdelegates of the power to vote on the first ballot at the national convention, something critics said allowed a small group of powerful party figures to override the will of voters.
For all the fanfare around the first-in-the-nation caucus, Iowa accounts for only around 1 percent of the total national delegates who will determine the party’s nominee in July. Candidates have faced increased pressure this cycle to denounce what critics say is an arbitrary order that unfairly centers majority white voters in an increasingly diverse nation. But the event is largely seen as setting the pace of the coming months, as a number of states hold their caucuses in the coming weeks.