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Capitol Ideas: Democratic caucus field finally may be taking shape

From left, Democratic presidential candidates businessman Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice Presid
From left, Democratic presidential candidates businessman Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT., former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. take the stage Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, before a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

A week on the campaign trail in Iowa with the leading Democratic presidential candidates suggested the field may be starting to solidify — finally.

Iowa Democrats have been especially studious this caucus season. Recent polling showed that even in the final month before the caucuses, roughly half of likely participants were yet to make up their minds or remained open to having their minds changed.

Still, over this past week there were signs that more and more Iowa Democrats are narrowing that short list to just one candidate, the one for which they plan to caucus Feb. 3.

Over the span of less than a week, I covered events featuring each of the four who are leading the polls: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg. And at each stop, it was noticeably more common to find voters who had made up their minds for whom they planned to caucus.

Until recently, it was easy to find undecided Democrats in the event crowds. This past week, the number of decided Democrats appeared on the rise. It was far more common to come across Democrats who have settled on their preferred candidate.

Donna Rigby and Violet Bakalar, both of Newton, were among the more than 300 people who attended a Buttigieg town hall there and said they’re ready to caucus for the former South Bend, Ind., mayor.

“I like everything about him,” Rigby said.

Added Bakalar: “I believe most of all, Pete seems to be honest. … He’s a leader, and we need a leader.”

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Kathleen Keest of Des Moines, was one of the more than 500 people to attend an Elizabeth Warren town hall in Des Moines. She said she’s a strong supporter of the U.S. senator from Massachusetts. “She has identified the core of the problems, the root of the problems,” Keest said, referring to Warren’s anti-corruption plans.

If there’s a candidate in this field who draws fewer undecided voters than the others, it’s probably Bernie Sanders.

People who come to see Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, more often than not, already are in his corner.

That was no exception this past week at an event at the Iowa Historical Museum, in the shadows of the State Capitol.

“Integrity. He’s been consistent for 40 years on all the issues,” said Cassandra Euchner of West Des Moines. She added that she supports Sanders’ policies on climate change, “Medicare for All,” and racial and criminal justice.

“I’m a big lefty,” she said.

At a Joe Biden town hall in Ames, multiple people said they came into the event on the fence between Biden and another candidate, but walked away ready to caucus for the former vice president.

“I appreciate his experience,” said Shirley Crippen of Huxley. “I think his experience is going to give us the stability we need to get us back on track.”

There is no doubt that a large share of the Iowa Democrats planning to caucus remain undecided. But the evidence from the campaign trail suggests that share is slowly shrinking as more and more Iowans finally make the decision they’ve been struggling with for weeks or months, if not the better part of a year.

And with mere days left before the Iowa caucuses, it’s not a moment too soon.

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Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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