Government

Democrats make final Eastern Iowa sprint before caucuses

Iowa's long caucus campaign just hours from concluding

CORALVILLE — As the window closes on the 2020 caucus season in Iowa, candidates including Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer on Sunday crisscrossed Eastern Iowa, making last-minute pitches to voters with a number of undecideds still looking for cues to make up their minds.

Count Kim and Grant Keiser, of Cedar Rapids, among them. Trying to decide, they caught three candidates each over the past two days. Seeing the presidential hopefuls in person — how they present themselves, how they interact with ordinary people and “what they’re about” — has helped firm up their preferences, they said.

“I decided to support Amy after seeing and hearing her in person,” Kim Keiser, 46, said from a Steyer event in Coralville, not long after Klobuchar, the Minnesota senator, spoke earlier in the day.

Hearing Steyer, a San Fransisco businessman, made her like him more, but it also reassured her support for Klobuchar. She struggled to see how the billionaire Steyer could relate with everyday Americans.

Grant Keiser, meanwhile, was leaning Klobuchar but could see himself moving to support New York entrepreneur Andrew Yang on caucus night.

Caucusgoers still were weighing whether to prioritize someone who could defeat President Donald Trump or, perhaps, a more progressive candidates who spoke more directly to matters closer to their hearts.

For Kim Keiser, Klobuchar’s moderate stances and being from the Midwest were key.

An average of recent polls from Iowa shows Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in front with 24.6 percent support from likely Democratic caucusgoers, former Vice President Joe Biden with 20.2 percent, Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., with 15.4 percent and Warren, the Massachusetts senator, with 15 percent, according to RealClear Politics. Klobuchar heads up a next tier with 9 percent support, followed by Yang at 3.8 percent, Steyer at 3.2 percent and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard at 2 percent.

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An issue that surfaced the day before the first-in-the-nation caucuses Monday night was the decision to cancel presenting the final Iowa Poll results. Buttigieg’s campaign complained his name had been left out by a poll interviewer.

The Des Moines Register and CNN, co-sponsors of the highly-regarded poll, decided to not release results after determining they couldn’t be certain they were valid.

“I don’t know everything about the technical issue that was identified,” Buttigieg told reporters Sunday in Coralville. “But I do think it reflects well that they really made what must have been a very difficult decision in the name of making sure that there was accuracy and integrity.”

Steyer seemed to give little importance to the poll’s non-release.

“My job is to go out and talk to people direct face-to-face, not pay attention to that stuff,” he told a reporter in Coralville. “I have no idea what it means.”

All of the candidates appealed to Democratic voters, as well as independents and some uncommitted Republicans, why they are the best choice to beat Trump.

Buttigieg urged voters to envision the first day post-Trump.

“If you are here in this room, some measure of hope must have propelled you,” he told about 800 people who walked through sunshine and puddles of melting snow Sunday morning to Northwest Junior High School. “That sense of hope is what brought me to this stage, too.”

He asked Eastern Iowans to bottle up that hope and share it with their neighbors to persuade them to come out Monday night to support him.

“We need a very strong finish here in Iowa,” he told reporters afterward. “It’s our chance to show versus tell.”

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague came around to supporting Buttigieg after New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker left the race, recalling the thunderous applause that greeted Buttigieg when he spoke in September at the LGBTQ forum in Cedar Rapids, which was co-sponsored by The Gazette.

“When Mayor Pete stepped out, the entire room rose. You couldn’t even stop the clapping. We realized this was an opportunity of a lifetime for someone LGBTQ-plus — part of that family — on that stage,” said Teague, who is gay.

Klobuchar made one last appeal to voters in Marion, making the case that a moderate Democrat like herself would draw more support from independents and moderate Republicans than her left-leaning competitors.

These voters were key to flipping the U.S. House in 2018, she said, showing that the Democratic Party needed a nominee “that’s going to bring them with us instead of shutting them out.”

“You do that by remembering that people are going to have differences on these issues, but the fact is that we want to have a candidate that can win in rural and win in suburban areas,” Klobuchar told the more than 200-person crowd.

Garry Zalesky, a 77-year-old retired Navy veteran from Marion and longtime Republican, recently registered as a Democrat and plans to caucus for Klobuchar. He said he was “furious” at the Republican Party, particularly around its blocking of witnesses in the impeachment trial of Trump, which is expected to conclude this week.

“Somebody has to win, and it’d better not be Trump,” Zalesky said.

When thinking on the question of electability, 60-year-old medical technician from Mount Vernon Janet Dietrich thinks of her parents, who live in Western Iowa and voted for Trump.

Dietrich — registered as a Republican before switching her party alignment about six years ago — said they may be swayed to listen, but isn’t sure it would be enough to push them to the other side in the general election.

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“I’m not sure she’s the most electable, but I would like her to be,” she said of Klobuchar.

Steyer shared his biography and vision for the country with a few hundred people at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids before heading to Coralville, where he treated over 100 people to a free beer and munchies at Backpocket Brewing.

He made the case that he, like Trump, is an outsider, and while the economy is strong, he is the one candidate who can beat Trump on that front — which he views as the top issue.

Although his net worth is reported to be $1.6 billion, Steyer said he doesn’t see himself as rich because he came from modest beginnings. The son of a lawyer and a teacher, Steyer said he was taught that if he saw something wrong, “you make sure you do something about it as early and hard as you can.”

He said that’s what drove him to create his “Need to Impeach” campaign. Now, although the “most corrupt president in history” has been impeached, the Republican-controlled Senate won’t finish the job by removing Trump from office, Steyer said.

He called for public, televised trials of Trump administration officials.

Steyer rejected the argument of some candidates that a Democratic president could work with Republicans.

“There is no middle,” he said. “Where can you meet in the middle with some guy who gives the biggest tax cut in history” to the wealthy and expects the middle class to pay for it. “You have to fight back. We need to turn out, we need to show up and win across the board, not just for Mr. Trump, but all the senators and Congress people. We need to sweep away the whole group.”

Steyer, whose hometown team was in Sunday’s Super Bowl, said he was trying to complete his appearances so fans could catch the game.

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He said he was on his way to watch the game and visit his Aunt Betsy, age 100, at the Oaknoll retirement community in Iowa City.

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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