In Iowa caucuses, tough choices but Iowans stake their claims

Inconsistent lighting, long lines don't sway their enthusiasm

There were long lines, crowded precincts and late starts. And the lights even went out at a University of Iowa caucus. But Iowans kept their spirits up for Monday night’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. Here’s a look at moments from Iowa caucus precincts in Eastern Iowa on Monday.

CAUCUS RESULTS: Democratic caucus results | Republican caucus results

Keeping things light in a crowded house

Sarah Beaver, 46, a junior high science teacher, remembers another caucus night 40 years ago when a couple dozen neighbors gathered at her house in the country near Independence for a small, rural Democratic caucus. That year, Jimmy Carter won the Iowa caucuses with 59 percent to Ted Kennedy’s 31 percent.

“There couldn’t have been more than 30 people,” recalled Beaver, who was 6 at the time. “There was a big group in the living room, and a smaller group in the kitchen.”

That was a far cry from the 529 Democrats who came to caucus at the Coralville Performing Arts Center Monday. At 7 p.m., there were still more than 100 caucusgoers in a line outside the building, but by 7:40 everyone was seated in the auditorium.


State Sen. Zach Wahls, a Coralville Democrat who was elected to chairman of the site, kept the crowd laughing with jokes about how former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg supporters might have to look at their campaign signs to make sure they spelled their candidate’s name right on their presidential preference card. He told businessman Andrew Yang fans they couldn’t simply write “math.”

In the end, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders won the most delegates in the precinct with four (224 supporters). Next was Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren with three delegates (169 supporters) andformer South Bend, Ind., Mayor PeteButtigieg with two delegates (100 supporters).

— Erin Jordan

Lights go out at University of Iowa precinct

Just before 8 p.m. — nearly one hour past the planned start time and with nearly 800 young people crammed in an airy ballroom — lights in one of the University of Iowa caucus sites went out, inciting hollers and laughter and groans from an already impatient crowd.

As staffers scrambled to get the power back, the site leader continued with his script and students tried to help by whipping out cellphone flashlights.

Power eventually returned, but the stalled process continued on its slow course.

Students circulated bags of candy. A toddler up past her bedtime roamed the halls with her Sippy Cup.

“There’s a lot more people than I expected,” said UI freshman Abigail Bright, 18, of Chicago. “It’s taking a lot longer than I expected.”

But Bright said she had to come.


“Growing up, I had never heard of this,” she said. “The caucus is something completely foreign to me. ... It’s definitely a different way of doing things.”

— Vanessa Miller

‘Sometimes people just leave’

Cheers rang around the Washington High School band room in Cedar Rapids as 243 caucusgoers counted off for their candidates. By the end of the session, in which nine people were invited to realign with the viable candidates, Bernie Sanders led with 67 votes, followed by Elizabeth Warren with 54, Joe Biden with 43, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar with 38 followers each, and one undecided.

The final tally was off by two from the original 243, but as Precinct Chairwoman Monica Vernon noted, “Sometimes people just leave.”

At another precinct caucus, meeting in Washington High’s cafeteria, Cherryl Thomason, 79, a retiree, was sold on Pete Buttigieg.

“He’s smart, he speaks many languages, he’s a veteran,” she said, “and he’s a centrist. He can bring in the middle-ground folks.”

Of the 443 people who turned out for the cafeteria caucus, the women won the evening, with 117 declared for Warren and 99 for Klobuchar, followed by 82 for Biden, 72 for Buttigieg and 69 for Sanders.

— Diana Nollen

‘Stakes are a little high’

With walkers exercising on the track overhead at the North Liberty Recreation Center, Abdouramane Bila was exercising his right to caucus for the first time.

The 39-year-old immigrant from West Africa came to the United States in 2002 and first voted in the 2008 general election.


“It’s a little intimidating,” engineer with Skyworks Solutions said, looking out over a crowded gymnasium.

Bila came into site undecided and said the slate of “a couple good” candidates made it difficult for him to reach a decision right off the bat.

“I think the stakes are a little high,” he said. “I’d like to get my input in early in the (election) process.”

A total of 11 delegates were to be doled out Monday night, with 397 caucusgoers in attendance. The formula computed four for Pete Buttigieg, but three each for Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. After a lot of number crunching and a call to the Iowa Democratic Party Caucus Hotline, the 11th delegate was awarded to Warren thanks to a coin flip long after a majority of caucus participants had left.

— Lee Hermiston

A record turnout in Decorah

College students chatted with professors, while many first-time caucusgoers greeted neighbors as a crowd of 406 — a precinct record — turned out at the Danan Lansing Building at the Winneshiek County fairgrounds in Decorah.

For this precinct, 61 voters were required to have a viable group.

Once final numbers were recorded for the first alignment — with Pete Buttigieg on top — the groups for each viable candidate began realigning. People were given stickers and a cheer as they switched to a new group.


Most of the supporters of Andrew Yang moved over to Amy Kloubuchar’s group, and many of Joe Biden’s supporters chose to leave the caucus rather than realign.

In the end, Kloubuchar finished with 125 supporters, while Buttigieg finished with 115, Elizabeth Warren 86, Bernie Sanders 77. Yang, Biden and Tom Steyer were not viable in the final alignment.

— Katie Valkosky, Gazette correspondent

Room mix-up leaves some caucusgoers out

Two precinct locations in Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids at opposite sides of the building set the stage for some confusion and prevented five caucusgoers from participating.

Four people who should have been in the gym site went to the band room and by the time they discovered the mishap and got back to the gym it was just past 7 p.m. — the deadline for admittance. First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks, the precinct chairman, said they would take a vote to see if the group would allow them to come in. The majority approved and the four brought the total to 188 in the gym.

Another five were not so lucky. They first went to the gym and found out they should be at the band room but by the time they got there, it was after the start time.

“They wouldn’t let us in,” Clay Smith, 21, said. “I even brought my mail to prove my address because I just moved.”

Michael Dighton, 56, of Cedar Rapids, who just followed Smith and Zimmerman, said he also had no idea there were two locations.

“There needs to be more signs,” Dighton said. “This hasn’t happened before at this site. I’m upset.”


Inside the gym and band room, Craig Lekin, 66, said it was the first time he was undecided. He has always liked Joe Biden but Warren is “fresh and I would like to see a woman in there.”

Chelsea Ross, 27, of Cedar Rapids, said this was her second time to caucus. She was supporting Sanders because she thinks his policies are “realistic.”

— Trish Mehaffey

‘When a lot of people turn out, Bernie wins’

The kids showed up. The kids most definitely showed up.

“I’m 55 years old, and this shows that the future is bright,” said Jerry Stewart, captain for the Joe Biden camp at Cedar Rapids Precinct 22.

County officials expected 115 to attend Monday’s event at Coe College. Instead, a crowd of 208 — dominated by Coe students — crammed into a ballroom inside Kohawk Arena.

The Coe contingent boosted Bernie Sanders to victory, with 115 supporters. Elizabeth Warren was the only other “viable” candidate, with 83. Both received two delegates for the Linn County convention.


“I’m really excited,” said Sanders precinct captain Thomas Monserud, a Coe senior from Minneapolis. “When a lot of people turn out, Bernie wins.”

— Jeff Linder

Value in unity behind the president

Retired nurse Dee Ann Johnson supported Trump at Butcher Block Steakhouse, a Republican caucus site in Cedar Rapids.

Johnson, 77, who has attended each caucus dating back to the 1970s, said even though Trump’s nomination was not in question, she still found it important to show support for the incumbent president.

“I think it’s really important to have unity, to learn more about him (Trump), because everybody has a difference in experience,” she said.

— Thomas Friestad

A family divided by party and a hallway

It was the tale of two parties at Mount Vernon High School on Monday night. One party, loud and filling up a large space, and the other quieter — but just as passionate — crowded into a small classroom.

Hundreds of Democrats gathered in the commons of the high school, where voters determined in the first alignment that one of the precinct’s four delegates would go to four candidates.


By the second alignment, Elizabeth Warren got 66, Pete Buttigieg 55, Amy Klobuchar 46 and Bernie Sanders 44.

But at the Republican caucus, down the hall in a classroom, was a quieter affair. Only three Republican caucusgoers of the 56 total voters did not put their support behind President Donald Trump’s reelection bid.

One of those three abstained entirely. Roch Player, a 48-year-old civil engineer, said if Trump gained the Republican nomination, he would abstain from the general election as well.

“The Republican Party I know is one that is inclusive, that respects differences of opinion,” he said. “It doesn’t vilify and throw bombs to fellow Republicans.”

Player said he has no plans to support a Democrat in the general election.

But down the hall, his wife, Sherene Hansen Player, had switched her party to participate in the Democratic caucus. She and her daughter, 18-year-old Mount Vernon High School student Sadie Player, supported Warren.

“My votes do generally go Republican, but that all changed in 2016 because there was no way I could go with Trump,” Hansen Player said. “But now, I just really don’t recognize the Republican Party.”

She does not agree with Republican voters who plan to vote along party lines, even if they don’t agree.

“I think we need to send a message,” she said.

— Michaela Ramm

LATEST RESULTS: Delegate counts, and first and final alignments

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