Late-breaking Iowa Democrats favored Buttigieg

His statewide showing reflects what undecideds told reporters

Democratic presidential candidate former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg takes photos Saturday with members of th
Democratic presidential candidate former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg takes photos Saturday with members of the crowd after his town hall meeting at Keene State College in Keene, N.H. (Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer)

When time ran out and a decision had to be made, many undecided Iowa Democrats last week chose to caucus for Pete Buttigieg.

That shows in the final results released by the state party — Buttigieg, a former mayor, was leading U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders for the most state delegate equivalents by the smallest margin in Iowa Democratic caucus history.

It also shows in the testimonials of Iowa Democrats who reporters across the state have been following leading up to last Monday night’s Democratic caucuses.

Crystal Meier, for example, just a week out from the caucuses, said she was still considering four candidates: Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.

Previously she had been considering New York entrepreneur Andrew Yang, but she eliminated him over his lack of foreign policy experience.

Meier, a Mason City resident and longtime caucus participant, said she went to the caucuses trying to decide whether to caucus with her heart, which was with Biden, or her head, which was with Buttigieg. She said she was still considering Warren, too.

Meier chose her head. She caucused for Buttigieg.

“It’s always been important for me to align with someone who closest as possible represents my approach to policy,” she said. “I don’t agree with him on every single thing, but maybe that’s OK.”


Meier said she attended a Buttigieg campaign event in Des Moines the day before the caucuses and described the event as “uplifting.”

“If it is possible to frame problems with positivity, he does,” she said. “He looks at problems as opportunities to provide solutions.”

Meier said Buttigieg received the most votes and the most delegates at her precinct.

Aaron Christopher also broke late for Buttigieg.

Christopher, a business owner from Bettendorf, a week before the caucuses was still trying to decide between who he viewed as the three moderates in the race: Buttigieg, Biden and Klobuchar. He said he caucused for Buttigieg.

Christopher said part of his calculus was his concern that President Donald Trump and the Republicans would try to persuade general election voters that Biden’s son was engaged in questionable business practices in Ukraine. Non-partisan fact-checkers, citing experts, have found no evidence of wrongdoing by Hunter Biden.

“I became increasingly concerned with the baggage Biden will bring to the general election,” Christopher said. “Trump will have so much to throw at him with Ukraine and Hunter. He’s got a very long record in Washington that can be attacked. He’s old. It’d be a negative, nasty campaign he’d face in the general.”

Buttigieg, by contrast, is what Christopher called “the anti-Trump.” Like many others, Christopher was “pleasantly surprised” Buttigieg performed so well statewide.

“He’s wicked smart, a good Midwestern, clean-cut guy,” Christopher said of the 38-year-old former South Bend, Ind., mayor. “He’s got that (former President John F.) Kennedy quality to him: young, energetic, fresh. The only thing Trump’s been able to attack about him is that he’s young.”

Luke Becker, an Iowa City native and University of Iowa sophomore, also caucused for Buttigieg after previously considering him and Biden.


Although Becker’s support for Buttigieg took a brief detour on caucus night: He said he originally aligned with Yang just to help a friend who was a Yang supporter. But when Yang was not viable at his caucus, Becker moved to Buttigieg.

“I just saw a lot of things about Biden I didn’t like,” Becker said. “He wants to do things too old-fashioned. Pete has a clear, more progressive vision for the future, even though he is moderate.”

Late-breaking supporters may have been a key element in Buttigieg’s caucus performance, but media outlets have stopped short of declaring him the winner.

The state party’s final results show Buttigieg with a tiny lead, but there remain questions about the accuracy of results reported at dozens of Iowa precincts.

Campaigns have until Monday to request a recount or re-canvass.

Jeremy Dusenberry, a fast-food worker from Muscatine, stuck with the decision he made late in the process. Just a week before the caucuses, he decided to support Sanders, and he followed through by caucusing for Sanders, who appears to have won Muscatine County.

Dusenberry said he listened to what others at his caucus site had to say for their candidates, but in the end he was most moved by Sanders’ commitment to a $15 hourly minimum wage.

Dusenberry had also been considering Biden and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

“I wish I had that ($15 per hour wage) right now,” Dusenberry said. “I’m not upset with whoever ends up winning. I’ll vote for them in the general. Unfortunately, I live with a Trump supporter.”

Doug Kennedy, a John Deere worker from Cedar Falls, also stuck with his late decision to caucus for Biden.

Before choosing Biden, Kennedy also had considered Buttigieg, Sanders and Warren.


Kennedy said five candidates were viable at his precinct: Biden, Sanders, Klobuchar, Warren and Buttigieg.

“I was surprised that Pete and Amy had the most, and Bernie finished third,” Kennedy said. Biden, he said, finished fifth — garnering three delegates. Sanders and Warren also got three delegates, while Buttigieg and Klobuchar got five delegates each, he said.

These formerly undecided Iowa Democrats agonized of their decision for months, and they were not alone. Polling published in the final week leading up to Monday’s caucuses showed roughly half of Iowa Democrats remained undecided or willing to have their minds changed about which candidate to support.

With their decision finally made, most of these caucus participants said they are comfortable with their choices.

Meier said she was satisfied with her decision to caucus for Buttigieg, and she will continue to support him through the remainder of the national nomination process, which has now left Iowa for other early-voting states New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

But if Buttigieg does not win the party’s nomination, Meier said she will support whichever Democrat does.

“I don’t know how other states will receive the candidates, but if he were to drop out, I’m not going to be one of those people where it’s my candidate or no candidate,” Meier said. “I will find a new home.”

Ashley Stewart, Amie Rivers, Graham Ambrose and B.A. Morelli contributed to this report.

LATEST RESULTS: Delegate counts, and first and final alignments

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