Government

Some Iowa Democrats say there are too many good candidates to pick just one

Making a decision, some of them say, may have to wait until the Monday caucuses

Democratic presidential candidates from left, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth
Democratic presidential candidates from left, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and businessman Tom Steyer participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate Dec. 19, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Chris Carlson/Associated Press)

It’s crunchtime and Crystal Meier knows it.

The Iowa presidential precinct caucuses are Monday. So Meier, one of thousands of undecided Democrats, has narrowed her list. To four.

“There are more quality people and there are more people who have similar beliefs and goals, and that makes it more difficult,” said Meier, of Mason City.

In this second installment of a series on undecided caucus participants, reporters throughout the state reconnected with undecided Iowa Democrats they interviewed previously to see whether they have yet chosen a candidate.

Some said they finally have made their choice. But others, like Meier, remained on the fence as caucus time closes in.

“We have to decide what paths are most important and what we are willing to compromise on,” Meier said.

In a Monmouth poll published last week, roughly half of the Iowa Democrats who responded said they still could change their minds.

Shari Loftsgard, 55, from Robins, has made up her mind. She has a theory about why so many Democrats have had a difficult time picking a favorite candidate despite the campaign lasting over a year.

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“There’s a wealth of good candidates. And that is a good thing. It is hard to choose from the range of options we have. There are a lot of ideas I want,” Loftsgard said. “I wish we could put a few of these together and make a perfect candidate.”

Meier is a longtime caucus participant. She said she has caucused in nearly every presidential cycle since 1988, and that she knew the 2020 Democratic presidential race would be a tough decision because of the number of candidates, but that she didn’t think she would still be undecided at this point.

Reached Thursday, just four days before the caucuses, Meier said she still is considering former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

But Meier did manage to cross one name off her list: New York entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

Meier said she dropped Yang not because she doesn’t like him, but because he does not have the foreign policy experience she feels is necessary for the commander in chief.

“There’s no getting around that,” she said. “You can surround yourself with excellent people, but I believe you should have some experience in that portion of the job.”

Meier said her goal is to narrow her list to one candidate before Monday night. She said she plans to attend several campaign events before then.

Meier is not the only person reporters talked to still tortured at this late hour by the decision.

Jeremy Dusenberry still is undecided. The fast-food worker from Muscatine is wavering between Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Biden, former Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and even more candidates he likes.

Dusenberry said he feels no rush to decide.

“They’re all over TV,” he said.

Dusenberry conceded he may enter his caucus precinct still undecided.

“It might have to happen that way,” he said.

Nelson Kraschel, from Clear Lake, hopes to go into the caucuses with a favorite candidate in mind, but he, too, conceded it’s possible he’ll walk into the precinct still undecided.

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Kraschel, whose list had included Klobuchar, Buttigieg and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, said he remains undecided but is giving more attention to Bloomberg.

Mike Safley’s priority has not changed — he still wants the candidate who has the best chance of defeating Republican President Donald Trump — but neither has his list of finalists. Safley, a semiretired electrical engineer from Muscatine, said he remains undecided between his first choice — Biden — and Sanders.

A close poll watcher, Safley worries the Senate impeachment trial of Trump might dampen support for Biden, whose son, Hunter, has become Republicans’ target of thus far unsubstantiated claims of corruption.

“The optics of Biden’s son was not a good deal for Joe Biden,” Safley said. “They’re fighting him in the Senate, trying to poison him with that.”

Safley said he is waiting for last-minute polls to gauge Biden’s viability. If Biden starts to fall in the polls, Safley said he will consider switching to Sanders.

Safley said he also prefers Buttigieg over Sanders, but worries about Buttigieg’s apparent lackluster support among black voters. He also fears that Buttigieg — who is gay and married — would be penalized by general election voters for his sexual orientation.

“I think a lot of conservative elderly people may have a problem with (Buttigieg’s) sexuality,” Safley said. “It doesn’t bother me, but that’s old folks set in their ways. I don’t discourage him at all, myself. I like him actually more than I do Bernie, but I think Bernie has a better path forward to the Democratic nomination.”

Some Iowa Democrats are making headway.

Loftsgard, from Robins, said she was sufficiently impressed by Buttigieg at a campaign event and has decided to caucus for him.

But she also left open the door to having her mind changed in these final days.

As recently as nine days earlier, Loftsgard had been considering Buttigieg, Warren and Klobuchar.

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“I really liked what he had to say,” Loftsgard said. “He seemed sincere and smart and seems like he has a lot of good ideas. At this point, I guess right now my intent is to caucus for Buttigieg.”

She noted the other candidates didn’t do anything to lose her support, and that she could still see herself changing her mind at the caucus.

“We need an adult. Not that other Democrats aren’t adults,” she said. “I just like the way he presents himself.”

Doug Kennedy, a 24-year-old supply management worker for John Deere Co. who lives in Cedar Falls, has picked his candidate, too.

After considering each of the race’s longtime polling leaders — Biden, Buttigieg, Warren and Sanders — Kennedy said last week thinks he’s set on caucusing for Biden.

Kennedy said he based that decision not on any candidate appearances — he said he had not seen any other candidates since Jan. 20 — but he said he “read more information about each candidate.”

“I am likely going to select Biden at this moment,” Kennedy said Wednesday. “I realized he is the most likely to beat Trump based on polling, and his moderate views align the most with mine.”

Graham Ambrose, Amie Rivers, Jared McNett, Ashley Stewart and B.A. Morelli contributed.

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