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Time's running out for undecided Iowa Democrats

Many undecideds say they have favorites - with caveats

Democratic presidential candidates businessman Tom Steyer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice President Joe Bid
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 Jan. 14 before a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register. It was the last candidate debate before the Feb. 3 caucuses. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

Crystal Meier has caucused nearly every presidential cycle since 1988 and has attended countless campaign events over the past year in Northern Iowa.

Yet with just more than a week left before the Feb. 3 caucuses, she has not decided which candidate to support.

In fact, she’s still considering five of them.

“It’s not like I haven’t thought about it or haven’t given it any consideration. I just can’t decide,” Meier said.

She is hardly alone. Two recent polls — the Iowa Poll and one by Monmouth University — found that about 60 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers may change their minds about a candidate before Feb. 3.

Many of the Democratic presidential candidates have been campaigning in Iowa for more than a year.

Iowans are famous for taking their time to decide which candidate to support in their first-in-the-nation presidential precinct caucuses, but they appear to be taking that to the extreme this caucus season.

With a historically expansive field and a high-stakes decision — which candidate to nominate to face Republican President Donald Trump — many Iowa Democrats are waiting until the eleventh hour to decide.

Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg have been the consistent polling leaders in the race in Iowa, with each taking a turn as the front-runner. Amy Klobuchar has been surging lately, and Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang remain on Iowa Democrats’ radar.

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Reporters throughout Iowa talked to undecided Iowa Democrats to better understand their process in selecting a candidate. This story tells how those voters are wrestling with their decision; future articles will follow these voters as they make their final decisions.

Doug Kennedy, 24, of Cedar Falls, who works at Deere and Co. in supply management, describes himself as a “moderate” Democrat. As of last Monday, Kennedy said he was torn between the four candidates who have been leading the polls.

“I like Biden, Pete, Warren and Bernie, in that order, at the moment,” Kennedy said.

Although Sanders and Warren, both U.S. senators, are generally classified as part of the progressive wing of the party, Kennedy said he nonetheless liked their “great track records in the Senate,” though he also said he worries that. “Their positions may be too liberal to win the general election,” he said.

Kennedy said he thinks Biden has “great experience,” but expressed concern about Biden’s age: the former vice president would be 78 at inauguration.

He has the opposite concern about Buttigieg, who is 38 and whose highest elected office has been mayor of South Bend, Ind.

“I like Pete’s positions and ideas, but I don’t know if he is experienced enough to handle being the president,” Kennedy said.

Aaron Christopher, a business owner from Bettendorf, is trying to decide between the candidates he views as the three moderates in the race: Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar, a U.S. senator from Minnesota.

Christopher said he worries about general election voters who do not have strong partisan leanings. The progressive or more liberal candidates, he fears, would not be able to win a general election race against Trump in crucial Midwestern swing states.

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“I’m concerned with the middle,” Christopher said. “We lost the middle in the last election to Trump.

“The economy’s so good they’ll vote with their pocketbooks, not their principles,” he predicted. “I want a candidate to appeal to the center so we can win it.”

Also attempting to navigate the field’s centrist lane are Mike Safley, an electrical engineer from Muscatine, and Luke Becker, a 19-year-old Iowa City native and University of Iowa sophomore. Both are deciding between Biden and Buttigieg.

Safley said he likes some of the ideas proposed by Warren and Sanders — he called Warren’s wealth tax a “no-brainer” — but adds that he also is skeptical of some of their ambitious plans, especially at a time when, he said, the country is too far in debt and politically divided.

But Safley said he also has electability concerns with Buttigieg.

“I like Pete,” Safley said. “He’s a little young. I’m worried about the black vote. Without that population, he can’t win the nomination.”

A recent Washington Post-Ipsos national poll showed Buttigieg at 2 percent support among black Americans. That puts him seventh in the field, far behind field-leader Biden, at 48 percent, and second-place Sanders, at 20 percent.

Safley said his top concern is finding a nominee who can defeat Trump in the general election.

“We gotta bring our country back together,” Safley said.

Jeremy Dusenberry, a fast-food worker from Muscatine, still is considering Biden, Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard, a congresswoman from Hawaii. And he came to see Buttigieg during a recent campaign event.

“I’m here to check him out,” he said. “Then I”ve got to go back to work.”

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Dusenberry said he wants to see wages increase and to protect the planet from the impacts of climate change.

Shari Loftsgard, a 55-year-old from Robins, said she has been considering Buttigieg, Warren and Klobuchar.

Loftsgard said she likes Warren’s plans to root out corruption in the federal government, and she thinks Klobuchar “seems tough.”

But after recently attending a Buttigieg event, she is leaning toward him. She said she likes his health care plan, which he has dubbed “Medicare for all who want it.”

“He’s smart and well-spoken, and he is more of a centrist Democrat,” Loftsgard said. “His talk the other night that I went to really hit home with me.”

Morgan Post, 35 from Des Moines, is weighing some of the more liberal candidates. She said she is deciding between Sanders, Warren and Yang. She recently attended a Sanders event in Des Moines.

“I really would like to see someone who’s really passionate, says that they will do something about climate change. That’s really important to me,” Post said.

Clear Lake resident Nelson Kraschel’s shortlist includes Klobuchar, Buttigieg and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has not spent much time campaigning in Iowa but is running TV ads here.

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According to the 67-year-old Kraschel, that triumvirate of candidates stands for what’s important to him.

“They’re closer to representing my thoughts and my beliefs than any others,” Kraschel said.

Kraschel said even though Bloomberg hasn’t campaigned in Iowa, he appreciates the former mayor’s practicality and experience.

“What he did in New York City, that was a very difficult situation after 9/11,” Kraschel said.

As far as what will tip things for him, Kraschel said the important issues to him are the national debt and climate change. But even those might not be the final motivators. What decides it for him could be much simpler.

“It might come down to what I feel right before the caucuses,” he said. “I guess that’s the best way to explain it.”

Meier, who lives in Mason City, has a shortlist that’s still fairly long.

She’s still considering Biden, Buttigieg, Warren, Yang and Klobuchar. She said her goal is to have her list narrowed to one or two by Feb, 3.

Meier said the first — and perhaps, most important — characteristic she looks for in a candidate is electability.

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“I think most of us who are undecided, or a lot of people who are undecided, know who we’d like to caucus for, but we’re not sure that’s where we’re going to go,” she said. “I think we’re concerned about wanting to get it right. We just want to get it right.”

Graham Ambrose, Amie Rivers, Jared McNett and Ashley Stewart from Lee Enterprises, and B.A. Morelli from The Gazette, contributed to this report.

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