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Many Democrats undecided as caucus clock ticks

Many Democrats undecided as caucus clock ticks

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People listen as Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event on foreign policy at a VFW post Wednesday in Osage.

DES MOINES — Crystal Meier has caucused nearly every presidential cycle since 1988 and has attended countless campaign events over the past year.

And yet, with just a week left before the Feb. 3 caucuses, Meier has not yet decided which candidate to support.

In fact, she’s still considering five.

“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 not alone.

Many of the Democratic presidential candidates have been campaigning in Iowa for more than a year. And even though the caucuses are right around the corner, many Iowans remain undecided.

Iowans are famous for taking their time to decide which presidential candidate to support every four years in their first-in-the-nation presidential precinct caucuses. They appear to be taking it to the extreme this season. With a historically expansive field and a high-stakes decision — which candidate to nominate to face Republican President Donald Trump — many are waiting until the 11th hour to make their decision.

Recent polling showed roughly half of Iowa Democrats remain willing to have their minds changed.

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

Reporters from the Lee and Gazette newspapers talked to undecided Iowa Democrats across the state. This story covers undecided voters; future coverage will follow these same voters as they make their final decision.

Doug Kennedy, 24, of Cedar Falls, who works at Deere and Co. in supply management, describes himself as a “moderate.” As of Jan. 20, Kennedy said he was torn between the four candidates 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 considered progressives, Kennedy said he nonetheless liked their “great track records in the Senate,” although does worry “their positions may be too liberal to win the general election.”

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

He has the opposite concern with Buttigieg, 38, whose highest elected office was 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 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 more liberal candidates, he fears, would lose against Trump in crucial Midwestern swing states.

“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 said they are deciding between Biden and Buttigieg.

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

But Safley 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% support among black Americans. That puts him seventh in the field, far behind field-leader Biden, at 48%, and second-place Sanders, at 20%.

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, is still considering Biden, Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard, a U.S. representitive from Hawaii. He came to see Buttigieg during a recent campaign event.

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

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 woman 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, a 35-year-old Des Moines woman, 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.

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

Meier said the first characteristic she looks for in a candidate is electability.

“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.”

Reporters Graham Ambrose, Amie Rivers, Jared McNett, Ashley Stewart, and Brian Morelli contributed.


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