Democrats seek unity against Trump as Iowa caucuses launch nominating process
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and his wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders, shake hands at a campaign rally Saturday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. | AP

DES MOINES, Iowa – With this state blanketed in a light coat of snow, a record number of Democrats, perhaps as many as 300,000, are expected to participate in the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3. The caucuses formally launch the 2020 Democratic presidential nominating process.

The caucuses will take place Monday evening in over 1,600 sites across the state, with another 100 satellite gatherings. They include six conducted in Spanish, and gatherings of Iowa registered voters across the country and even globally, including the first event in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The air is electric as candidates barnstorm the state, holding rallies and media events, and conduct final canvasses and phone banks to turn out supporters. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., held the largest weekend event, an enormous rally in Cedar Rapids.

In addition, many organizations are mobilizing their constituencies to participate. For example, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is conducting an extensive campaign to turn out some 53,000 registered Latino voters. Groups active around climate change, gun safety, and reproductive and LGTBQ rights, and labor unions are doing the same.

Sanders, whose support has been building for the past two months, is expected by many to come out the winner. But the top four candidates, including Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are tightly bunched in several polls.

The caucus rules set a 15% viability support threshold for candidates. If a candidate doesn’t reach that threshold in a caucus, its supporters then realign to another candidate. This factor, along with a large number of undecided voters, still makes the outcome hard to predict.

The strength of each candidate’s ground game is also an essential factor. Many observers think Warren has the best grassroots organization statewide, but Sanders also has a well-organized campaign and the most energized base of supporters.

Complicating matters is the 11th-hour decision not to release a widely anticipated poll by the Des Moines Register, considered the gold standard, due to a polling error that left Buttigieg’s name off the list of at least one poll taker.

Many caucusgoers are still wrestling with what they consider a large field of suitable candidates, but also finding the one they feel has the best chance of uniting both the broadly diverse and sometimes fractious Democratic party, and the country as a whole, to defeat Trump in November. For many voters, this is even more important than whether they agree with a candidate on all the issues. Up until last week, nearly half of caucusgoers said they were open to changing their top pick, as they considered the chances of each candidate.

The urgency of defeating Trump increased in the wake of the GOP’s sham impeachment trial, which moves the country in the direction of making Trump an autocrat above the rule of law.

Elizabeth Warren | John Bachtell/PW

And the unity theme has been increasingly expressed by candidates themselves, even as the competition for support has sharpened. The issue of unity resurfaced partly in response to a disagreement between Warren and Sanders over alleged remarks by Sanders that a woman candidate couldn’t beat Trump. Recent criticisms by Hillary Clinton against Sanders and some of his supporters, who she claimed didn’t do enough to rally around her campaign in 2016, also raised tensions. Acrimony between the two campaigns marred the 2016 primary, and Democrats don’t want a repeat of that.

Nine progressive organizations issued a joint statement calling for unity to defeat Trump. Sanders calls the Iowa caucuses the “beginning of the end” of Trump. Buttigieg asks his audiences to envision waking up on Nov. 4 without the pall of the Trump administration hanging over the country.

“We’re down to the final strokes here,” said Warren in Cedar Rapids. “But we understand that we will, and we must come together as a party to beat Donald Trump, and I’ve got a plan for that.”

“Let me say this, so there’s no misunderstanding,” Sanders told a crowd in Indianola. “If we do not win, we will support the winner, and I know that every other candidate will do the same.”

In North Liberty, Biden said, “I’m confident Americans, Republican voters, Democratic voters, and independent voters want us to come together. I’m going to do whatever it takes to make progress in the areas that matter most.”

Buttigieg rally | Al Neal/PW

Democrats are already looking ahead to building the massive voter mobilization needed to defeat Trump in six battleground states (Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona). Called Organizing Together 2020, the effort projects spending up to $60 million to build a new voter engagement infrastructure beginning now. The plan anticipates the Democratic nominee may not emerge until the summer.

This effort is part of a more extensive general election unity program in which all the candidates have pledged to back and campaign for the eventual nominee, and the establishment of a Unity Fund to resource the project.

No matter who wins the Iowa Caucuses, the competition for the Democratic nomination is expected to last late into the spring. The Iowa Caucuses are followed quickly by the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries and Nevada Caucus. The Super Tuesday primaries are March 3. After New Hampshire, the primaries take place in states that are more racially diverse, a more accurate reflection of the country as a whole.

Complicating matters is the presence of billionaire and former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who is not competing in Iowa. Bloomberg has already poured $200 million of his fortune into media exposure resulting in a steady rise in the polls.


John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.