Dale Todd did not plan to be an undecided voter three weeks after the Iowa central committees.
“I’m not one of those who kick tires in a car,” said Todd, a member of the City Council of Cedar Rapids. “When I go to a lot of cars, I buy what I like and I don’t get in.”
He then committed early with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, just as he had committed early in the 2008 cycle with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton eight years later.
But after Booker left the race this week, Todd was among the majority of the people of Iowa who have not decided firmly in the first contest of nominations of the Democratic presidential primary. The presidential campaign season began here over a year ago, but the expanding field and the almost paralyzing desire to defeat President Trump has left Hawkeye state residents feeling more restless than in past elections.
Recent surveys point to unpredictable competition, with little consensus on the likely winner. A survey last week of the Des Moines Register and CNN showed Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on top of a group of contestants, while a Monmouth University survey showed former Vice President Joe Biden in front. Both polls reached an agreement on a data point: about 60% of Iowa voters say they can change their mind between now and the February 3 committees.
“The committees are notoriously a kind of last-minute campaigns, so the fact that there are still more than 60% of voters who say they could change their minds only means that the work involved in identifying the first elections, second options , third voter elections a really fluid and changing field is more important than ever, ”said David Kochel, a veteran Iowa GOP operative.
After months of soft selling, the candidates and their followers have become noticeably stronger in their appeals.
“I ask you to support me,” Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar told Iowans at an art museum in Waterloo this month. “I know I’m not in the lead right now, but I’m doing really well. I ask you to sign one of those caucus engagement cards. It’s the beginning of the year. Just go out and do it!
It’s not that voters like Jessalyn Holdcraft are phobias of compromise. Holdcraft, who works in marketing for a nonprofit organization in Cedar Rapids, was aboard the Clinton campaign in May 2015, about nine months before the caucus night.
“This time it was very different,” said 27-year-old Holdcraft, in a loft at Cedar Rapids where Irvine’s representative Katie Porter had just made a launch for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. “I didn’t have the same loyalty to a campaign. I entered with an open mind.
And he came up with a plan: a spreadsheet in which he classified the candidates according to various criteria, including their positions, their ability to inspire, the quality of the organizers of their campaigns. He pressed the numbers and discovered that California Senator Kamala Harris was her best partner; Holdcraft decided to commit the week that Harris left the race.
Warren now ranks first in his spreadsheet, but Holdcraft has not made a final decision.
“I will probably sign a‘ commit to caucus [card]”Before February 3,” he said. “When that’s the case, I don’t know.”
Some Iowa voters say it is necessary to keep an open mind, since breaking news can shake the dynamics of the race. The intense tensions between the United States and Iran, for example, led to a prolonged discussion of foreign policy. in Tuesday’s debate in Des Moines.
Again and again, Iowans points out the same reasons for his slow decision-making: too many options to classify and the terror of making the wrong decision.
Jim Estin has spent months following the candidates (he has seen Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., Four times separately), but has not yet been able to choose a favorite.
“I’ve dated everyone,” said the 65-year-old psychiatric social worker. He made the admission shyly, while friends and colleagues roamed his living room in Iowa City in the final minutes of a breakfast. put on by the Warren campaign. His wife, Ann, a law professor, sided with the senator last fall.
But Estin has regretted some of his past elections, such as supporting former North Carolina Senator John Edwards in the 2008 caucus over Obama, the eventual winner. The shock that Trump wins in 2016 has made him doubt his instincts even more.
“The Democrats really missed something important in the last elections,” he said. “I feel a little traumatized.”
The dilemma faced by voters can be described in the simplest way as the tug of war between the heart and the head, said Dennis Goldford, professor of political science at Drake University in Des Moines.
The first, he said, “you think he is a wonderful candidate; you would go to the table for that candidate. He is the person who makes your heart beat faster,” he said. The head, meanwhile, is “if you look coldly, objectively, who seems to have the best chance of defeating the opposition?
Without a clear candidate to check all those boxes, Goldford said, a large number of voters remain undecided.
“They desperately want to defeat the president and desperately want to avoid losing the opportunity to do so,” he said. “So they are very, very scary on which side they should come from.”
Mary Newton said that her decision weighed heavily on her; Being engaged so late on the calendar is an aberration, he added.
“I always know, but we’ve never had so many options,” he said. “You know, it’s usually been two or three. So, it’s very difficult. Everyone would be great.”
Newton’s retired teacher, 63, has been flooded with text messages and campaign emails.
“I feel pressure,” he said. “I feel I need to do the right thing.”
Newton said that he will probably actively enter his caucus considering at least two contestants, and that he probably won’t be alone. Barbara Trish, a professor of political science at Grinnell College, said some voters may confirm her election in the coming weeks.
“But I suspect that a significant proportion of the caucus electorate will appear … that it will potentially fall in any number of fields,” he said.
Lindsey Ellickson, 31, was still looking for a candidate on Sunday when he attended the Marshalltown rally with Warren and Julian Castro, who had recently retired from the race and backed the senator. Ellickson, a Cedar Rapids resident and defender of the homeless, was divided between Warren and Booker.
The next day, Booker retired and Ellickson’s choice was reduced to one.
“I wish it was a decision I could have made alone without him leaving the race,” he said.
Thirty minutes after Tuesday’s debate, he made his decision official, announcing on Twitter: “I am congregating for @ewarren.”
For Todd, Booker’s departure meant a new uncertainty in the race. An hour after the news, Todd, the first African-American to serve at Cedar Rapids City Hall, had heard of the Biden campaign. The campaign of businessman Andrew Yang was also registered.
“I am an official free agent,” said Todd, “I still have my Cory sign, but my options are open.”
Mason reported from Cedar Rapids and Mehta from Marshalltown, Iowa.