In Iowa, the I-word isn’t ‘impeachment’ — it’s ‘indecision’
Just days before Iowans gather for the first-in-the nation presidential nominating contest, multiple polls have shown it will be a tight race. And in Iowa, that means plenty of last-minute meet-and-greets as candidates get up close and personal with likely caucus-goers at diners, beauty shops and VFW halls.
MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa — The noise of impeachment is more than 800 miles away.
But for many voters in Iowa, the key word is indecision.
Just days before Iowans gather for the first-in-the-nation presidential nominating contest, multiple polls have shown it will be a tight race.
Five Democratic candidates are potentially reaching double digits heading into the Monday caucuses.
And in Iowa, that means plenty of last-minute meet-and-greets as candidates get up close and personal with likely caucusgoers at diners, beauty shops and VFW halls.
Presidential hopefuls have streamed through Mount Pleasant’s downtown pocket of stores — including a coffee shop owned by supporters of President Donald Trump. Former Vice President Joe Biden hit town on Friday.
May Swarm, 68, who works at an antique store in town, meets candidates every election cycle. This time around she’s chatted with Andrew Yang and his wife — whom she called “very nice” — Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke, “the tall guy that isn’t in it anymore that stood on counters.”
“It’s helpful just being in the same room as them,” Swarm said of the visits. “It’s not so much about the questions. They only answer three or four questions, but it’s just if you can be in a room with them and see how they relate to people, you can tell if they’re genuine.”
Hoping to make that connection as the Iowa race enters the home stretch, candidates are exhaustively zigzagging the state. Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet have been noticeably missing, spending their time in Washington, D.C., for impeachment hearings. Their surrogates and volunteers, however, are out in full swing. And the senators’ public schedules show they’ll try to make up for lost time this weekend.
With a population of about 8,500, Mount Pleasant is roughly the size of southwest suburban Willowbrook.
The southeastern Iowa town sits in Henry County. Trump carried the county in 2016, winning 60.8% to Hillary Clinton’s 30.5%.
This time, Democrats hope it will be more fertile ground.
Many of the candidates are hoping to win back blue-collar counties that supported President Barack Obama twice, but then switched to Trump. Warren on Friday released three new ads to run in Iowa, including one of an Iowan who caucused for Trump and is now knocking on doors for Warren.
Lyle Triska, 64, of nearby New London, is a prime prospect for Democrats. He voted for Trump four years ago. This year, he says that remains a “small possibility, but ever so slight.”
“I figured a businessman might run the country like a businessman, but then I realized after I voted for him, how many times has he been bankrupt? How many people that he screwed when he went bankrupt that didn’t get paid for what they did. And I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I did the wrong thing here,’” Triska said.
Triska will be attending a caucus, and he said he’s leaning towards supporting Tom Steyer. But he’s playing a waiting game.
“I’ll get more decided as the field narrows down,” Triska said.
In Mount Pleasant, Swarm also remains undecided. But she plans to caucus.
“I think Medicare for all is the way to go, but I don’t know if I would vote on that issue,” she said.
Her priority, she said, is “that we get someone that we can trust and respect.”
Swarm, a Democrat, said this election is strikingly different.
“I used to always think that it didn’t matter who was in there [the presidency],” Swarm said. “I thought that until this last time.”
If you get the sense that Iowans take this very seriously, you’re right.
Iowa voters are notoriously cautious — and many remain undecided, said David Yepsen, who spent decades covering politics for the Des Moines Register.
“More than ever before, this race is undecided,” Yepsen said.
He attributed that to Iowans knowing the importance of being the first-in-the-nation caucuses and wanting to choose wisely.
“There is such anger and antipathy toward Trump that they want to beat him, and they may have their heart pull them in one direction, but they’re being practical,” Yepsen said. “I’ve never seen electability play this much of a [role] in a caucus, or even a primary. It is mentioned by people.”
Many voters have a preference, “but they’ve learned to hang loose, because unforeseen events will play a role in their determination,” said Yepsen, who also did a stint as director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. “They will also be willing to listen to their neighbor and be subject to some persuasion.”
“One of the greatest influences in politics is your friends, neighbors, spouse, the people you trust,” Yepsen said.
Yepsen said the impeachment hearings have hurt Klobuchar more than any other candidate.
“The feeling on the ground is that she’s been surging. She’s been moving in the center line, and she’s not that well-known. She hasn’t had a lot of paid media,” Yepsen said. “So she needs to be here to really capitalize on that energy, to go to events, get a big crowd and to get some buzz going.”
Lee County is another blue-collar county that voted for Trump.
In Keokuk, one of the southernmost cities in Iowa, Brandon Henson said the parade of candidates hasn’t mattered much to him.
Sipping a hot drink and working on his laptop at The Lost Canvas, Henson, 36, said he listened to Sanders and former candidates O’Rourke and Sen. Cory Booker at stops in town, but he doesn’t plan to caucus this year.
“I’m not really that much into politics. Just seeing people here has been like, that’s where I’ve gotten most of my political exposure,” Henson said. “It’s been good for me to see them as they come through.”
But the persuasive speeches haven’t been enough to sway Henson.
“I’m not into any election. It’s just me,” Henson said. “I voted for Obama, but I don’t know that I will [vote again], honestly.”