American political campaigns are embarked upon by politicians and staffed by professionals, but they achieve scale only with the help of volunteers.
More than two dozen Democrats came to Iowa in the past year looking to gain supporters for Presidential bids.
And, in a year when many voters hesitated to commit their support—many Iowans remain undecided even now, just days away from the state’s caucuses
—almost all of these Democrats found people not just willing to support them but willing to give their time and effort to the cause.
Volunteers do on their own everything that a campaign does in aggregate: they find people, they listen, they try to persuade.
As our politics have become more national and our campaigns more expensive and technology-driven, the tasks of volunteers have remained remarkably consistent.
Knock on one door, and then another. Make one call, and then another. Their work is intimate, humble, and hard.
Who are these people?
I’ve spoken to Iowa volunteers from a number of the 2020 Democratic campaigns.
For the most part, they were people identified by the campaigns themselves as particularly dedicated.
him, and a John Delaney supporter who came to the campaign, in part, after speaking with the former Maryland congressman about their shared Roman Catholic faith.
These volunteers have collectively conducted thousands of conversations with fellow-voters; they are holding extremely rich survey data in their heads.
They have seen these campaigns from the ground level.
In the case of Nancy Bobo, who volunteered for Cory Booker, her candidate dropped out between the time we spoke and the publication of this piece.
Bobo is experiencing early on what all but one of these volunteers will eventually: she dedicated herself to a candidate and a campaign, only to come up short.
Below, the volunteers discuss what turned them on to their candidates, and what in their lives has influenced their view of politics.
They tell the story of the 2020 Democratic race in Iowa as they saw it, up close.
Their accounts have been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Name: Dee Even
Candidate: Joe Biden
Place of residence: Cedar Rapids
“I grew up in Waterloo, Iowa. I’m the youngest of five, the only Democrat in a house full of Republicans.
My husband is a Democrat, thank God.
“I can understand people being Republican. I have no problem with that. I have problems with Trump.
I don’t know how you can be a Christian and support Trump.
I don’t know how you can be a good person and support Trump.
I cannot wrap my mind around it.
I have a nephew who is handicapped.
And when Trump mocked that reporter, it crushed me.
“I went to Coe College, in Cedar Rapids.
I was the only one in my family who went to college. Part of my story and why I went to college is, when I was thirteen, I found out I had ovarian cancer.
I had a very rare form of cancer.
My parents took me to the Mayo Clinic.
I remember my dad saying, ‘Now you have to go to college.’ And I was, like, what does that have to do with this?
And he said, ‘You can only be on my insurance for four more years.
Your health now, that’s going to be important.’
That’s why the Affordable Care Act, and protections for people with preëxisting conditions, means so much to me.
My kids, you know, they got to get through college and grad school and get started in careers before they had to worry about insurance.
“Politics wasn’t really discussed in my house growing up.
I want to say Bill Clinton—that was the first time politics really started being discussed.
But I never have gotten involved until this year.
It basically is Trump.
He’s a bully, and we just cannot handle four more years of him.
I just felt it was very important that we do something, and so I thought Joe Biden—I like him as a person, I think he has good character,
he has a ton of experience, and I think he can beat Trump.
“I got a call from Biden’s district coördinator here in Cedar Rapids.
I actually had just read the book ‘Becoming,’ by Michelle Obama.
And I’m, like, you know what, I need to get involved.
I just kind of felt that calling.
“I have never attended a caucus. This will be my first, and I’m going to be my precinct leader. I just started making phone calls and talking to voters all over this area.
I call to let people know when Joe’s going to be in town, or the debate parties. Basically, they just give me a list of people,
and they tell me what message they need to get out, and I just start calling.
I do it most Saturdays, and then probably one or two nights a week.
“A lot of people have a feeling that we really need to beat Trump.
I hear from people, some people are concerned about Joe’s age.
Some people, they’ll say, ‘I really like Buttigieg, but Joe’s my second choice.’
Some people say, ‘I’m a Trump supporter’ and hang up on me.
I tell people Joe’s a really good candidate.
I let them know that Joe’s office is open in Cedar Rapids, if they want to stop by.
I answer questions about what a caucus is.
I talk people through the process.
“I think Iowa in general doesn’t like conflict.
I had one person I called—a person at one of the events had stopped Joe and was upset about the situation with Hunter Biden, and I guess Joe kind of fired back angrily,
saying, you know, ‘My son did nothing wrong’—but I had one person right after that I called who said, ‘I don’t like how Joe answered that question.’
Iowans don’t like people who are confrontational.
I don’t think that plays well here, for any of the candidates.
“But I got to meet Joe one day and talk to him.
He’s what I expected.
He seems really nice, asked me what my name was, thanked me for volunteering—I was sitting in a group where all the volunteers were.
I just told him, ‘God bless, and keep up the good work.’
“My daughter actually kind of likes Warren.
That’s absolutely fine.
I’m not there to push my perspective on anybody.
I just want them to be aware of the issues.
My husband hasn’t made up his mind yet, either.
He likes Buttigieg a lot; he likes Biden a lot.
He will not go for Warren or Bernie—Medicare for All is not something that either he or I agree with.
I don’t think it’ll pass.
I think we need to work our way into it.
I’m not saying that someday that might not be an option.
But I don’t think you’re going to get moderate Republicans to come over and vote Democratic if you’re asking for Medicare for All.
We need someone who can get in there on Day 1 and put things back in order.”
Name: Lisa Fleishman
Candidate: Pete Buttigieg
Place of residence: Carlisle
“My family owns a construction business. We’re a small company. My technical title is lead designer, but, as it goes in a small family business, you do, well, whatever.
Today I’m out sanding and staining woodwork. My father-in-law started the business. I joined probably twelve years ago now.
“My parents were very politically active. I was a lifelong Republican. They still are. There were a lot of things that made sense to me.
Being fiscally conservative, that makes sense.
You don’t spend money on things that you don’t have the money for.
The idea of small government, that the federal government should have a fairly limited role in people’s lives and the choices they make every day.
Those sorts of things appealed to me. Unfortunately, that is not the story of the Republican Party today.
“I can actually tell you the day it happened. In 2008, I was going to go vote for John McCain.
And, as I went to the polls, there were some fellas standing outside talking about Obama in very racial and unflattering terms.
And I thought to myself at that time, That isn’t who I am—I don’t agree with any of that at all.
And, just as my small, little act of rebellion, I went into the voting booth, and, instead of putting the check mark next to McCain’s name,
I put the check mark next to Obama’s.
“I stayed independent for quite a few years and pushed back from politics a little bit.
I was, like, This is a really rough-and-tumble game, and I don’t want to be involved in that. It’s just too dysfunctional.
This was online, but I was beginning to notice this even in business conversations, even in casual conversations
—the worst things that you would see online on message boards were starting to become part of the daily talk.
If you’ve ever gone on Reddit, you know what that can be like.
“In 2012, I was still voting on a mixed ticket: some Democrats, some Republicans. When 2016 happened, I changed my affiliation again so that I could go caucus.
That was the first time that I’d ever been to a Democratic caucus. I remember a friend describing it as the Athenian agora. It was very chaotic.
They were reorganizing, and reorganizing again. I don’t think we got out of there until eleven o’clock at night.
“I caucused for Bernie Sanders then. He was more of a populist, little bit of a firebrand. I sensed from conversations that I had with people,
and also from what I was reading online, that, at that period of time, the country was in the mood for that. It explains the meteoric rise of Trump.
Trump finished second in Iowa. I realized when that happened, Oh, crap, this guy might be President. The polls weren’t saying that, but I was, like, No, this is real.
And, although Hillary Clinton perhaps was qualified, that wasn’t her personality, and that wasn’t how her campaign presented.
“After 2016, I had gotten into a little bit of a headspace where I thought, Gosh, I guess this is just the way it is now.
There was an awful lot of folks believing social media, believing particular news outlets, believing, essentially, propaganda rather than talking to each other as neighbors,
As a nation, it’s almost like we’re incapable of having polite discourse about politics. And I was, like, What can I do about this?
And for a while the answer was nothing—just, you know, be charitable in your thinking and do your best, be a decent human being.
But that kind of changed this year.
“I can tell you when I found out about Mayor Pete. It was probably late May, early June, somewhere in there. An article had come out.
The article was very critical of this guy I’d never heard of from Indiana, because he had dared to go on Fox News.
I was, like, Who is this upstart rebel? I did a Google search for the guy from Indiana with a funny name.
A YouTube video popped up, and it was just a little two-minute thing.
I was, like, That’s kind of interesting.
I took one for the team and I watched his Fox News town hall. I was blown away. The guy is sharp.
They’re not giving him softball questions, either, they’re asking him real stuff, and he’s actually answering with substance.
And there was a sense of kindness about him.
“At the time, he was polling in Iowa, like, two per cent, or whatever. I watched a couple more things on YouTube. I told my husband, ‘You gotta check this guy out.’
He’s, like, ‘Wow, he can actually answer questions.’ He said, ‘Maybe we should try to help that guy out.’ I said, ‘O.K., how do you do that?’
And it’s almost like the Internet heard the question, because then we got one of those little recommended-for-you videos that YouTube pops up about volunteers.
They were looking for volunteers at the time to do supporters’ housing for the campaign. My husband and I said, you know, We have a guest room
—that’s something we can do. I sent a couple of e-mails to their general e-mail address off of their Web site, and eventually I got an e-mail back.
Not long after, a stranger showed up at my door to crash at my house. He didn’t stay very long. Two days, I think.
And I thought, Well, there, I’ve done my part for democracy.
Good job, Lisa. I made a donation to the campaign, and I felt really good about it. And then I got another call from the campaign.
‘Hey, we’ve got some more organizers coming in to Iowa. How many people can you take?’ ‘Um, I guess I could take three or four?’ ‘O.K., great.’
“Those relationships evolved, and now I’m very involved in the campaign. Obviously, I have a full-time job; I have a family.
But I try to be as helpful to our field organizer as I can be. Because I understand that they are doing impossible work.
Last week, Saturday was door-knocking and canvassing.
Sunday, we had a community team-lead meeting. Monday was phone-banking. Tuesday was our organizational meeting, when everybody in the county comes to talk
about the strategy for the next week to ten days.
Wednesday was a house party.
I hosted that.
I think I took Thursday off.
And Friday was phone-banking.
“If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t be doing it. It is a very optimistic feeling, a very hopeful feeling. It feels very rewarding. We’re not supposed to watch the polls.
But we do. We all understand where we started out. We called ourselves a ragtag bunch of volunteers.
Each one of us is a little drop in the bucket, but with enough drops the buckets will overflow, and we’re watching that happen.
“It isn’t that I’m anti–Bernie Sanders now. I’m not. Right now the country really needs someone who can unite us, who can inspire our better angels.
It doesn’t have to be half the country is this and half the country is that. And so, although I like Sanders, he’s a bit more partisan, I guess.
And we can’t have that in America anymore. That’s becoming dangerous in America. Mayor Pete was just a breath of fresh air.
He’s the kind of guy that can talk to Republicans, talk to independents, talk to a third party; he can speak to all of that, because, at the end of the day, we’re all Americans.
We’re on the same team.”
Name: Cindy Pollard
Candidate: Elizabeth Warren
Place of residence: Newton
“I was born in Des Moines. Family of eight siblings. My dad was a Teamster, worked in a warehouse. We weren’t wealthy. Lived on the east side of town.
My father always said they came up to Des Moines to get us in the parochial schools, you know, the Catholic schools. He wanted us to go to college. Some chose not to.
I went into nursing. I got hired at Mercy Hospital. It took me a little while to get on over there, but I got hired on, and I worked there for forty years. I worked my way up.
“Politics were the furthest thing from my mind. All I figured out back then was that I think I’m a Democrat. My dad was a Democrat.
John F. Kennedy dying was a big thing for Catholics. I was in the first grade. I remember the nuns gathering out there and crying because Kennedy was shot.
And I knew something was up, and they just kind of released us to go home. I remember watching all this stuff on the TV. Martin Luther King. Bobby Kennedy.
And then Stonewall! I just thought, God, that’s just crappy that they did that to people.
“I didn’t get involved in politics until 1999. I met my wife. She lived in Newton, and I moved here. Kind of rural. I moved to a twelve-hour shift at Mercy,
so I worked three twelve-hour shifts to make my workweek. And I thought, Well, shoot, here I am—what else am I going to do?
So I just walked into a Democratic headquarters up here, and they welcomed me with open arms.
“I learned these streets. It’s all coördinates. The courthouse is like ground zero, you’ve got two directions in all the addresses.
I learned these streets, and I worked for them. Whatever they needed, whatever they wanted. Phone calls, knocking doors. My wife got involved.
I just figured that the quickest way to marriage equality was the Democrats.
“We just knew that we couldn’t get married. All these siblings of mine, I went to all their weddings. Same-sex marriage wasn’t legal in Iowa until 2009.
So marriage just wasn’t for us. I even worked for people who weren’t campaigning for marriage equality.
Of course, some candidates I campaigned for did support marriage equality.
Then, people at the doors, they would tell me, ‘I’m not going to vote for that person because he’s for gays.’ I didn’t know what the hell to say.
Back during one of Leonard Boswell’s campaigns—Boswell was a congressman—this guy I was knocking with would say to people,
‘You know, you’re talking about my friends when you say that.’ He gave me the courage to say, ‘Hey, you’re talking about me.’ That would be my new line.
That worked so good, you wouldn’t believe it.
“We worked for every Presidential candidate. I caucused for Howard Dean, worked for John Kerry, Barack Obama.
For Hillary Clinton, we went out to Milwaukee and knocked, and went out to Denver and knocked.
“Early last year, I got a call from Liz Warren’s people. I was kind of meeting with everybody. But she was one of the first ones on the scene. Really had her shit together.
Some people still don’t have their shit together. The different campaign styles are just unbelievable. Tulsi’s got billboards on I-80.
Yang’s got his literature on bulletin boards at Casey’s. Marianne Williamson fires all of her staff. Somebody else runs out of money. I waited and waited for Kamala Harris.
I’m, like, God, where are they? When are they going to come talk to me? It never happened. But Warren’s people were right here.
An organizer kind of confronted me one day, used her little bag of tricks on me, you know, ‘What’s keeping you from supporting Warren?’ and I just kept ignoring her,
just changed the subject.
And then, finally, I said, ‘I am going to support Liz Warren. I am.’ It was a happy moment.
“We’ve housed people for Warren. We’ve got two organizers living with us now. I tried to make everything as comfortable for them as I could.
They have bedrooms, a bathroom, and they’ve kind of taken over our house. In the living room, I’ve got a great big whiteboard that can barely fit in my car
—that’s where they do trainings.
Around the corner is our little kitchen table. That’s kind of their office. All of their literature, all of their stuff there to go out.
“You know, you guys have these polls and everything. With me, talking to the people, finding out who their top choice is, who their second choice is,
I know who’s going to be viable on caucus night, and I know who’s not going to be there.
Warren and Buttigieg, those two are going to have a showing. But there’s some people who are running for President, and they’re not even talked about.
You can go out and knock for a week and not find anybody that supports them.
Like, why are they even in the race? Elizabeth, she’s got the Hillary supporters, she’s got the Bernie supporters,
she’s got the people that voted for Trump, and she’s got Republican farmers that are voting for her.
And she’s got an organization like no other.”
Name: Nancy Bobo
Candidate: Cory Booker
Place of residence: Des Moines
“I spent my entire career working for nonprofit organizations as a fund-raiser. My degree was in social work, but my career was in raising money for nonprofit
organizations to deliver services. My dad was a farmer. And my parents were both very involved in Democratic politics. I did my first political activity when I was twelve,
when I canvassed our entire little town for a candidate, Harold Hughes, who was running for governor.
I distinctly remember a guy slamming the door in my face and telling me to get the hell off his porch. I was a twelve-year-old kid, so I went home crying.
My mom told me, ‘Oh, Nancy, you don’t need to finish that; you can quit.’ And I said, ‘No, I told them I would do the whole town.’
“I was very involved in several Presidential campaigns. John Kerry’s. I was with Barack Obama from the very start. If I find a candidate,
I’m going to work really hard for that candidate. It’s not just voting for them. I make a point of being constant in talking to people about my candidate and being informed.
For Obama, I made phone calls, I knocked on doors, I was a precinct captain, I was a caucus captain, I was a national delegate to the convention, I hosted events,
marched in parades. I think we did seven different house parties at my house. We housed staff. I actually had a laundry brigade of women that took in the laundry of
Obama’s organizers, did their laundry every week, so those kids could stay out.
I would basically go to work and then go to the campaign office and work. In 2016, I was a Martin O’Malley supporter. So we didn’t get very far.
I just didn’t have the passion that I needed to be fully engaged.
“Early last spring, I was in initially for Joe Biden. I’ve always loved Joe Biden. A staff member on the Booker campaign who I know from a congressional campaign last year
contacted me and said, ‘Nancy, why don’t you come with me and see Cory Booker? I want you to meet him.’
It was on St. Patrick’s Day, and it was in Ames, about forty miles from here. So I go up there, and I got to meet Booker privately and talk with him for a minute.
And I was really taken with how genuine the conversation was. Cory Booker has this presence that just inspires and lifts you up.
You cannot be around that man and not be lifted up by him. I don’t know if it’s so much of what he says in a few words here or there as the wholeness of him.
I think this is the first election I remember that I think is bigger than any particular issue. All the candidates have all these issues.
Cory’s overriding message of rise together, come together, unifying the country, civic grace—I love that message, because I’ve always had a certain love for our country.
“I had joined a book club here in Iowa, to read the books of all the different candidates, and I had signed on to do that.
I read Booker’s book. I watched ‘Street Fight,’ the documentary about his run for mayor, and I read more about him.
And I thought, Oh, boy, I’ve got to rethink this; this guy is really appealing to me as a candidate.
I read a few more books of the other candidates; I continued to go see all the candidates. I’ve seen most of them. I’ve met most of them.
But Cory Booker just resonated with me entirely.
“I was still waiting for Joe Biden to come out. Joe was here on May 1st. Went to see him. Didn’t hear anything from his organizers for a couple weeks.
In the meantime, I’m still looking at Cory. The staff on the ground here was just very deliberate about staying in touch.
I had coffee with numerous people from the campaign. And then Cory called me one Friday night. I was at a video arcade with my grandkids.
I went outside to take a break from the noise for a minute. Went out and sat on a bench outside to call my daughter.
I was out there just for a few minutes, and Cory Booker called me. I was just, like, ‘Wow, what are you doing, calling me on a Friday night?’
And he said, ‘Well, why wouldn’t I call you? I’d really like to talk with you, and I’d like you to consider coming onboard with me,
and I know you work really hard for candidates when you do, and your support would mean a lot to me.’
And I said, ‘Well, I’m not quite there yet. I’m still debating things.’ And he said, ‘Well, I just want you to know how much I value your support.’
And I was, like, ‘Oh, wow.’ And then Joe Biden called me.
He wasn’t quite as deliberate. It was a friendly conversation, and I told him the same thing, and I said, ‘You know, I’m just torn, I’m not sure what I’m doing.’
“Then there was—I decided to host two debate parties, when the debates were happening on two nights.
A party for Cory one night, and then one for Joe on the next night. I told the campaigns, I’m not playing any games—I’m just trying to figure this out.
I had the party the first night; I invited people for Cory. A couple of staff people came. They called numerous times.
They came to see the house, to make sure everything was going to set up right. Came early. We had a great night. They cleaned up; they took out the darn garbage.
Then they called the next day to hear what I was thinking about it, two different staff people.
The next night was the Biden party. Had about the same number of people. Twenty-five, thirty people. A lot of staff here. They were a nice bunch.
Not as thorough as the Booker people, for setup or for follow-up.
The next day, I get two more calls from the Booker campaign. ‘What’d you think of the Biden debate? How’d your party go? What’d you think?’
They weren’t giving up. Nothing from the Biden people.
“Then I was invited to a private event with Jill Biden. I went to see Jill. I’d met her before. I couldn’t stay for the whole thing.
On the way home, it’s a Friday night again, and Cory Booker calls me again. He said, ‘Well, I just really want to stay in touch with you. I really want you to think about this.’
I told him again, I said, ‘I don’t know; I am just so torn.’ I was driving my husband nuts. He said, ‘You know, you don’t have to decide right now. There’s a lot of time.’
And I said, ‘Well, yeah, but I want to get to work, so I’ve got to figure this out.’
“With the Kerry campaign, one of the young organizers on the ground was Addisu Demissie, who was Cory’s national campaign manager.
I stayed in touch with him over the years. Addisu calls me, and I didn’t pick up. We were on our way to a movie, and I thought, Well, I’ll catch up with Addisu later.
So then I thought about it some more. He called back on Sunday. He called back, and I had thought about things enough at that point, and I just said, ‘Yep, I’m there.
I’m doing this. I’m coming on.’ So it’s just a lot of deliberation, and it had to feel right, and it felt right.
“Booker came and stayed here mid-July. I asked if the grandkids could come over and be here. His campaign said he wouldn’t get in until about nine-thirty at night.
They said he’d probably be up about an hour and then go to bed. Well, he sat up with us talking until about one o’clock in the morning.
With the grandkids, telling his corny dad jokes and goofing with them.
As much as him talking, he wanted to know our story.
My husband’s African-American.
We got married in 1973.
He’s looking at all my pictures, and he’s looking at us, and he says, ‘Tell me your story.’ I told him some of our early days were pretty tough. We told him some of the things that went on. And he got teary-eyed listening to the story. And he said, ‘Well, this is a true love story here.’ It felt like it was an old friend coming home.”
Name: Chuck Offenburger
Candidate: John Delaney
Place of residence: Cooper
“I’m a native of southwest Iowa, the town of Shenandoah, deep down in the corner.
I now live in the middle of nowhere, in southern Greene County, one of Iowa’s most prosperous agricultural counties.
I live outside the little town of Cooper, which has a population of about thirty. We are about fifty miles west of Des Moines, and a little north.
“I am a lifelong journalist. I wrote for twenty-six years for the Des Moines Register, which was the bulk of my career. For twenty-one years I was the ‘Iowa Boy’ columnist.
I roamed all over Iowa, doing feature-ish kinds of columns. Then I also travelled a good bit of the country and the world.
Generally covering other Iowans doing something—from exploring China to the Persian Gulf War.
“Of course, in my Des Moines Register years, I couldn’t be directly involved in political campaigns.
We had a pretty strict ethics code about that. I was raised by a Democratic family in southwest Iowa, which is like an embattled minority group if you’re down there.
But then, over my lifetime, I think I have been a Democrat three times, a Republican twice, and an independent two or three times.
“After I left the Register, I worked hard for Lamar Alexander, in what was going to be the 2000 cycle. We didn’t make it there.
Got steamrolled by the George W. Bush campaign. Really had fun. Broke my heart. That happens in the Iowa caucuses.
I came around to be a pretty fair George W. Bush fan. Then, I was skeptical of Barack Obama at first. I’m a pro-lifer. But by the second go-round with Obama,
I was solidly in his court. I was reluctantly for Hillary in 2016. I had been excited earlier in that campaign by another Maryland guy, actually. O’Malley.
I really liked him, and that didn’t go anywhere.
I voted for Hillary. I kept thinking, Donald Trump is going to do one more thing and his campaign is over—he’s not going to survive this.
“I got serious about supporting John Delaney in March of 2019, when he showed up in the little town of Churdan, population three hundred and seventy,
on a Friday night, for a St. Patrick’s soup supper. It was one of the most fun and thoughtful and inspiring political events I’ve been to in a long time.
It was the Iowa-caucus campaign the way it’s supposed to be.
Where a guy came in and laid out his background and then started answering questions, and did so for ninety minutes and was in no hurry.
He had a crowd of more than fifty people, and two or three kinds of pretty good soup.
“He mentioned that he is Catholic. And I was a Catholic. At that point, I had just left the church.
And I said to him, ‘How do you square your position on abortion with the stance of your church?’
And, secondly, I said, ‘Let’s talk about the church: What do you think about the church, do you think women should be allowed to be priests?
And, beyond that, what about the sexual scandal?’ And he said he rarely got asked questions where the abortion question is the easier one to handle.
He said he is a pro-choice Democrat, that he believes that’s just an area of life that the government should not be involved in.
He did not want to try to force his views on that on the American people.
He thinks that Roe v. Wade might be as close to fair to all as we can get.
I had heard that expressed before, and, while I disagree with it, I respect the position.
All the heads were nodding on that.
People who live this close together as we do out here, in a small state like this, we know how divided the country is; we’re living with it every day.
It’s hard, and it’s uncomfortable. And I think Delaney is a guy who can bring that back together.
He’s a moderate choice, a pragmatic guy who was a tremendous success in business, a success as a member of Congress for three terms, widely admired.
“I’ve seen him in ten or twelve different scenarios. I write on my Web site; I post on Twitter and Facebook frequently.
I generally focus on how practical Delaney is, how moderate he is, laying out in concise form what his views are on any particular issue.
I’ll say this, being realistic: the people who are inclined toward Delaney, they have somebody else as a second choice.
If Delaney can’t make a move in the caucuses, they’ll peel off in a hurry. My second choice was actually Kamala Harris. I was disappointed when she got out of the race.
I’ve been to enough of these caucuses that, if I get beat with Delaney in the first round, I’m probably then going undecided, so then I can be in a brokering position.
If Trump is the candidate on the other side, then I’m almost certainly voting for whoever the Democrats nominate.
These are all good, smart people.
I just think that some of them are too idealistic and probably can’t get done a lot of the stuff that they want to get done.
But, yeah, I would be with them.”
Name: Edward Liu
Candidate: Andrew Yang
Place of residence: Des Moines
“I was born and raised in the Bay Area, in the heart of Silicon Valley. I spent my first thirty-one years there. I’m thirty-two now.
“After college, I worked in biotech. I joined a startup that did DNA sequencing. We got acquired a couple years ago. I got this nice payout.
But a lot of what that experience gave was sort of disillusion with what the tech world was really like, after seeing all the income inequality in San Francisco.
It just became so clear that everyone in my circle, everyone that I socialized with, was doing well in San Francisco, but there was this huge number of people
who weren’t benefitting from the economy doing well.
“After I left the startup job, I enjoyed the spoils of being acquired. I travelled around for a bit. Seeing how different people live.
I went to Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Israel, Germany, Ireland. Just sort of all around. What always struck me, especially in Asia, is what poverty looks like there.
And, on a completely different note, in Hong Kong and in Thailand, you can really see the effects of how much plastic we’re using.
You go to the beaches, there’s plastic everywhere.
“After I did all my international travelling, I decided I wanted to take a long road trip through the U.S.
At the same time, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
The options were, sort of, stay in tech, or do something completely different.
I had no political experience.
So I decided that I would move to Iowa and see the Presidential race up close and personal.
“At the same time, I’m part of this book club in San Francisco.
Someone in it suggested we read Andrew Yang’s book.
I had originally thought that I was going to come out and support Warren. I liked her policies. I knew that Bernie already had a big infrastructure from 2016.
But after I found Yang, I was, like, I’m all in. His book, ‘The War on Normal People,’ I thought was very clear in terms of the diagnosis of upcoming problems,
and of why Trump won in 2016, without being dismissive of Trump voters.
We can’t just dismiss half of the country. I’m sure that there are idiots and racists, but I don’t think that that’s specific to Republicans at all.
What Yang put out there is his look at why Trump won—through the automation of jobs, A.I., how that’s affecting economic opportunities for people.
That made a lot more sense to me. I don’t think that was a talking point in the Democratic base until Yang brought it up.
“Right around that time, in March, Yang’s interview on the Joe Rogan podcast had just come out.
If you talk to a lot of Yang supporters, that’s how they first got addicted to these Yang videos.
It’s sort of this joke within the Yang Gang that, once you watch one of those long-form interviews, you go down this spiral,
and your whole YouTube recommendations page turns into Yang stuff.
“In early May, I got to Des Moines. I looked on Craigslist, and I found a one-bedroom sublet where a guy was just willing to let go of his stuff.
I inherited his bed and everything. And I renegotiated the lease so I’d be able to leave in February, right after the caucus. Back then, Yang had no money.
It was really a skeleton crew through the summer. I went to a barbecue, that’s how I met up with everyone.
A lot of it was just figuring out, what events are there around Iowa that we can go to?
What sort of stuff do we have to give away?
How do we get attention there?
“We would meet a couple times a week at a coffee shop slash açaí-bowl place. We basically had one guy, Al Womble, great guy, great leader
—he was the only person who had any political experience.
We didn’t have a canvassing system up yet, or phone-banking. It was a lot of real-world, face-to-face stuff.
To begin with, to sort of draw people in, we’d use the same sort of lines about a thousand dollars a month, or give out water bottles with what we call a Yang Buck on it.
We would replace the water-bottle labels with Yang Bucks and hand them out at hot events over the summer.
“A lot of people are willing to talk about their own personal problems, whether it be disability or rural Internet.
I really had to recalibrate, coming from Silicon Valley. There are jobs everywhere, good, high-paying jobs, if you have that skill set.
I’d tell people out here that I’m just straight-up unemployed, because the startup story of being acquired and taking time off,
it seems really foreign and hard to understand for a lot of people, that that’s something that happens.
Whereas, in Silicon Valley, that’s one of the pathways that people out of college want to pursue.
“At the end of the summer, I went home to the Bay Area for two weeks.
And when I came back, the campaign had opened an office in West Des Moines. And they started staffing people who were more politically connected.
Phone banking and canvassing became something we were able to actually do. It hasn’t been until the last two months that people have been excited enough for Yang
to do some door-knocking for him.
It’s a very online campaign, so there’s a lot of support from other states.
I’ve housed people who have come in to volunteer.
“I’m probably not the most efficient door-knocker. I have my own objective here, which is to get a different perspective, to get to know people.
You’re supposed to just do the pitch and not spend too much time there.
But I really like going into people’s houses and talking to them about their problems, what matters to them.”
Name: Anne Slattery
Candidate: Amy Klobuchar
Place of residence: Spencer
“I’m a stay-at-home mom of five children, and I’m working my way out of a job because my oldest is in the workforce, my three middle ones are in college,
and my youngest is a high-school sophomore.
“I grew up in southeast Iowa. I was a social worker, and when I started having kids I decided I wanted to stay home.
My husband is a surgeon, and, because of his job, we moved to northwest Iowa, here, to Spencer.
“It’s complicated. We have Steve King as our representative. We’re so isolated. People are just starting to get, Oh, he is a racist. We have so much white privilege here.
We do have an influx of Hispanics, but we are really white out here.
“Politics have always been a part of my life. When I could first vote, at eighteen, it was a big privilege. I grew up Democrat, very liberal.
My parents always took me to caucus, to vote. I get how lucky we are, for Iowa to be the first state to caucus.
In 2006, I walked across the street and saw then candidate Obama, and my kids played basketball with him in the gym there.
“With five children, I paid attention to politics but wasn’t super involved. But when Obama ran for President, I just really got into making phone calls, knocking on doors.
And that was really the first time I put myself out there in the community. And I got a lot of pushback. You know, ‘Liberal? You’re pro-choice? Oh, my God.’
I knew I was so outnumbered here, but with Obama, and then with Hillary—I worked on Hillary’s campaign, too—I was just, like, screw it.
And now, with Trump, I’m just, like, we have to get him out. I’m very vocal, but respectful, too. I believe in civil discourse.
“For two years, I woke up every morning braced for, What has he done today? Dismantling institutions I care about, rolling back women’s health care.
All that stuff. So when Democrats started running, I paid really close attention. There were so many good candidates, which I think is a total positive thing.
Amy is in the state next door. I’ve been watching her career for a long time. She’s super effective. She’s got something like a hundred bills that she’s passed,
and she’s always reached across the aisle. She cares about the same things I do: women’s health care, the environment, gun control.
She knows farmers, because Minnesotans farm, too. And then I started hearing my Republican friends who weren’t enamored with Trump talking about her.
And I was, like, ‘Aha. She could beat Trump.’
“It’s either Biden or Klobuchar around here that the Republicans talk about.
Why Biden? Because he’s an old white man, to be honest. And they feel comfortable with that. And Amy Klobuchar, I think, because she’s practical. She’s a Midwesterner.
“Over the summer, we had the Summer Sizzler, in Spirit Lake, where the candidates go and talk. I went to her table, filled out my commit-to-caucus card.
Right away, I was contacted and started making phone calls, knocking on doors, posting gatherings to kind of get to know Amy.
With social media, it’s super easy to reach out to people and let people know what’s going on. I hate talking on the phone.
I really have to force myself to call people and bug them. I’d much rather knock on doors.
“I noticed people are really engaged and thoughtful about their choices. Two months ago, people couldn’t make a decision to save their lives,
because there were so many good candidates.
Now, recently, when I’ve knocked on doors, they’ve all narrowed it down to two. Once in a while you’ll get a for-sure, you know, “I’m Warren,” or “I’m Buttigieg.”
But usually they’ve narrowed it down to two. People are so thoughtful—they’ve been watching the debates, paying attention to the news.
I’m just really proud of our area Democrats.
“I’m not an anxious person, but I wake up anxious every day, and I just feel it’s so important to get Trump out of office.
So I picked the best one that I really thought could beat him and could be a damn good President.
And I’m going to put time into it.
It’s important to me.
Our democracy is very important to me.”
Name: Jan Taylor
Candidate: Bernie Sanders
Place of residence: Iowa City
“I was born and raised in Texas. I’ve been here in Iowa since 1985. I’ve been in Iowa longer than I was in Texas, but people still tell me I have the Texas accent.
“My husband was in the Air Force for twenty-one years. We were stationed in the four corners of the U.S.: Washington State, Alabama, California, Ohio, Michigan.
We really fell in love with the Midwest. Liked the four seasons. Skiing. Ice-skating. Being out in the cold. So when my husband left the Air Force
—he was trained as a computing officer—we were looking for a college town that had a position open in their I.T. department.
The University of Iowa fit the bill.
“I taught in elementary schools. But eventually I went back to school and got a master’s in computer-based education and worked for I.B.M. part time.
When we moved to Iowa, I also worked at the university and continued to take courses—partly because they had a nice option where we could
take one course a year for free.
When my husband died, in 1993, I checked my transcript and realized all I needed were two more courses and then to write a dissertation to have a Ph.D. in education.
So I finished that and then taught at a small Catholic college in Dubuque, Iowa, for about five years.
I still substitute-teach here in Iowa City and the surrounding towns a couple days a week.
I tell the kids, ‘You can call me Ms. Taylor, but you can also call me Grandma Jan.’
“I have three boys. Once they were out of the house and grown, I got very involved in campaigns. Al Gore in 2000. John Kerry in 2004. Of course Barack Obama.
I did a lot of phone-calling. When they realized I wasn’t going to say no to knocking on doors—some people don’t like to be out, face to face, knocking on doors
—I started doing a lot of that.
“In 2016, Bernie was saying many of the things that I really agreed with. I have for a long time felt that the rich were getting richer and the middle class was stagnating.
We have huge numbers of people who are homeless and people who are unable to afford good housing. Bernie Sanders talks about equalizing
—I don’t think he’s going to take all the money away from the top one and two per cent, but having them pay their fair share in taxes.
Health care—I was so glad to hear him say that it was unacceptable for a country as wealthy as we are to have people going bankrupt because of medical expenses,
and not having medical care because they couldn’t afford it.
As a military wife, I was well cared for. I delivered three babies through a system that is essentially a government—socialist, if you want to call it that—system.
And it worked very well. We spent three years in Oslo, Norway—1972 to 1974—on a small NATO base.
We didn’t have a dentist on the base, so we used the dental care that the Norwegians provided.
And I realized that we were getting excellent care, paid by the taxpayers of the country.
Now I am on Medicare, and my supplemental program is one provided to service members and retired service members and their wives and children.
I think I’ve got wonderful care. I wish I could be in the big pool, sharing my good health, and the little amount that they pay for my health care—once a year,
a visit to my family-practice doctor, who checks me out and says I’m doing pretty well.
“During the 2016 campaign, my home was sort of a gathering place when we would have what we called Weekends of Action.
Other Sanders supporters would come to my house, get their walking packet, materials, and lists of the doors.
When I was door-knocking, I’d look at the age of the person. We’re a university town, and many of our young families are still paying their student loans.
That’s a big issue for them. Many people with little kids are concerned about the cost of child care.
So you kind of hand them those ideas and then try to explain Bernie’s stand, what he’s proposing. I knocked on a door, and a young woman came to the door.
And she said, ‘You look very familiar.’ Her husband came to the top of the stairway and said, ‘Is that Grandma Jan?’ And I just laughed.
They were both paying off student loans.
“In 2016, it was very, very close here in Iowa. It was a disappointment when Bernie lost. But I’m a woman, and I was glad to see a woman running for President.
And I also felt that Hillary was extremely well qualified. I went to the election-eve party for the East Side Democrats here in Iowa City.
And I kept thinking, I can’t believe that she’s not winning. And finally, at about ten-thirty, everybody, with long faces, went home.
“This year, I was hoping that we would have a progressive candidate. I do have Democratic friends who are afraid that a strong progressive can’t beat Trump,
and that they want more of a moderate. But I’ve joked to my kids, if I don’t get climate change fixed in the next eight years, I may not be around to continue voting for it.
So I want someone who continues putting these things on a high priority. Climate change. Health care. Income inequality.
Not just taking care of the very wealthy with increased G.D.P. and Wall Street benefits. I was hoping that Bernie would run.
“I got a call from some of the organizers here. We started doing some calling, to people who’d been active in the past for the Sanders campaign, saying,
‘Are you willing to help out this time around?’
When they called and said, ‘We got a family in from Chicago, mother and father and their adult daughter; they’re going to knock on doors tomorrow,
and they speak Spanish—can you put them up for the night?’ I said, ‘I’ve got a two-bedroom apartment. Yes, I’ve got a bed for the mom and dad.
If the adult daughter can sleep on the sofa, we’re set to go.’ I’m on a fixed income.
I can give of my time and work, and that’ll maybe help out, whereas I can’t give you two thousand dollars, or whatever the legal limit is.
“I don’t knock any of the other candidates. I just say, ‘Be sure to get out to the caucuses, because we need to have a good turnout.’
So we’re not cutthroat among the Democrats. We just want to beat Trump. Personally, I don’t like dirty campaigns.
I don’t like people knocking each other down.
I like talking about why my policies are good.”