Iowa Caucuses less than two weeks away

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

After months of anticipation, the Iowa Caucuses are now less than two weeks away. Both Democratic and Republican voters from across the state will venture to their respective local precincts on Monday, Feb. 3, to participate in an event that, since 1972, has been the first primary season test for presidential candidates seeking their party’s nomination.

“It’s a time to gather and show your support for a candidate,” said Brian Bruening, chair of the Clayton County Democrats.

The caucuses will begin at 7 p.m., but people should arrive earlier to check in. Anyone who will be 18 by the time of the presidential election on Nov. 3, 2020, is eligible to participate. 

A caucus-goer must be either a registered Democrat or Republican. If you haven’t already registered, or would like to change your party affiliation, you can do so caucus night.

Democrats and Republicans will caucus at separate sites within their precincts.

Democratic locations include:

  • Marion/Grand Meadow: Marion Lutheran Church, 14734 Agate Road, Elgin
  • Giard/Luana/Monona: Monona Community Center, 104 S. Egbert St., Monona
  • Mendon: Marquette City Hall, 102 North St., Marquette
  • Clayton/Garnavillo: Garnavillo Community Center, 106 W. Niagara St., Garnavillo
  • Farmersburg/Wagner: St. Olaf Civic Center, 105 S. Main St., St. Olaf
  • Boardman/Highland: Keystone Area Education Association, 1400 Second St. NW, Elkader
  • Read: FreedomBank Community Room, 210 S. Main St., Elkader
  • Jefferson/Millville: Guttenberg Municipal Building, 502 S. First St., Guttenberg
  • Elk/Mallory/Volga: Elkport-Garber Community Center, 120 Main St., Elkport
  • Cox Creek/Sperry: St. Paul Lutheran Church, 700 Washington St., Volga
  • Cass: Strawberry Point Civic Center, 401 Commercial St., Strawberry Point
  • Lodomillo: Trinity United Methodist Church, 201 W. Madison St., Edgewood
  • Buena Vista: Someplace Else Bar, 239 Main St., North Buena Vista

Bruening encouragers people to visit to verify their location.

“That’s good to do in case you’re on the border of a precinct,” he said.

Republican locations include:

  • Boardman/Highland/Marion: Central State Bank, 102 N. Main St., Elkader
  • Cass/Cox Creek/Sperry: Scout Room Civic Center, 401 Commercial St., Strawberry Point
  • Clayton/Garnavillo/Read: Thoma’s Dairy Bar, 103 N. Main St., Garnavillo
  • Elk/Littleport/Mallory/Volga: Garber Fire Station, 602 Hill St., Garber
  • Farmersburg/Wagner: Farmersburg Community Center, 109 S. Main St., Farmersburg
  • Giard/Monona/Luana/Grand Meadow: Luana Savings Bank, 100 Harvest Drive, Luana
  • Jefferson/Millville/Buena Vista: Guttenberg Municipal Hospital, 200 Main St., Guttenberg
  • Lodomillo: Ed-Co Elementary School, 409 East St., Colesburg
  • Mendon: MFL MarMac Middle School Library, 918 W. Main St., McGregor

Each party’s caucus process differs. Democrats, for example, begin by physically splitting into groups based on their preferred candidate. 

“Once that first alignment is done,” said Bruening, “we count up the number of people in each group and determine if the group is viable.”

Precinct leaders determine the threshold for a “viable group” at the start of the night, after gauging the total number of participants.

If a group isn’t viable, those members can choose a second candidate and move to another group.

“This is an opportunity for people to talk and convince their neighbors to support a candidate,” Bruening shared.

A big change this year, he noted, is that a viable group cannot realign after that first alignment.

“In previous years, you could switch,” he said.

Once all groups have met the viability threshold, the number of delegates from each group that will be eligible for the county convention is determined. Each group then elects its delegates and alternates.

At a local precinct, Bruening said it wouldn’t be surprising for caucus night to end with a three- or four-way tie between candidates.

With 12 candidates still seeking the Democratic nomination, competition will be tougher, he remarked. That range of voices will likely drive turnout.

“It’s a wide open field, and that makes people more excited,” Bruening said. “The state party does projections and they’re expecting, in most precincts, to have nearly double of 2016.”

Bruening warned there’s no guarantee this year’s Iowa Caucus winner will be the eventual Democratic nominee, but the process should narrow the field.

“If someone wins, it’s still too early,” he acknowledged. “But it will be a viability test. If you’re not in the top three or four, your chances are slimmer.”

With President Donald Trump running for a second term, there’s less uncertainty on the Republican side of the Iowa Caucuses. He will face two GOP challengers, though, in former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh.

Unlike the Democratic caucus, Republicans at each precinct will simply cast a vote for their preferred candidate. Once the votes are tallied, the chair will state how many delegates from the precinct will be elected to attend the county convention. 

Participants will then elect delegates, alternate delegates and junior delegates to the county convention, scheduled for March 14. Two people will also be elected to serve on the central committee.

Attendees will wrap up the night by proposing and voting on platform planks to send to the county convention, as well as creating committees for the day.

No matter your party, Bruening said the Iowa Caucuses offer participants a valuable opportunity to influence the nomination process.

“We are the first test—it’s a pretty unique ability to make our voices heard early on,” he shared. “Sometimes we take that for granted, so it’s important to use it.”

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