Elizabeth Warren may win Iowa caucuses simply by virtue of showing up | Art Cullen

The Guardian Politics 1 month ago

Elizabeth Warren is in the best position to win next year’s Iowa caucuses – which kick off the Democratic party’s primary season in February – by virtue of, yes, persistence.

The Des Moines Register-CNN-Mediacom Iowa poll – the gold standard of polling – gave the strongest indication yet when it reported Saturday that Warren has 22% support of likely Iowa caucus-goers, while Joe Biden has 20% and Bernie Sanders 11%. It was the first poll to show the Massachusetts senator from Oklahoma with a lead over the former vice-president.

Warren has demonstrated a steady rise in polling and support since she announced her campaign in January by first sweeping through the snowy reaches of rural, conservative western Iowa. This is where Donald Trump blew out Hillary Clinton by 20 points.

Clinton never showed up.

Warren attracted a crowd of some 300 people in Storm Lake, where I live, that day. Aides had every visitor signed up on cellphones as they waited in line to enter. Mainly women over 50, all got their photo taken with Warren. They nodded their heads when she talked about the economy working for Wall Street and Washington but not for Main Street. Something was happening.

She brought an army of organizers, much of the state’s top caucus talent, with her. They stayed, and she has returned regularly with a populist message built on breaking up the huge agriculture conglomerates, Medicare for All, putting a 2% tax on wealth over $50m, declaring war on lobbyists and going all-in on climate change.

Biden, by contrast, is just now ramping up staff in Iowa. He has been running in Iowa since 1988 and has a large reservoir of good will here. His campaign has been remote, and the poll reports Warren supporters with higher enthusiasm. He has yet to visit Storm Lake.

Warren came to the Polk County Steak Fry where 12,000 Democrats gathered in the rain last weekend in Des Moines calling for impeachment and itching for a fight. Joe Biden found himself fending off uncomfortable questions about his son’s work in Ukraine. And that’s what bugs the ordinary people I know in my meatpacking town of 15,000 where you take a shower after work: politics is about the gilded trading on each other’s power.

Warren pledges to turn it all inside out, summoning the spirit of Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt before tens of thousands on Washington Square. Those echoes have powerful appeal around here, too, not far from where the Populist party convened with William Jennings Bryan in Omaha just before the turn of the 20th century.

Iowans are fed up with trade wars, big oil and a broken Medicaid system that’s not providing enough nursing homes. The admissions clerk at our hospital just shakes her head when you talk about the financial woes of working people who can’t meet their deductibles. She knows that something needs to change. Rural hospitals and mental health providers are on the brink of shuttering. Farmers see the effects of extreme weather and want to do something about it.

Warren addresses their concerns. But not everyone is convinced.

My sister-in-law, a member of the Buena Vista County Democratic Central Committee, asked me:

“But is she too progressive?”

She likes Warren. She likes Medicare, but could Medicare for All – the promise to deliver universal healthcare to Americans – sink Warren? According to polls, 40% say they like it, another 18% are amenable, 8% don’t know. My sister-in-law is among the 82% of likely caucus-goers open to persuasion. Yet she worries.

There are other doubts, too. Like can a female progressive populist win Wisconsin? I point to Senator Tammy Baldwin. A lesbian, no less, in a state of German Catholics and Lutherans. Yeah, but the pain of Clinton’s defeat is so fresh in the memory, my sister-in-law says. It creates a reticence that is real.

As Warren slowly rose in the polls, Biden’s backing eroded here over the summer. History tells us someone from the shadows will pop into the glare as John Kerry did: Pete Buttigieg, with a ton of money and a keen understanding of midwest troubles from South Bend, remains well in the game at 9%. He went on a bus tour of rural towns just after the steak fry to good reviews. Kamala Harris says she is moving to Iowa. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota jokes that she can see Iowa from her front porch. She knows the territory. Do Iowans connect with her talk of pragmatism? You betcha. She had a couple hundred during State Fair Week in Storm Lake, before Labor Day, and everyone liked her.

Those women (and some men) liked Warren back in January getting their selfies, too. She stays in touch. A Warren door-knocker hit my block Sunday. The first canvasser who has stopped by so far. Her rural coordinator was heading to door-knock in Wayne county in southern Iowa, one of the poorest and most conservative counties in the nation. Anyone can tell you that’s how you win Iowa, and maybe even change the healthcare system by firing up the people who need it most. She persists, and it is paying off so far.

  • Art Cullen is editor of the Storm Lake Times in north-west Iowa, where he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. He is author of the book Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland Newspaper (Viking 2018)


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