IOWA CITY, IOWA - It’s the final days of the campaign for Democratic presidential hopefuls to win the hearts and minds of voters in Iowa, but so far none of the candidates still in the race have earned University of Iowa student Nick Pryor’s support.
“Ah, I’m still undecided at this point,” he told VOA during a break in his studies as a political science major.
The Feb. 3 “first in the nation” Iowa Caucuses will also be the first opportunity for 20-year-old Pryor to participate in a presidential selection event. But who he ultimately picks won’t be his first choice.
“I started volunteering, helping out in the (U.S. Senator) Cory Booker campaign,” he said, his voice indicating some resignation. “Unfortunately, he dropped out.”
Now, Pryor is researching which candidate will best address his biggest concerns – curbing soaring college tuition costs, and protecting the environment.
“I’ve narrowed it down already to Senator (Elizabeth) Warren or Senator (Bernie) Sanders,” he said.
Farmer for Klobuchar
A few hours north of the University of Iowa campus, in remote Floyd, Iowa, near the border with Minnesota, the impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald J. Trump are playing out on a television in Pam Johnson’s farmhouse living room.
Her ears are tuned into the proceedings while sitting at her dining room table, but her eyes are fixed on her laptop computer screen relaying the latest information on trade negotiations with China, and the crop prices outlook for 2020.
“The issues for agriculture are really serious; 2019 was a really hard year,” Johnson said, explaining that the trade war with China impacted her farm profits. While she welcomes the “Phase One” trade agreement with China, and passage of the United States Mexico Canada Trade Agreement, or USMCA, she wants a president who she feels better understands the concerns of American farmers.
“I think it’s the most important election in my lifetime,” she told VOA.
Johnson has a clear idea of who she’s supporting — U.S. Senator from Minnesota Amy Klobuchar — who Johnson said demonstrated to her an understanding of agricultural and trade issues that impact her farm operations.
“She gets rural communities,” Johnson said. “When she started campaigning here, she rolled out her rural action plan. I read it, and decided to endorse her.”
Now Johnson is serving as one of Klobuchar’s surrogates, campaigning on the ground in Iowa while the senator attends impeachment proceedings in Washington.
First test in the nation
Democrats in Iowa are grappling with many concerns as they weigh who to support in the Feb. 3 Iowa Caucuses, which are essentially meetings where party voters gather to choose their preferred presidential candidate.
It’s the first test in the nation for presidential hopefuls seeking the Democratic nomination to defeat Republican incumbent Trump in the November election, and comes at a time of low unemployment and a strong economy.
There are currently about a dozen candidates (and even more surrogates) for the Democrats canvassing Iowa, trying to gain the support of voters by outlining plans for free trade, free college tuition, job growth, and health care coverage, among others.
After months of seeing the candidates and hearing their ideas, Iowa voters will head into the cold weather of a February night to make their decision.
For many, whom they support also depends on other issues not connected to their bank accounts, or their livelihood.
“I don’t have the insurance story. … I don’t have the financial … it’s Trump,” said Webster City voter Mary Talbott, who wants “peace” from what she said is President Trump’s erratic decision-making and tweets.
Which is why she said she’s supporting former South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg on caucus night.
“He served our nation,” she told VOA after attending one of Buttigieg’s campaign events at a community center. “I just think he has some good ideas, and he listens. I don’t think Trump knows what he’s doing, and it affects all of us.”
Supporting nominee — whoever that may be
“We need a president that is for the people,” said Des Moines voter Brad Woods, who plans to back former Vice President Joe Biden on Feb. 3.
“He’s a proven candidate who has been in the White House, he knows all the ins and outs, and I think from day one he’s going to do things to change this nation and bring us all back together,” Woods explained.
“I would say people have become more aware, or more engaged since Trump has become elected,” said University of Iowa student Austin Wu. He plans to support one of the four candidates currently leading polling in Iowa — U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders — but also adds he’ll get behind whoever wins the eventual Democratic nomination.
His fellow student Nick Pryor agreed.
“I would honestly be OK with any of the Democratic candidates,” Pryor said. “I think that is a position across the board with Democrats right now that regardless of who the nominee is, we’re going to coalesce behind them.”
With the large field of candidates and the tight polling numbers among the four leading candidates — Biden, Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg — turnout for Democrats in the Feb. 3 caucuses is expected to be high.
But strong turnout in February does not mean an easy victory in Iowa in November, a state President Trump easily won in the 2016 general election.