When Mount Vernon, Iowa resident Karla Steffens talks about Elizabeth Warren’s policies, plans and general character, most of her sentences start out with the words “I love.”
“I love the policies of Warren,” Steffens said during a backyard house party that Warren attended Friday. “I love her vigor, her enthusiasm, her smarts. I think she could persist beyond the grave. I have enormous respect for her.”
Steffens may sound like one of Warren’s fiercest supporters, but here’s the catch: Steffens, like many Iowans, doesn’t know who she’s caucusing for yet.
She’s debating between Warren, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke. She likes O’Rourke’s frankness. And, “boy oh boy,” she’d like Buttigieg on the ticket.
A Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll that would be released the next day showed more than 60 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers in the Hawkeye State could be persuaded to shift their support for a candidate before the first-in-the-nation caucus in February.
The poll was good news for Warren overall, who was shown leading former Vice President Joe Biden 22 percent to 20 percent.
That new advantage will likely lead to more pushback on her proposals from other candidates. Steffens, however, wasn’t too worried, even about whether Warren was ready to defend how her plans for big structural change would raise taxes.
“She does plan on raising some taxes,” Steffens said. “I’m already paying taxes somewhere and the idea that somehow I’m not — that’s the big illusion. We’re paying.”
Steffens wasn’t the only Iowan at the house party who hadn’t made up her mind on 2020 yet.
Cornell College students Alex Nelson, 19, and Brena Levy, 20, are trying to decide whether they’ll support Warren or Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
“I see both of them as really similar. I like both of them a lot,” Nelson said. “I like the rhetoric both Bernie and Warren produce, but I want to see the foundations of the plans as to how those are all going to be laid out. I thought Elizabeth did an excellent job of laying that out today as far as how her plans are actually going to work.”
Both Nelson and Levy said they are using the candidate’s climate change plans as tools to figure out who to support.
“Beto O’Rourke — he’s saying we’re going to be fossil fuel free I believe by 2050 [O’Rourke’s plan is to be carbon-neutral by 2050] and that’s just not soon enough,” Levy said. “We need to be acting on it now.”
Nelson said Warren’s plans to combat climate change keep her on his list of possible candidates because she understands most of the pollution is coming from large multinational corporations, not everyday Americans.
Later that day, Warren hosted a pop-up climate change conversation at The Blue Strawberry Coffee Company in Cedar Rapids, where she explained big energy corporations have spent the last several years investing in politicians instead of investing in renewable fuels.
“We are in a crisis today because of 25 years of corruption in Washington,” Warren said. “We’ve got to change the system itself.”
It’s that kind of precise language that convinced Matthew Klug, 22, to support Warren and volunteer for her campaign on weekends.
“She makes her messages — complicated messages — into short, sweet messages that all Americans can comprehend,” Klug said. “Just having two or three words on what’s such a complicated issue and setting that out there makes her very electable, and I think people feel it.”
In a field that began with more than 20 candidates, Klug said he decided to support Warren because she has a “caring mother type of feel” and her background is relatable.
“I think we know people who are similar to her,” Klug said. “She just kept raising the bar and she kept changing career paths and I think that’s very relatable to young people.”
Steffens was also not paying much attention to anyone who questions Warren’s electability.
“I much prefer someone who has a vision. It would be one thing if she was promising pie in the sky,” Steffens said. “I think there’s a greater fear of the fact that she’s going to be at a decided disadvantage because she’s a woman.”
“It’s the same thing with Buttiigieg. He’s going to have a disadvantage there,” Steffens said. “But that’s why I said I don’t want to vote for a Biden just because he’s the safe choice. Because, frankly, I think we are beyond safe. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I don’t want to be safe.”
No matter what happens in the coming months, Steffens said, “I don’t want to vote my fears. I want to vote my hopes.”
by Paige Godden