The big question Iowa Democrats are grappling with as they try to select a nominee is a complicated one: who is “electable?”
It’s that question of who can beat Trump that has Iowans “paralyzed by fear,” deeply afraid that they’ll end up picking someone who could go down in defeat and grant Trump a second term.
Starting Line reporters this weekend asked Iowans at several different candidates’ caucus events about how they defined it.
Electability, as it turns out, means something different to everyone.
Katie Cardoza, a junior studying political science and Spanish at Simpson College in Indianola, gave a legal definition of “electability.”
“It just means someone meets the constitutional requirements,” Cardoza said. “So, is of age, is a citizen and is running.”
She later added the qualities she thought a candidate needed in order to be electable.
“I think it takes experience,” Cardoza said. “I think it takes charisma. I think it takes courage and I think it takes conviction.”
Others argued a candidate needed to bring people together.
Randy Belcher, of Waukee, defined electability as a candidate who could appeal to Midwesterners. Specifically, he said, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin and the swing states Trump won in 2016.
Caitlin Bissen, 18, of Harlan, said at a Pete Buttigieg event that electability was “about someone who can bring both sides of the aisle together, who can unify the country and who can excite both sides.”
Angie Koenig, 37, of Council Bluffs, said an electable candidate has “the good of all people in mind.”
For some, electability means something more personal.
“There is a certain element of being likable,” former state Sen. Bill Fink said. “Can you relate to that individual? Can you trust them? And I think that’s the whole basis for being electable.”
Andrew Kosharek, a 20-year-old junior studying biochemistry at Drake University, said electability was about how well a candidate’s values line up with their voters and whether they’re inspirational.
“I was drawn to [Elizabeth] Warren because she inspires me,” Kosharek said. “I grew up with a single mom and a sister and I saw so much strength through my mom and her being able to raise a family even when she suffers from epilepsy.
“Seeing how my mom is able to overcome that and persevere, I see that through Elizabeth Warren and her ability to step up to the plate and really take on this challenge,” Kosharek said. “And then, her health care policy has really drawn me. Obviously it really relates back to how I grew up, so I really think it’s like, how do their values and their stories line up with your life, and does that candidate inspire you to want to be like them and want to see you succeed?”
Taylor Shire, 41, of Des Moines, was less inclined to define electability with a blanket statement. Rather, she said, “I think it’s unique to each person.”
“I think that it’s kind of a misnomer,” Shire said. “I think the candidate that you are supporting and want to elect represents your values and the things you’d like to see them to do. I think electability is something akin to whether or not you like somebody’s personality.
“It seems more like an Instagram thing — a popularity contest — than anything,” she said.
The idea that “electability” was tied to a candidate’s popularity resonated with other Iowa caucus-goers.
Taylor Maglione, 31, was hesitant to define the word at all.
“I’m not voting for a celebrity,” Magoline said. “I’m looking for someone who can make my life better.”
Darin Haake, a 56-year-old Republican from Harlan who is looking to be wooed by a Democrat, wasn’t all that sure what it meant either.
“I guess — I think — a candidate just has to get the message across,” Haake said. “I’m basing [my decision] on the total package. I like everything Trump’s doing so far except for the environment and his personality … I’m looking for a Democrat who doesn’t want to give away everything free.”
Iowans’ definition of electability was all over the board, as was how much weight they’re putting on who’s “electable” in their decision-making process.
When asked whether she has paid attention to “electability” conversations playing out in the media, Cardoza said she tried not to.
“I think it’s really dumb,” Cardoza said. “I think anyone can be elected and I think the electability conversation really plays into our patriarchal white-dominated society that we’ve seen for 250 years in the presidency.”
Belcher, however, said electability will “be a huge factor” in his decision-making process.
“I tend to agree with most of the positions of Democrats. I don’t see a huge difference,” Belcher said. “Some are pushing for more of a revolution than others, but they all share the same values that I do, so yeah, I’m going to base it on electability.”
Belcher has a shortlist of candidates, including Amy Klobuchar, Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg.
Amy Luong, a recent University of Iowa graduate, said electability will play into who she decides to caucus for on Feb. 3.
“Right now, the most important thing is making sure Donald Trump is out of office,” Luong said. “So I think electability will be a consideration this year.”
Dolores Bristol, 75, of Council Bluffs, said she’s hopeful that anyone was electable this year, but she cautioned voters that their decisions should be about more than just that.
“I wouldn’t vote for someone who wouldn’t do a good job,” Bristol said.
Krista Johnson, 43, of Council Bluffs, is a registered Republican who plans to vote for a Democrat, but she isn’t sure which one.
She said she doesn’t pay a lot of attention to electability when other people talk about it.
“I pay more attention to the issues,” Johnson said. “Electability is big but I don’t think it’s the biggest. I think we’re making it a bigger deal than it is.
“Any of these Democrats are electable,” she said.
By Paige Godden and Nikoel Hytrek