If Pete Buttigieg is to win the Iowa Caucus on Monday night, the path to victory goes right through Iowa’s growing suburbs. Stacking up major delegate wins there could add to his support in rural precincts and mitigate any places of the state where he struggles.
And, if his huge town hall turnouts are an indication of caucus night support for Buttigieg, he’s got a pretty good chance.
Some of his largest crowds have been in Iowa’s suburban communities. He’s drawn crowds of over 1,000 twice in West Des Moines in the past month and a half, and his December Coralville town hall near Iowa City hit the 2,000 mark.
Most polling has shown Buttigieg doing best with the kind of older, white Iowans with college degrees that populate the suburbs.
For caucus night strategy, it’s a good area of the state to do well in. Because of how delegates are apportioned in the Democratic caucus, areas with past high voter turnouts and places that have supported Democrats — Iowa’s suburbs have quickly turned blue during Donald Trump’s presidency — typically have more delegates.
It could also be used as an argument going forward on electability. Democrats won back the U.S. House and many Iowa legislative seats because of the party’s newfound strength with suburban voters, including many moderate independents and Republicans. The Democratic candidate who can super-charge that trend could use that as an example of how they could defeat Trump.
Most of the endorsements in Iowa’s suburbs have been mixed. Of the Democratic state legislators who flipped suburban seats in 2018, just one is with Buttigieg — State Rep. Kristin Sunde of West Des Moines. Reps. Heather Matson and Jennifer Konfrst went with Elizabeth Warren after backing Cory Booker. Reps. Molly Donahue, Dave Williams and Karin Derry backed Amy Klobuchar.
But Buttigieg has had a campaigning advantage during President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. The senators have been stuck in the Senate while he’s held 40 town halls in 18 days in Iowa.
In Ankeny Thursday night, Buttigieg drew a crowd of well over 1,000 into a packed, small reception room in a hotel.
Katie Ernst of Ankeny (no relation to Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst), was a registered Republican the first time she heard Buttigieg speak over the summer. Now, she’s getting ready to be a precinct captain for Buttigieg on Monday.
“I wasn’t looking to switch parties. I’m not a fan of our current president. As a parent and teacher, I just think he’s not a role model,” Ernst said. “But, I wasn’t looking to switch parties.”
Ernst, after months of volunteering and helping organize, thinks Buttigieg is in a good spot to compete in the suburbs on caucus night.
“I think Pete will do very well in Ankeny,” Ernst said. “I think he’ll do well in the metro, even some of the rural areas around here. He just can connect with everyone, it doesn’t matter what ‘group’ you belong to; he’s willing to have a conversation.”
She also said Buttigieg’s open dialogue about faith and his push to create a sense of belonging will attract caucus-goers across the political spectrum.
“[His comments on faith] was one of the things that drew me in. I’m a pretty religious person, and when he made those comments initially in June, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this really sets him apart,” Ernst explained. “He’s the only candidate on the Democratic side that talks about the importance of religion, faith and believing.”
JoAnn Warnock of Perry has knocked doors for Buttigieg all winter with her friend, Pat Bengston. Both women are retired.
The women said they haven’t volunteered for a Democratic campaign before, but they stepped up to be precinct captains for Buttigieg.
“I think I like just about everything about Pete,” Warnock said. “His personality, his morals, his ideology, and he makes a lot of sense. He cares about everybody and he’s not going to be corrupted.”
Bengtson, who nearly threw her support behind Warren in the beginning, said she fell in love with Buttigieg after one of her friends showed her a video of the former mayor online.
“The moment I heard him I talk I said, you know, after all of the things we’ve been going through, I said this is the guy,” Bengtson said. “He’s got it. I’m all in.”
By Paige Godden and Josh Cook