How Many Undecided Iowans Are Weighing A Warren/Buttigieg Pick

By Nikoel Hytrek

February 1, 2020

As the race toward the caucuses nears its end, everyone wants to know where Iowans will align on Monday night. One decision you hear many undecided caucus-goers mulling over is the choice between Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg.

Although their policy stances differ significantly in this year’s Democratic field, both remain extremely personally popular in most polling and their campaigns are reaching out to a broad swath of the party.

Two events in Sioux City yesterday, an hour apart, one where Buttigieg appeared and one where Rep. Katie Porter filled in for Warren, who was stuck in D.C., exemplified this divide.

“They both have a lot of qualities that I really admire,” said Mariah Murray-Zumo, 39, of Sioux City, who recently decided Warren was her No. 1 choice. “Pete and Warren are both very sharp. I’ve seen Pete speak and he’s very enlightened. He’s very on top of things and articulate. There’s a lot of things that he brings about that I can see, that are very presidential. But at the same time, I see that in Warren as well.”

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Many Iowans on the ground aren’t seeing the differences enough to fall into one of the two camps, despite the public disputes the candidates have had over fundraising for their campaigns.

Some voters tried to be at both overlapping Sioux City events, like Treyla Lee, a 48-year-old Sioux City resident who ultimately decided on the Buttigieg event because it was closer to where she needed to be for an appointment.

Lee said she’s still undecided, after thinking for a long time that she was behind former Vice President Joe Biden.

“No one’s really said they can do it for me yet,” she said. “Initially when I started thinking about this I was immediately like, ‘Who can beat Trump?’ But now it’s more about, can the candidate that is elected really make a change in government and just make a better change for America?”

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In light of that, Lee said Biden is still her top choice, but Buttigieg has probably filled her second slot. Her main point of hesitation is his lack of support in the African American community, and she’s not sure he knows how to implement the ideas he talks about.

“When I think about being a progressive, single, African American female, I’m just not sure that I’m hearing the issues that will impact me as a woman of color and the community I serve in,” Lee said. “Buttigieg has done a great job of laying out the Douglass Plan, which I think is really good because it talks about systemic racism and injustices, I just don’t know how he’s going to be able to do it.”

Lee said she’s a fan of Warren’s two-cent wealth tax and how the senator has laid out exactly how to execute her plans. But Warren’s electability is a concern for Lee.

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Amanda McCauley, 36, who lives in Sioux City, doesn’t see the same issue.

“[Warren] seems to me the most genuine of any candidate I’ve ever met or seen,” McCauley said. “She doesn’t seem fake, she doesn’t seem like she’s going to be one of those puppets that’s just going to do whatever Congress tells her to do. She’s going to make her decisions based on the people’s choices and what’s best for our country.”

She hasn’t heard much about Buttigieg because Warren has had her attention since 2016 when the senator stood up for the Standing Rock protesters, fighting against the Dakota Access pipeline. Still, she was interested in hearing what he had to say, even if she’s almost 100% sure she’ll stand in Warren’s corner on Monday.

“I kind of wanted to hear a little bit more about him. I might just go see what he has to say,” she said, referring to his event at the Orpheum, which is only about 10 minutes away from WIT. “I want to still keep my options open, but for now, Elizabeth Warren has had me.”

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Her final decision will be made on Monday.

The same goes for Marshall Zumo, a 38-year-old resident of Sioux City, who’s completely undecided.

Zumo was concerned about Buttigieg’s ability to win beyond Iowa and New Hampshire because of his lack of support within the African American community.

He also thought the way to win and turn out voters was by making them excited, which is something Warren and her plans accomplish.

“I used to think a more moderate person was the way to go, but it’s become clear to me that that will not win an election now because you have to get the party excited. A moderate won’t get them excited. You might pull some independent votes over to their side, but it’s not going to get the party excited.”

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Emotion and excitement, he said, is what people who don’t pay close attention to politics base their votes on, so they’re more likely to turn out for those candidates who can inspire them.

He wasn’t the only one. His wife, Mariah Murray-Zumo, said the same thing. She doesn’t just see competence and someone who’s presidential when she looks at Warren.

“The excitement that she brings as well, I feel like we need to go and fight hard and I know she’s up for that,” she said.

She ultimately made up her mind because of Warren’s stance on fighting corruption.

“It’s really hard to decide. It’s too hard because they’re all great,” Murray-Zumo said. “I just have to make a decision, and corruption’s my biggest thing, and if we don’t get that taken care of nothing else is going to matter much.”


Zumo is still undecided, though, and said his vote is split between four candidates: Buttigieg and Warren as well as Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Buttigieg and Warren are still the top two.

“Obviously Pete’s younger than Elizabeth Warren so he hasn’t been in the game as long, which can be a good thing and it could be a bad thing,” he said. “It’s a good thing because you don’t have the baggage, but it’s bad because you don’t necessarily have the experience, and I think that’s a decision people have to make about whether or not they want new, fresh. Or if they want someone experienced who’s been down the roads we’re gonna have to travel.”

It’s a decision Zumo said he’ll have to make on caucus night.

“Basically, I’m going to walk around in circles and just slide in somewhere.”


By Nikoel Hytrek
Posted 2/1/20

  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].



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