Early Caucus Realignments Pointing To Unpredictable Night

Photo by Julie Fleming

The Iowa Caucus has begun. How it ends tonight remains anyone’s guess.

Results have been very slow to release as the Iowa Democratic Party runs quality control checks on the data.

Early indications from precincts across the state pointed to a very unpredictable night. Every major candidate fell short of viability in various important precincts in Central Iowa and elsewhere. By wiping out and getting zero delegates, large shifts could move around candidates’ totals significantly.

Starting Line reporters fanned out to varied types of precincts in Central Iowa. Sources sent in information from countless more.

By and large, the realignment periods, where nonviable groups of supporters either joined other groups or tried to combine to form a viable one, seemed to mostly favor Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg. However, in many precincts, it appeared that frustrated nonviable supporters simply went home. In at least one Des Moines precinct, Iowans from nonviable candidate groups formed a Cory Booker group to deny other candidates extra delegates.

With five candidates strongly competing for viability (Amy Klobuchar included) across the state, many of the front-runners simply didn’t hit 15% in many precincts, putting them at zero delegates.

In several precincts in suburban Polk County, places that reward a high number of delegates, Bernie Sanders failed to reach viability. Joe Biden came up short in a surprising number of precincts we were watching, missing viability in several and not coming out on top on any that we saw. Amy Klobuchar came just short of viability in several important suburban areas. Pete Buttigieg came up short on the Ames college campus.

Team Starting Line concentrated on reporting from caucus precincts in central Iowa tonight, but don’t worry, there’s plenty of deep-dives and statewide analysis to come.

Four of our reporters covered several types of precincts: a college campus, an African American neighborhood, a suburb and a small, rural town. Here’s what we saw and how the final results shook out there:

Ankeny 10 – Ashland Ridge Elementary School (Suburban Precinct)

209 Iowans showed up to Ankeny’s 10th precinct, and its members said it was one of their smoothest caucuses yet. 

With eight delegates to elect and a viability threshold of 32 supporters, the group consisted of a large number of seemingly decided caucus-goers— dressed in Warren shirts, wearing Buttigieg buttons, or donning Sanders stickers. 

Before Ankeny 10 residents picked up their chairs and moved to their corners, they heard last-minute, 60-second pitches from a single supporter of each candidate, with the exception of Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Tom Steyer, Deval Patrick, Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Michael Bennet, who were missing a representative. The speeches largely reflected each campaign’s core message — Klobuchar’s was about electability, Sanders’ was about Medicare for All and Buttigeig’s was about unity, among others. 

Klobuchar was the only member of the top tier candidates who did not have a precinct captain.

First alignment numbers saw Biden having 32 supporters, just making the viability threshold. Klobuchar had 29 supporters, just shy of making the threshold. Warren had 35 supporters and Sanders had 41, while Buttigieg had 57. Biden, Warren, Buttigieg and Sanders were viable for the second round.

Persuasion then ensued, and groups of supporters chanted their candidate’s names, and several representatives from each camp came to smaller groups in hopes of convincing any undecideds. Klobuchar’s team sent someone around and was able to gather a few more residents to support the senator, just missing viability by one person in the end, and most of the team switched over to Buttigieg.

In the end, Biden got one delegate with 35 supporters, after gaining three. Warren received two delegates with 45 supporters, after gaining 10. Sanders got two delegates and 44 supporters, after gaining three, and Buttigieg saw the largest shift in support, receiving three delegates after 26 residents switched over, making his final number of supporters 83.

First Alignment
Pete Buttigieg – 57
Bernie Sanders – 41
Elizabeth Warren – 35
Joe Biden – 32
Amy Klobuchar – 29
Andrew Yang – 10
Tom Steyer – 1
Tulsi Gabbard – 2
Undecided – 2

Second Alignment
Buttigieg – 83
Warren – 45
Sanders – 44
Biden – 35

County Delegate Allocation
Buttigieg – 3
Warren – 2
Sanders – 2
Biden – 1

Ames 4-4 – Iowa State University

604 total people turned out to caucus in Ames Precinct 6 at Iowa State University. 

In what could be interpreted as a show of solidarity, the Sanders and Warren camps set up next to one another in the back of the room, almost blending into one big group, and were visibly the biggest groups to start the night. Both easily met viability in the first alignment.

Klobuchar looked to be close to viable, and was able to meet the threshold (of 91) to become viable in first alignment with 97. A cheer let out from her section when they did her final count, passing the viability threshold by just 6.

Sanders and Warren were the only other two viable in first alignment, with 207 and 138, respectively.

Buttigieg and Andrew Yang were somewhat close to being viable, at 70 and 55 respectively, and largely kept their groups together to try to pick some up for second alignment, but Biden’s group dissolved and some of them went home rather than realigning.

After the discussion period before second alignment, however, the Buttigieg and Yang teams ended up dissolving as well, leaving Sanders, Warren and Klobuchar as the only viable candidates.

When the dust finally settled, following a recount, Sanders ended up with four delegates while Warren and Klobuchar were both able to collect three.

First Alignment
Sanders – 207
Warren – 138
Klobuchar – 97
Buttigieg – 70
Yang – 55
Biden – 35
Uncommitted – 4
Michael Bennet – 2
Steyer – 2

Second Alignment
Sanders – 232
Warren – 170
Klobuchar – 141

County Delegate Allocation
Sanders – 4
Warren – 3
Klobuchar – 3

Des Moines 6, 18 – Harding Middle School

Both precincts were in the gym at Harding Middle School, one on each side. One caucus chair was left to rally both precincts and keep them on track.

Precinct 18 had many African American voters on hand. Precinct 6 was more of a working-class neighborhood.

Because of the turnout, viability for Precinct 6 was 14 people. With five minutes left, the spots for Buttigieg and Sanders were viable and Warren’s group only needed one more person, which was easily achieved.

Viability for Precinct 18 was 15 people. Warren, Biden and Sanders had those numbers by the time the first alignment period ended. Klobuchar’s group pulled that number together with some transfers from the Buttigieg, Biden and Steyer camps.

Wanita Graves, a 45-year-old who has never voted in any election moved to the Warren camp from Klobuchar in Precinct 6.

“I like the fact that she wants to make a difference for disabilities and mental health,” she said.

Graves walked into the gym undecided and said she still hadn’t really made up her mind, but she liked where Warren’s head was at on issues, even though she wasn’t sure where the money would come from.

After the first alignment, most of the people in the viable groups cleared out of the gym, in both precincts.

That maybe eased the second alignment process. Because of the limited space, the candidate sections were very close and the first alignment took a while to count, and there was a minor mix-up when a card was dropped. But when people left, the realignments were easy to spot.

For some, that wasn’t a problem.

Elisabeth Everson, a 32-year-old aligned with Warren from the beginning of the night, but she made up her mind when she got to the caucus.

“This is my first time going to a caucus, so I don’t really know what I’m doing,” she said. “My main worries are that I can’t lose my disability benefits and I want my brothers home from Iraq.”

Precinct 6

First Alignment
Sanders – 35
Buttigieg – 17
Warren – 15
Steyer – 9
Yang – 8
Biden – 2

Second Alignment
Sanders – 43
Buttigieg – 20
Warren – 19

County Delegate Allocation
Sanders – 3
Buttigieg – 1
Warren – 1

Precinct 18

First Alignment
Sanders – 37
Warren – 20
Klobuchar – 15
Biden – 15
Steyer – 6
Buttigieg – 2

Second Alignment
Sanders – 37
Klobuchar – 30
Warren – 22
Biden – 15

County Delegate Allocation
Sanders – 2
Klobuchar – 1
Biden – 1
Warren – 1

Winterset 2 – Winterset Middle School (Small Town)

Buttigieg, Biden, Warren and Sanders had no problem reaching viability in Winterset 2, where they only needed 20 supporters to gather delegates.

Klobuchar’s team had some trouble hitting 20, with just 17 people lining up for her on first alignment. Her team swayed a few Gabbard supporters and Yang supporters, who were also not in viable groups, and pulled through in the end.

First Alignment
Buttigieg – 37
Sanders – 22
Warren – 22
Biden – 21
Klobuchar – 17
Yang – 10
Gabbard – 3

Second Alignment
Buttigieg – 37
Sanders – 26
Warren – 24
Biden – 21
Klobuchar – 20

County Delegate Allocation
Buttigieg – 4
Sanders – 3
Warren – 2
Biden – 2
Klobuchar – 2


By Isabella Murray, Paige Godden, Nikoel Hytrek, Josh Cook, Pat Rynard and Elizabeth Meyer
Posted 2/3/20

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