Though two separate precincts were packed together in a middle school gym, the night was relatively conflict-free.
Des Moines 6 and 18, on the north side of the city, were on two sides of the gymnasium at Harding Middle School. They ran pretty well, especially under the lead of Angel Head, the caucus chair who ran the room.
She works in radio, so she had the voice to call the room to attention.
Because of the divisiveness of the caucuses four years ago, Democrats were determined to keep it friendly this year. Head started the caucuses by giving people some perspective. She called for Iowans to “vote blue no matter who,” and reminded the room that the real priority was beating President Donald Trump.
With that, people broke into their first alignments, and it was quickly obvious who would make it through on both sides.
In Precinct 18, which has some mostly African American neighborhoods in it, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer didn’t have enough support to hit the viability threshold. Supporters in the Klobuchar camp made a pitch for their candidate and managed to pull a few people over from both camps.
One woman, who didn’t want to be named, crossed the gym to Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s group because she thought Warren had the best chance of defeating Trump as a “feisty, fiery woman.”
In Precinct 6, Sen. Bernie Sanders was the obvious candidate. Warren’s group was only one person away from viability and easily attracted a few.
When it was clear that former Vice President Joe Biden wouldn’t be viable, a woman moved to the Buttigieg group.
She said those candidates were her top choices and she just wanted one to be viable. Buttigieg’s was the closest group to having enough support to earn a delegate.
Even though the groups coalesced rapidly, the counting took time because the chairs wanted to ensure accuracy, and did multiple counts.
Because of that, and because some voters found it difficult to hear, there was some confusion about when the first alignment period ended, but it didn’t cause any problems for people in the room or the results. Head and other caucus chairs straightened it out and clarified to the room before moving on.
There was very little persuading going on among the candidate groups, or none that rose above the pitch of a regular conversation. In fact, it seemed like a lot of people were prepared to have to move and knew who they would align with in the second round.
That wasn’t quite the case for Wanita Graves, a 45-year-old in Precinct 6.
Graves had never voted in an election before, but her boyfriend persuaded her to come Monday night.
Her first alignment was with Klobuchar because they were the first people to talk to her when she walked into the gym. When Klobuchar didn’t make it through, she moved over to Warren’s group because she liked Warren’s ideas, even if she’s not sure where the money will come from for her policy proposals.
“I just want to get Trump out,” she said.
First alignment went off without a hitch and most of the attendees behind viable candidates left during second alignment after they handed off their presidential preference cards to their precinct captains.
Cher Carroll, a 43-year-old in Precinct 6 declined to realign after Steyer was not viable. Carroll said she would vote for whoever the nominee was in the general election, but she didn’t want to caucus for anyone else.
“My top three got dwindled down and I really can’t say who else I would support,” she said.
Her top three were Steyer, Biden and Sanders. But Biden and Sanders both lost her vote before the caucus even started, largely because of the back-and-forth squabbling they had in January.
“I like consistency, which is why I like Tom,” she said. “Bernie’s been in the game for a while so he knows how to play the game.”
In her eyes, that made him less trustworthy.
In Precinct 6, Sanders won with 43 people in his final alignment and three county-level delegates overall. Buttigieg came in second with 20 people, Warren came in third with 19. Both got a single delegate.
Sanders also won Precinct 18 with 37 people in the final alignment, awarding him two delegates. Klobuchar came in second with 30, Warren had 22 and Biden had 15. Those three all won one delegate.
By Nikoel Hytrek