Iowans write first chapter of 2016 election

Published 9:32 pm Monday, February 1, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa voters passed judgment Monday on a wide-open Republican presidential race dominated for months by Donald Trump, and a Democratic matchup pitting the first woman with a strong shot at the White House against an avowed socialist who’s put up more of a fight than anyone expected.

The Iowa caucuses, a tradition-steeped exercise in untraditional times, opened voting in the slog to November as people filed into schools, churches and veterans’ halls with a looming snowstorm appearing to hold off long enough not to mess up voting night.

A look at developments:

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Obama’s shadow

In the first wave of caucus-goers, six in 10 Democrats said they wanted a candidate who would continue President Barack Obama’s policies, according to preliminary entrance polling. Hillary Clinton worked assiduously in the Iowa campaign to associate herself with the president she served as secretary of state.

Half of those interviewed while entering Republican caucuses said they are deeply unhappy with the way the federal government is working — four in 10 said they were angry.


Through the Iowa campaign, Trump and Ted Cruz most effectively tapped the anger of outsiders while a quartet of Republican rivals more closely associated with the establishment competed to break through on their own — an outcome that might tamp down the insurgency so worrying GOP leaders. Among those four, Marco Rubio, a senator from Florida, appeared to make late progress in creeping up on the front-runners.

Clinton, again the presumed favorite for the Democratic nomination, fought to avoid a repeat of her 2008 failures, when Barack Obama won Iowa on his way to the presidency. Her foil this time: Bernie Sanders, who never tired of saying he started out at 3 percent in the polls only to head into the caucuses in an apparent dead heat.

But all of that positioning came before the verdict was handed off to voters.

The Democrats

The bracing Sanders-Clinton contest came down to a struggle between practicality and passion, with both candidates from the left but Sanders farther to the left.

Clinton, plenty ambitious in her own policy goals, went hard after Sanders for “magic wand” ideas, like substituting government-paid health care for the hard-won and landmark health law everyone knows as Obamacare.

She called herself a “progressive who wants to make progress and actually produce real results in people’s lives.”

Said Sanders, “You don’t make progress unless you have the courage to look reality in the eye.”

The Republicans

From one provocative comment to the next, Trump has been the man to beat in Iowa, just as he will be in New Hampshire next week. He flouted convention at every turn and capped his iconoclastic ways by blowing off the final Iowa debate in a snit with Fox News.

The New York billionaire also proved to be the most polarizing figure in the race, with polls finding him with more support than other candidates but also a disapproval rating higher than those of his major rivals.

“This is the day we take our country back,” Trump said at his final Iowa rally, in Cedar Falls. He also warned people to watch for flying tomatoes, having been tipped by security that protesters might make mischief.

Cruz, a Texas senator who campaigned and organized exhaustively in Iowa, put into motion what was expected to be a strong ground game to get Iowans to the caucuses. The breadth of Trump’s precinct-by-precinct organization was more in doubt.

Iowa voters say:

— “I think he’s got leadership written all over him.” Wayne Wagemann said of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Wagemann, 35, was among more than 2,000 people at a concert hall in Clive, a Des Moines suburb, where Rubio appeared with with his wife and four children.

— “I had an easy choice of who to pick. I don’t want another Bush, I don’t want another Clinton. And the truth is I don’t want a politician. It’s going to take somebody who can handle big money. He can. … I’m just fascinated by him.” — Steve Hoffman, 66, of Denver, Iowa, on why he’s caucusing for the first time and backing Donald Trump.

“I look for real. I look for transparent. I look for a statesman, not a politician. I look for a heart.” — Jane Gaines, 66, of Churdan, Iowa, at a pre-caucus Ted Cruz rally, with a pile of his pamphlets and a children’s Cruz-themed activity book next to her seat. She was going to the caucus undecided, leaning to Ben Carson.

A drop in the delegate bucket 

At stake Monday: 44 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, out of 2,382 to win the party’s nomination; 30 delegates to the Republican convention, out of 1,237 needed for the GOP nomination.

What happens

Democrats were meeting at about 1,100 spots and Republicans at nearly 900.

Democrats broke into groups to declare their support for a candidate. If the number of people in any group was under 15 percent of the total, they could either choose not to participate or join another candidate group.

The GOP process was simpler: Supporters of each candidate got a chance to give a brief speech, then people privately marked ballots.

What happens next

The Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have already decamped to New Hampshire, where they figure they’ll do better.

Also ahead: Some likely winnowing of the field as trailing contenders decide whether to pack it in.