Progressives split the ticket in Iowa

Progressive Iowans showed up to support 2020 Democratic hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on Monday night, with both candidates splitting the liberal vote.


Katina Zentz

Supporters for Sen. Elizabeth Warren., D-Mass., participate during the caucus at Des Moines Precinct 62 in the Knapp Center on Monday, February 3, 2020. The caucus head count reached 849 people, leaving 127 individuals needed for the candidate to be declared viable. Sen. Warren received 212 in the 1st round total.

Julia Shanahan, Politics Editor

DES MOINES — While results from caucus precincts across Iowa rolled in after midnight, much later than in previous years, one thing was clear — progressive Iowans showed up for Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren and independent Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders Monday night, splitting liberal support on the ticket.

For Iowa caucusgoers, an important difference between the campaigns was the rhetoric and language around their messaging. The Warren campaign made their detailed policy proposals a campaign centerpiece, with supporters sporting T-shirts that read “she has a plan for that.”

The Sanders campaign frames their policy proposals as being “revolutionary” — like total student-loan debt cancellation, a wealth tax on Wall Street, and Medicare for All.

While the language of both campaigns differed, both senators focused on similar domestic social programs with slight differences.

Devin McMillen, 27, showed up to the Wells Fargo Arena to caucus for Sanders. He said that he thinks Sanders is stronger than Warren on issues of immigration and universal health care because, he said, Sanders has been consistent about his platform throughout his political career.

“Bernie just kind of holds everything I kind of want to see happen,” said McMillen, a Des Moines resident. “The cuts that have happened to all different social programs has been pretty horrendous, the endless wars, and it’s just kind of time to step away from that idea.”

This year, President Trump has proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security programs such as the federal retirement program and the disability insurance program.

University of Iowa political-science Professor Frederick Boehmke said the amount of attention the two left-leaning candidates are receiving in Iowa is telling of how Democrats are responding to the Trump presidency.

“A lot of the policy proposals [Democrats are] talking about, you know, would not have gotten nearly as much traction eight to 16 years ago,” Boehmke said. “These are some of the most progressive policies you’ve seen in a long time.”

Boehmke said he does not think Warren and Sanders splitting left-leaning progressive support in Iowa will have detrimental effects to the larger Democratic Party, because there is not one strong moderate Democrat running in the race, either.

Klobuchar, Biden, and Pete Buttigieg all have moderate platforms, supporting Medicare for All as a public option and lowering college tuition costs rather than implementing universal free college.

Geoff Walken, 26, caucused for Warren at Callanan Middle School in Des Moines, and said the differences between Warren and Sanders are minuscule. But, he said, he likes the way that Warren carries herself among her opponents.

“I hope [the results show that] here in Iowa, we care about other people, including health care for all,” Walken said. “It’s important to take care of the citizens of your nation.”

Grinnell political-science Professor Barbara Trish, an expert in political parties and electoral politics, said that high turnout for either candidate could signal credibility to voters in other states. Trish said that while Warren and Sanders supporters view their candidate as electable, some other moderate Democrats in the party do not.

Trish said that, objectively speaking, when you look at Trump and the way he talks about the economy by traditional measures of economic strength, things in the U.S. seem to be doing well. But, she said, looking at people’s individual situations and class divide, that has been fueling the appetite for progressive politics.

“You look at the extreme degree of growing inequality — this is something that is, you know, is really striking people as … an untenable situation,” Trish said. “And I think that’s what the progressive left is picking up on, and it motivates them.”

Emily Elliot, 40, caucused for Warren at the Drake University Field House, and said her decision between Warren and Sanders was simple, because Sanders’ health is a big concern of hers. Sanders had a heart attack in October.

“I worry about his energy, I worry about his capabilities,” said Elliot, a Des Moines resident. “I have been around Elizabeth Warren enough to see her energy. It’s palpable, it’s clear and I just think she’s in better health, and that’s a big thing.”

Sarah Watson and Rylee Wilson contributed to this report.