Editor’s note: The Blade will have a reporter on the ground in Iowa next week covering the caucuses. Visit washingtonblade.com to follow updated reporting.
With just days to go before the Iowa caucuses on Monday, all eyes will be watching to see which candidate claims the momentum going forward — and a win for Pete Buttigieg is all but essential.
Buttigieg, the first viable gay presidential candidate, will need to win delegates in the Midwestern state near his home in South Bend, Ind., to show he can compete elsewhere in the nation. If he doesn’t pull it off, his case will be much harder to make.
Spencer Kimball, a professor in political and sports communication at Emerson College, said a strong performance in Iowa is “vital to a Buttigieg candidacy, and likely for [Sen. Amy] Klobuchar as well.”
“I think only one of them gets a ticket out of Iowa because they are both pulling from a similar voting bloc,” Kimball said. “Both need the momentum to catapult them onto the national stage as both are struggling nationally and in other early states.”
Although Buttigieg was once polling well above his competitors in Iowa, the front-runner status seems to belong to Bernie Sanders now. An Emerson College poll puts his support at 30 percent.
As pointed out by Vox, three of the four latest polls have the Democratic socialist from Vermont as the favored candidate, while former Vice President Joseph Biden is the front-runner in the fourth poll.
Meanwhile, Buttigieg’s ranking is now all over the place. The former South Bend mayor is second in the New York Times poll, with 18 percent support, but CBS and Suffolk polls put him in third, while the Emerson poll has him fourth place tied with Elizabeth Warren.
(National polls, in contrast, have Biden in the front-runner position, where he has been since he announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination last year. Although Biden’s performance in Iowa polls, as well as New Hampshire, is comparable to other Democratic candidates, he’s polling well ahead of the pack in South Carolina, which has a greater population of black voters.)
One prominent Buttigieg fundraiser who talked to the Blade on condition of anonymity emphasized the critical importance of finishing first or second in Iowa and New Hampshire. The winner in Iowa will see a tremendous boost in fundraising overnight, leading to a big advantage moving forward, the source said. If Buttigieg fails to finish in the top two in those states, he will likely be forced to end his campaign before Super Tuesday, the source added.
Keep in mind the Democratic primary contests aren’t winner-take-all like the Republican primary or the Electoral College. Each candidate will be allocated an amount of delegates proportionate to their wins on caucus night.
But what makes the situation demanding is a candidate needs at least 15 percent of support from caucus-goers at any particular site to remain viable. Any candidate with less than that won’t be scored by the Iowa Democratic Party to receive delegates in the presidential candidate nominating process at the upcoming Democratic National Convention.
As a result, the winner of the most delegates at the end of the day may be the candidate whose campaign has the greatest ground game and is able to bring out supporters to the caucus. If Buttigieg can pull that off, he may have a strong performance at the end of the day.
On top of that, the Iowa Democratic Party for the first time this year will report out the raw vote total for each of the candidates — both for the beginning and at the end of the caucus. Because a candidate needs to meet the 15 percent threshold to be viable, the numbers could be different at the end.
So that means three sets of results: A vote tally at the beginning, a vote tally at the end and the delegate count. As a result, three different Democratic contenders could claim victory when everything is said and done. Lyz Lenz, a columnist for The Gazette who was a moderator at the GLAAD presidential candidate forum in Iowa on LGBTQ issues, predicted caucus night is “going to be madness.”
“It’s possible I’m going to be very wrong,” Lenz said. “But I think we will see a lot of confusion coming out of the caucuses. There will be three reported counts. And in a very tight race, that’s three ways for candidates to claim some sort of victory. So, on to New Hampshire and no one will have to think about ethanol for another four years.”
In a related development, Biden took a not-so-veiled swipe at Bernie Sanders for accepting Joe Rogan’s support despite comments from the podcast host condemned as transphobic.
Taking to Twitter, Biden drew on comments he made as vice president when he called transgender rights “the civil rights issue of our time,” which stands in contrast to the Sanders campaign accepting Rogan’s support.
An LGBTQ backlash against Sanders ensued after he promoted the Rogan endorsement on his Twitter account. Among those criticizing Sanders was Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, who said, “it is disappointing that the Sanders campaign has accepted and promoted the endorsement.”
“The Sanders campaign must reconsider this endorsement and the decision to publicize the views of someone who has consistently attacked and dehumanized marginalized people,” David said.
Among other things, Rogan in the past has said a transgender woman athlete is actually a man, has used anti-gay epithets before “retiring” them and compared a black neighborhood to “Planet of the Apes” before admitting the comments were racist.
Amid the backlash, the Sanders campaign didn’t retract the endorsement or admonish Rogan for his comments, but instead defended the decision.
“Sharing a big tent requires including those who do not share every one of our beliefs, while always making clear that we will never compromise our values,” said Sanders national press secretary Briahna Joy Gray.