More than 1,000 miles away from his hometown of West Des Moines, Trent Gilbert ’21 was one of 30 Iowans who descended upon the Haas Center for Public Service to participate in one of the the first-ever Iowan Democratic primary “satellite caucuses” on Monday.
“You have a civic duty to participate in the caucuses, yeah, but it’s particularly easy when it is at the Haas Center,” said Gilbert, a first-time caucusgoer.
The Stanford caucus will send two delegates to the county-level caucuses for Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), two for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and one for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). The three candidates ended the night with 15, 10 and five individual supporters, respectively.
Caucusgoers also approved multiple resolutions — suggestions that the Iowa Democratic Party can incorporate into the party platform — ranging from overturning Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to abolishing cash bail.
This is the first year Iowans who could not attend their precinct caucuses had the option to participate in one of more than 90 satellite caucuses held across the country and the world. Calling the satellite caucus one of “the most significant changes to the Iowa Caucus since 1972,” the Iowa Democratic Party forecast that they would contribute to the accessibility of its caucusing process, which has been criticized as discriminating against voters with disabilities and inflexible work schedules.
Off to the races
Caucusgoers lined up in front of the Haas Center 20 minutes before the 5 p.m. start time. Joining Gilbert were other Stanford students, including Jimmy Le ’22. Most caucusgoers were Stanford affiliates.
“I’m excited … our vote is pretty big given that this is going to be a small caucus,” Le said.
Most of the attendees were first-timers like Gilbert. Some came as observers who could not participate but who wanted to watch the proceedings out of curiosity.
“I’ve always been interested in the whole caucus system, and I just wanted to see how it worked in real time in person,” said Gary Brauch, a resident of Los Altos Hills who observed the caucus with his wife, Diane.
Upon the start of the caucus, only members of the press, registered Iowa voters and one representative from each campaign were allowed to stay in the room, with curious observers peering in through the windows.
The caucus began with the election of Ahmi Dhuna ’20 as caucus chair and Nova Meurice ’21 as caucus secretary. Dhuna and Meurice collaborated earlier this year to apply for Stanford to host the caucus.
Representatives from each campaign, many of whom were not registered Iowa voters, were asked to put forth one person to pitch their candidate for two minutes. For most groups, this was their precinct captain. No representatives, however, were present for former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is one of the top-polling candidates in the state of Iowa.
The speakers emphasized their candidate’s electability, policies and track records in their speeches.
Center for International Security and Cooperation Co-Director Colin Kahl spoke on behalf of Biden, for whom he was a former national security advisor, emphasizing both his personal experience with the candidate and Biden’s record.
“I sat with [Biden] every single day for two and a half years,” Kahl said. “Joe Biden is a good man. He’s a good person. He loves his family, and he wants everybody in the United States to get a fair shake.”
As a Wisconsin resident, Cardinal for Warren Chapter Lead Chloe Stoddard ’21 could not vote in the caucus; however, she spoke to the senator’s plans and viability as a candidate.
“She has incredible plans to really address the systemic reasons why we have all of this injustice and inequity in the United States,” Stoddard said.
Sanders, Warren viable after first alignment
Caucusgoers were initially given 20 minutes to align with their preferred candidates, quickly joining like-minded voters. To remain a viable candidate at a caucus, a candidate must receive more than 15% of the vote, which at the Stanford caucus was five supporters.
Warren and Sanders supporters, representing the more progressive wing of the Democratic party, quickly crowded one side of the room, while proponents of Yang, Biden and Klobuchar stood with fewer numbers on the opposite end.
After the initial alignment, the Sanders camp took the lead with 14 supporters, and Warren trailed close behind with 10. Klobuchar, Yang and Biden had one, two and three supporters respectively.
Caucusgoers in viable groups — Sanders and Warren — were then locked into their groups, while Klobuchar, Yang and Biden supporters were given the opportunity to either align with a viable group or merge to form a viable group.
Supporters of Sanders and Warren split up to talk to other participants, launching heated discussion as they tried to convince their fellow voters to change alignment.
Caucusgoers expressed an initial unwillingness to realign.
“Not Warren. Don’t waste your time,” one caucusgoer said after being approached by a Warren representative.
“Anybody but Bernie,” another said.
Klobuchar surges to viability after second alignment
During the realignment process, a representative for each viable candidate was given a formal opportunity to address the room and pitch their candidate in an attempt to win over voters from the non-viable groups.
“[Sanders has] never actually won any of the policy options that he wants to get done in his career,” a Biden supporter said. “I think that it’s just a bit like wishful thinking to suggest that Bernie or Warren are going to get all these things done.”
Klobuchar, Yang and Biden supporters grouped together after the speeches, debating the ways in which they could unite to form a viable group.
Kahl took a central role in attempting to sway Yang and Klobuchar’s supporters to Biden’s camp.
“I talk to Biden every 10 days,” Kahl said, before describing supposed electoral weaknesses of the other candidates.
Most Yang and Biden supporters ultimately realigned with the Klobuchar voters to create a third viable group in support of Klobuchar, with one Biden supporter switching to the Sanders camp. The night ended with five Klobuchar supporters, 10 Warren supporters and 15 Sanders supporters.
Daniel Rebelsky ’23 made the Biden-to-Sanders switch.
“When Biden wasn’t viable … I listened to points from all four candidates,” Rebelsky said. “I ended up going with Sanders partially because … one of the main issues for me is electability [and] right now I think it’s a toss-up between Sanders and Biden.”
Caucusgoers reflect on the night
Kahl ended the night having gained no delegates for Biden.
“The more moderate candidates I think probably are performing better in their polling and may perform better in the caucus as a whole than was indicative of the caucus here,” Kahl told The Daily in an interview after the caucus.
He did not appear surprised by the results.
“I think there are generational divides in this country and a lot of folks on college campuses probably lean a little further to the left than the average American voter, and that’s great,” he said.
Even though the caucus went to the other candidates, Mikey Fischer, Yang precinct captain and computer science Ph.D. student, said he was glad to witness how engaged voters were in the process.
“We didn’t have the numbers right now, but I think [Yang] did a lot to push forward, getting new types of people into politics,” Fischer added.
Joel Schneider, a fifth year chemical engineering Ph.D. student who caucused for Warren, said the experience made him more willing to be involved in future primaries and presidential elections.
“It was really neat to see democracy literally in action,” Schneider said.
While waiting for the caucus chair to tabulate the results, the participants took group photos.
“Three, two, one, beat Trump!” they cheered.
A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Joel Schneider as a student in electrical engineering. The Daily regrets this error.
Campbell Jenkins contributed reporting.
Contact Kate Selig at kselig ‘at’ stanford.edu, Won Gi Jung at jwongi ‘at’ stanford.edu and Georgia Rosenberg at georgiar ‘at’ stanford.edu.