These Iowans got their first caucus experience in Minnesota

By: - February 4, 2020 12:51 am

Claire Pardubsky, a University of Minnesota student, and a handful of other would-be voters observed the caucus from the sidelines because they hadn’t pre-registered. Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer

Thirty-two Iowans gathered in St. Paul Monday night. Between excited moments of recognition — “Oh, you’re from Cedar Rapids? Me too!” — they had important political business to finish.

For the first time ever, Iowans unable to caucus for Democratic presidential candidates in their home state had the option to attend a number of satellite caucuses around the world this year. One of them took place in a sky-blue painted room in St. Paul’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Recreational Center, where Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders each won two delegates, and Andrew Yang won one.

Despite the relative ease of voting in St. Paul, there were apparently problems elsewhere. By midnight Monday, results of the caucusing had not been released. The Iowa Democrat Party blamed problems with reporting but said reports were able to be validated and accuracy would be ensured.

Macalester College student Louise Bequeaith was among those caucusing for the first time Monday. The Des Moines native said she grew up going to caucuses with her parents, then volunteered at them before she was old enough to vote. She didn’t want to miss the chance to support Sanders in her home state, she said.

“I think my point of view is more critical in Iowa,” Bequeaith said before the caucus began. “I just think that, as a more progressive liberal, that my voice matters more somewhere that’s more of a swing state.”

Some, like Claire Pardubsky, were undecided when they walked through the recreation room doors. Pardubsky said she was looking forward to hearing other people’s views before making up her mind. But instead of voting, the University of Minnesota student and a handful of other would-be voters had to observe the caucus from the sidelines because they hadn’t registered to caucus.

Supporters of presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders pose for a photo at a satellite Iowa caucus Monday in St. Paul. Photo by Rilyn Eischens.

“I was kind of going to wing it … I was going to see what other people have to say. I was thinking maybe Pete, or Amy, or Bernie. I don’t know … I think anyone is better than Trump at this point,” she said.

The group, mostly college-age voters, laughed raucously when caucus chair Ben Popken reached the donations portion of the introductory script (“since we’ll be electing the 46th president this year, I thought we could each toss in $46”). The upbeat mood continued as they gathered at various spots in the room to support candidates Warren, Sanders, Yang, Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Midwesterners Buttigieg and Klobuchar didn’t have enough supporters in the room to remain viable, so those six voters moved to join other candidates.

There were claps and cheers as some joined the Warren group, and in a matter of minutes, Warren had gained another three supporters, Yang two and Sanders one.

Popken announced the final counts, and with no other business to consider, closed the caucus.

As the young adults filed out of the rec room, Bequeaith said she was excited to have voted for the first time.

“It was great to be with a candidate I feel passionate about,” she said.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.