USU Professor Travels To Iowa Caucuses For Book Research, Part Three

Feb 4, 2020

Jason Gilmore is Assistant Professor of Communication Studies in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Utah State University. He recently traveled to Iowa and attended events presented by various Democratic presidential candidates. He spoke with Tom Williams on Monday ahead of today’s Iowa caucuses.

You can listen to other interviews with Jason here and here

Tom Williams: (The Iowa) caucuses are today. Who's got momentum? Set the scene for us.

Jason Gilmore: It seems, kind of coming in the door to the caucus, all eyes are on Bernie Sanders. You know, the recent poll this morning I believe came out with him having a seven point lead. The feeling on the ground is kind of similar. There's a lot of energy behind his campaign. His rallies are big, well attended events. So in kind of sports terms, it's his to lose right now.

TW: Who do you think the next tier is then? If we believe the polls?

JG: Well, I mean, the polls would point to Joe Biden being up there with him. Pete Buttigieg surging. I think some of the polls actually put him in the 20% rage. It does seem, with so many undecided voters still right coming into today, and with the setup of how the caucuses work, this could change, right? This could move in any direction.

John Kerry when he won Iowa, he was behind. I think he was in third as he came in the gates and then he took it. So, and Howard Dean famously lost it, right? So anything can happen in Iowa.

The setup of the caucuses has a couple of rounds. And if your candidate doesn't hit 15%, you're then recruited from the other sides. And so there's just a lot of things up in the air and the polls may point to the actual winner.

But somebody like Elizabeth Warren, who seems to be down in the polls, has been the first on the ground with the largest ground campaign. And what it really comes down to is get out the vote and get people enthused behind you. So it's possible that all of that work that she's done for so long, might do well for her. And she's in a position now where she's pulling third or fourth. So if she were to take a second or even a first, it would be a massive win. Whereas if Bernie takes a second or a third, it's going to be seen as a pretty large loss. And so yeah, Iowa is very interesting in that regard. It's just kind of, it's hard to really feel where things are at.

You know, I went to Elizabeth Warren rally and of all the rallies, it seemed to be what she is actually saying that she represents, which is a unity ticket, right? So if you look around the room who's in the room, she had young people, people of all ages, people of all races, backgrounds. So hers seems to be a diversified grouping. When you go to a Biden event. There's a lot of white hair in the room, and it's a lot slower. So there's not as much energy behind a Joe Biden, at least that I could perceive. And then there's a lot of youth energy behind Bernie Sanders. But at the same time, that might turn off some caucus goers if they come in rabble rousing, loud, that might turn people away. So it's going to be interesting for sure.

TW: At these rallies, do you sense and in the overall climate in Iowa, is there an elephant in the room, speaking of Donald Trump? In other words, I've heard arguments of electability. We absolutely have to as Democrats, they say, you know, get somebody who can beat Trump versus let's just go with, you know, the principles and let the chips fall where they may.

JG: Yeah, I mean, everybody's making the argument that they can be Donald Trump and here's why. But I think caucus goers are definitely focused on that. I think the Democrats want to take down Donald Trump in the fall. So it's definitely heavy on people's minds. And if you take into consideration not a lot of like on the ground energy behind Biden, but still a lot of support behind him, I think that's the argument he's making, right? Is “I'm the one that A. Donald Trump is scared of, and B. that can take down Donald Trump in the fall.”

You know, the rift that is emerging in the Democratic Party is also kind of part of the conversation, right? Can the Democrats put together a ticket that would represent both the more liberal Bernie type supporters as well as more centrists? And what combination could that actually be? Who at the top of the ticket would be able to play across the spectrum? Elizabeth Warren is making a play for that. Bernie Sanders is simply saying we need to be a lot further left than we are. So it's just kind of hard to tell right now. What you can sense, though, is that there is a growing animosity between the more moderates and the more liberals, within the Democrats.

TW: Anything especially strike you about your time and in Iowa?

JG: There's a lot of energy there. I think the Democrats are rearing and ready to go. There is a divide that showing quite obviously within the Democratic Party, and it's possible some Sanders supporters wouldn't show up for Biden election. But I think by and large, people are ready to go. They're ready to do their best to try and take down Donald Trump and he's ready for them. At the Trump event, he's already attacking each and every one of them. He's got his lines. He's got his nicknames. He's got his everything ready to roll out against them. So it's going to be an uphill fight.

TW: Well, thanks so much.

JG: Thanks for having me.