The Corner

On-the-Ground Updates from Iowa’s Democratic Caucus

9:30 PM – Clinton scrapes by with a win in the Beaverdale neighborhood of Des Moines, Polk County’s Democratic Precinct 15. In the final count, 303 caucus-goers went to Hillary Clinton, 250 to Bernie Sanders. Obviously, more than 11 O’Malley supporters chose to remain neutral.

Clinton will pick up 8 delegates to Sanders’s 7 — a close victory, but a victory nonetheless. 

It’s a bad sign for the Sanders campaign’s chances across the state of Iowa. Beaverdale was a progressive stronghold in 2008, and it led the charge against Clinton’s candidacy in the state eight years ago. But Clinton supporter Ellie McGrane isn’t surprised that things turned out differently this time. “This was Obamadale,” she says. “Hillary’s done so much to support him, and I’m not surprised the folks of Beaverdale are now out to support her.”

Sanders’s backers were disappointed, but confident their man will pull through in other parts of the state. “I’d like to have seen Bernie win,” says Michael Meacham,”But it was really close and we had pretty evenly split-up delegates. I think it’ll be close everywhere.”

Time will tell. Here’s a (regrettably sideways) video of the announcemeent of the final count.

9:11 PM – O’Malley has dropped out! And just like that, we’ve had a major realignment in Beaverdale’s Democratic Precinct 15. Of the original 71, just 11 caucus-goers are going down with O’Malley’s ship. Randy McGuire is one of those who went for the lifeboats, paddling to Hillary’s camp. He explains why:

“Everyone needs a Ted Cruz and a Bernie Sanders in the Senate. But you can’t have radical extremists running the country. It’s important to have them on the margins to keep them honest, but if you put them in the White House you create divisions in the country you can’t overcome.”

9:00 PM – The realignment is over. There were several back-and-forth chant sessions that fired everybody up, but nobody has any idea what’s going on in Beaverdale. Everyone is now going outside for the final count. 

8:55 PM – O’Malley is at 71, making him non-viable. So begins the second realignment, when members of non-viable groups can join any viable groups. Members of non-viable groups can choose not realign, but won’t be able to earn any delegates. Meaning everybody is going to go after their supporters. Sanders and Hillary supporters CANNOT MOVE.

Several O’Malley supporters look to be going over to the Sanders camp, eliciting loud cheers and yells of “Feel the Bern!”

8:52 PM – Sanders supporter Catherine Lyons isn’t put out, even though her candidate is slightly behind. “I’m not convinced the Hillary people counted accurately,” she says. “We seem to be occupying half of the gym. They just raised hands, we all exited and came back in to count.” She’s in good spirits. “It’s chaos and it’s wonderful!” she says.

Clinton supporter Sany Gilmore is also feeling good. “We seem to be in the lead right now,” she says with a grin. She laughs when informed of the counting theory in the Sanders camp. “I’m sure they’ll make us all count again when we’re done,” she says. “But I think it was a pretty accurate count, close enough.” And she’s admits she’s “a little surprised” Clinton is in the lead in progressive “Obamadale,”

The O’Malley camp is deep in thought. Randy Beavers, interrupted from his reverie, says he’s still deciding who he’ll go for if his man isn’t viable. “I’ll probably head over yonder,” he says after a moment, pointing to Hillary’s corner.

8:33 PM – Sanders count at 239, behind Clinton at 263. O’Malley may have dropped below viability, to 74, but chaos reigns over here so it’s hard to tell.

The big takeaway is that in ultra-progressive Beaverdale, Clinton is beating Sanders. Only two people are uncommitted. If O’Malley turns out not to be viable and if his supporters go to Sanders, then Bernie will still have a shot at winning the majority of the 15 delegates up for grab in Des Moines’s Precinct 15. But it’s not looking great for Sanders right now.

8:30 PM – Motivational speech overheard in Beaverdale’s Democratic precinct, as Sanders counting continues:  

“Remember folks we’re all neighbors, we’re all friends. This just for fun, there’s no money on this, no wagering. There’s 315 million peoppe in this country, and maybe 100 million of them will vote eventually. But our piece is just a little bit of it, so give everybody the best opportunity they can to support their candidate. I know we all want to win. I went to school where there were some winners and some losers. I know some ofyou went to school where everyone were winners . . . I know I have to have a point here . . .” 

8:28 PM – Worth noting as the count continues — Sanders needs to perform in urban areas like Polk County to have any hope of earning more delegates than Clinton, who is supposed to perform well in rural areas due to her strong ground game. Beaverdale is in Polk County, and a strong showing for Sanders here could be indicative of his wider appeal in the rest of Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and elsewhere.

8:23 PM – Count so far, according to the candidates’s respective precinct chairs:

Clinton – 263.

O’Malley – 85, which puts them just over viability. Lots of cheers going on in that corner right now.

Sanders – They’re still counting. Whether that speaks to a lack of organization or a serious amount of support? It looks like a little bit of both.

8:14 PM – Respective groups now have half an hour situate themselves, try to convince one another of each candidate’s respective benefits, and finally tally up each side’s support. “I don’t know how they’re going to count all these people,” says Sharon Fife, a Sanders supporter.

8:11 PM – Official Democratic count in Beaverdale, Des Moines Precinct 15 — 561 souls. Organizers say that means each candidate need at least 85 caucus-goers in order to be viable. I was a liberal arts major, so to those of you following at home, feel free to check that math.

8:07 PM – Bernie Sanders look-alike makes an appearance. Three guesses who he’s caucusing for:

7:57 PM – “This is pretty impressive,” says Bernie Sanders supporter Josh Blackburn of the decision to send caucus-goers outside for counting. “It just means that many people are coming out, and it seems to be happening everywhere else.”

“That’s a good thing,” he adds. Particularly good for his candidate, perhaps? Blackburn nods and smiles.

7:52 PM – ”We are going to give you a chance to cool off,” says caucus organizer, telling voters they need to all file OUT of the gym in order to be counted. “We’re not going to count this thing front-to-back,” he says, to chuckles from the mass of people assembled.

It’s a neccesary step in order to determine the 15 percent cut-off for viability. But judging from the reaction, it seems like an unprecedented response to a massive level of turnout.

7:45 PM – Probably around 50 people in the O’Malley corner (compared to hundreds for Clinton or Sanders), but they’re well aware of the important role they can play tonight. “It gave me a tension headache all day thinking who my second choice would be,” Gigi Wilwerding says. “I listened to Bernie first, and liked him, but just couldn’t get a great plan on how he’d get things done.” Clinton, she says, “is already acting like a sure thing.” She thinks some people may want to stay in O’Malley’s corner, but seems skeptical they’ll reach the 15 percent viability threshold.

Caucus now starting — everybody seems surprised by the turnout. Here’s a view from the O’Malley table, facing towards Sanders’s corner:

7:30 PM – Still waiting for the “Obamadale” caucus to start — organizers giving it 5 to 10 more minutes before everyone is checked in, inspiring groans from the crowd. The gym is already very crowded. 

Given it’s reputation for left-wing activism, I asked Clinton supporter Laurie Dore if she’s nervous her candidate is too “establishment” for Beaverdale. “I don’t consider her ‘establishment,’ given she’d be the first woman president.” Dore says, looking warily at the Sanders crowd. “But I do think it’s going to be a good night for Sanders, given the progressive nature of this neighborhood.”

7:20 PM – The caucus was set to start at 7 PM, but organizers say the line of people still registering and waiting to enter the gym are holding them back. The place is starting to get crowded — Alan Hutchison, a Sanders backer, says the venue was far less chaotic in 2008. It’s hard to tell where support for Sanders ends and Clinton begins. Hard not to agree — turnout seems larger than anticipated. 

7:15 PM – Iowa’s Democratic caucuses functions differently than Republican ones. While GOP voters make their decisions through secret ballots, Democrats in each precinct group together in opposing corners and face off against the other sides’s supporters. The number of Democrats in each corner are counted, and compared to the total number of voters registered to participate in that precinct. If any candidate receives less than 15 percent support, that candidate is not considered viable, and his or her supporters must then pick another side (strangely enough, voters can choose to join an “Undecided” group). The caucus doesn’t end until everyone is ”sorted,” which usually takes at least 2 or 3 rounds. 

7:06 PM – Iowa’s Democratic caucus set to kick off any minute in Polk County’s District 15 — also know as Beaverdale, a suburb of Des Moines known in ‘08 as “Obamadale” for its overwhelming support of the eventual Democratic nominee. Iowa Democrats call Beaverdale a stronghold of progressive activism. And though Clinton got buried out here last time around, most Democratic leaders expect a close-fought between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton — with a possible spoiler role played by partisans of Martin O’Malley. 

Support for Sanders and Clinton seems evenly matched so far — here’s a view of the caucus, at the gym in Hillis Elementary School:

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