Difference between caucus and primary makes it important for Iowa voters to have 2nd choice

Democratic presidential candidates are preparing for a final, frenetic weekend of campaigning ahead of the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, kick-starting the battle to take on President Donald Trump in November, but how important are second-choice candidates for Iowa voters? 

Unlike a traditional primary where voters go into a booth and cast a ballot, a caucus is a group effort — a group of registered voters in a room showing support for a particular candidate. 

“Usually they like to have all the people who support Biden go over here, if you support Buttigieg go over to this corner – if you support Sanders or Warren – so you have all the groups try to gather together and they count up all the people that are there,” said Tim Hagle of the University of Iowa.  

Each group backing a certain candidate has to make up 15 percent of all the attendees in the room for that contender to be considered “viable” to earn delegates. 

“If you’re not viable then you have to reorganize and then it’s like OK, who his your second choice candidate? And then you have some negotiation that takes place and that’s where the campaigns talk to each other and they try to make deals that they say, ‘We’ll give you a delegate slot or vote you in as a delegate,’ or something of that nature,” Hagle said.  

In Iowa, it may be important to have a “second choice” or a backup candidate who you might support during a second round of the caucus, if your favorite doesn’t meet that 15-percent threshold. 

Some Iowans say that they are ready, for the most part.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were some voters’ second choice. “I don’t really have a second choice, I don’t even have a first choice, I’m just here to learn,” said another voter.  

“Yang has been my third choice for quite a while, I have a top three and he’s in the top three. I’m really focused right now on those three and I’m kind of undecided for Monday at this point,” one voter said. 
“Second choice would be Buttigieg,” another voter said. 

“Pete is my number one but if I had to pick somebody else it would be Andrew Yang,” said another. 

Other voters were committed to their candidates of choice and weren’t yet willing to speculate on the possibility of having to select a backup.
“Firefighters are in for Joe Biden, we’re not thinking about second choices,” one voter said. 

“Presently no – I’ve eliminated everyone else except Pete – so that’s where I’m at,” said another voter.  

But political experts in the Hawkeye State say no matter what, caucus-goers are looking for someone who is electable, someone who can replace the current commander in chief. 

“The main goal among Democrats is to find someone who can beat Donald Trump,” Hagle said. 

All the Democratic candidates are looking for a strong showing in the state that could lift them heading into later contests that will help decide the Democratic nomination.

The Associated Press and Stringr contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.