Despite being more than a thousand miles from the state, hundreds of Iowans participated in their state’s first-in-the-nation presidential vote Monday — in Southwest Florida.
Following a test run of four sites in 2016, the Iowa Democratic Party held 87 satellite caucuses outside of the state on Monday as an attempt to accommodate residents living elsewhere during the winter. In addition to St. Petersburg and Port Charlotte, two cities in the Panhandle – Gulf Breeze and Miramar Beach – also caucused.
“We need someone [in the White House] that represents our country,” said Lucy Charleston from Sioux Center, a small town in Iowa’s northwest corner, who took part in the St. Petersburg event. “Trump doesn’t represent our country.”
Though reporting problems plagued the release of the statewide results, winners and losers were announced at the conclusion of some local meetings, including those in Southwest Florida.
In St. Petersburg, 106 people showed up to participate. 135 attended the caucus in Port Charlotte. In both, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar was attendees’ first choice, followed by former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Former Vice President Joe Biden finished third in Port Charlotte, but fourth in St. Petersburg. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren came in third place in St. Petersburg, but was out of the running further south. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and businessman Andrew Yang were shut out at both sites.
Both caucuses were held at churches. Attendees arriving at the Port Charlotte caucus were met with Black Lives Matter signs and a pro-LGBT flag. Inside, posters displaying the names of Democratic candidates hung around the room and several people held up signs of support for their preferred candidate.
In St. Petersburg, Floridians also tried to influence the Iowa voters. Those rallying for Sanders sported a giant head of the Democratic socialist, while Warren and Biden supporters held cardboard cutouts.
“I want a woman. I am tired of old white men,” said Des Moines resident Deb Hill-Davis. “[Klobuchar’s] got some political clout, she’s smart, she’s been able to get things done and she’s just down to Earth and a very articulate intelligent woman.”
A caucus is similar to a primary in that registered voters of a particular party decide on a presidential nominee. However, unlike a primary, voters physically move around a room and mark their preferred candidate by standing in groups.
If candidates receive more than 15 percent, they are considered viable and caucus-goers in those groups are locked into their decisions. However, if candidates do not garner 15 percent, their supporters can either try to convince others to join them, join other groups or remain undecided.
In St. Petersburg, neither Sanders nor Warren reached that threshold after the first round of voting. But several Sanders supporters moved to Warren in the second round, increasing her tally and pushing her past 15 percent.
Prior to the start of voting, Donna Winter, a former high school U.S. history teacher who helped organize the St. Petersburg caucus, asked the Florida-based supporters to leave the room where the voting was taking place, citing a fire hazard.
Undeterred, several Warren supporters quickly found a window and continued to campaign by holding up their signs out on the grass for the caucus-goers to see.
Winter did not expect the event to go so well. She had previously said that she did not even expect her husband to attend.
“I did not know another Democrat in Florida,” said Winter. “I thought surely there would have to be more snowbirds.”
Out of the 120 Iowans that signed up for the caucus, 106 participated according to Winter. More would have joined, she said, but didn’t make the Jan. 17 registration deadline.
“I would have been happy with 20 people,” said Winter.
Choices from the satellite caucuses are fed into a separate formula which helps determine candidates’ delegate counts for regional and state conventions. This, in turn, will help determine whose supporters will be sent to the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee to choose the party’s presidential nominee.
Text reporting was done by Bianca Marcof and Laura Antunez. Video reporting was done by Beatriz De La Portilla and Tamica Jean-Charles.