Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar won the first-ever Iowa Caucus to take place in Port Charlotte, Fla. Whether she’s so lucky when voters in the actual state caucus remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, the nearly 140 Iowa voters in Southwest Florida for the winter felt excited just to participate in the historic event.
“I was going to fly back home to do it but was glad this happened here,” said caucus-goer Peggy Doerge. “Caucusing is such a privilege, you don’t not do it.”
At the caucus, held at Unitarian Universalist Church, there were ultimately two alignments.
In the first, Klobuchar held a strong lead with 48 supporters.
South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg had the second most with 38 supporters, while Vice President Joe Biden came in third with 33.
That was enough for each of those three to remain viable for further alignments. But some contenders were not so lucky.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren only had 12 supporters on the first rotation, not enough to meet the 15% threshold for further rounds.
Vermont Sen, Bernie Sanders has a single supporter, while billionaire Tom Steyer had two and entrepreneur Andrew Yang had one.
Other candidates on the ballot — Colorado Sen. Michael Bennett, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick — all failed to receive any support.
In the second rotation, rankings remained the same.
Klobucher grew ranks to 56 supporters. Buttigieg’s caucus grew to 43. Biden’s stayed the same at 33.
Three caucus-goers chose not to side with another choice in the second realignment.
What’s it all mean? Even within the caucus leadership in Port Charlotte, that was initially unclear. At one point, the group was told there would by four delegates awarded to Klobuchar, three to Buttigieg and two to Biden. But none of the individuals at the event could be chosen as delegates themselves — just alternates.
But totals in the first and final rotation will be included in statewide counts tonight, and winning the satellite caucuses does matter, said Secretary Susan Hegland. “The counts will count,” she said.
The rules of the caucus, of course, seem foreign to many Florida politicos.
“It’s amazing to see all these snowbird Iowans come out,” said Lou Grossman, a Sarasota Democrat and Biden precinct captain who came to the Port Charlotte event. He couldn’t vote but made the case from the podium for Biden.
“It’s amazing to see all these people committed to the caucus system,” he said.
Of course, the process feels familiar to the Iowans gathered in Port Charlotte. Many had participated in caucuses before.
Signs for every candidate hung on walls in the church sanctuary or lobby, and supporters for an initial count gathered under their top choice. That initial tabulation will be made part of a statewide count for first alignments.
But those candidates with less than 15% of the caucus, in this case about 20 people, were eliminated for subsequent alignments. In the case of Port Charlotte, that quickly produced a top three.
“I’ve been to caucuses before, many of them very disorganized,” said caucus-goer Terry Timmins. “This was much better. Imagine all this happening in a high school gymnasium.”
Timmons owns a winter home in Estero but remains registered to vote in Urbandale, Iowa. He arrived and caucused for Warren, but when she failed to make the second round moved over to the Klobuchar crowd.
Tim Rockafellow, an Iowan visiting his sister in Southwest Florida, showed up as the only supporter of Yang. He knew his top choice wouldn’t be viable, but planned to caucus with Sanders in a second alignment. When the possibility disappeared, who chose to remain uncommitted in the final alignment.
Still, he felt excited to participate in a caucus without having to brave the weather in Des Moines. “It feels a little disorganized, but it’s always disorganized,” he said.
The turnout validated the need for satellite offices to some of those who fought for the Port Charlotte event.
Margaret Tore, who pressed Iowa state party leaders to conduct the satellite caucus, said it was important to bring the beloved process to Iowans where they were.
“A caucus is a conversation, not a vote,” she emphasized. “You have to look at each other face to face, get excited and talk about. You are not in a booth. You are not on a computer. You are not voting in a little circle on a piece of paper. You are caucusing.”