Photos by Ruth Conniff
The Hillary Clinton/Bernie Sanders tie in the Iowa caucuses made it official: Voters are fed up with the political establishment.
Hillary, who finished ahead by a tiny margin in the closest Iowa Democratic caucus in history, did her best to present the results as a win, telling supporters at her “victory party” in Des Moines that she was breathing a “sigh of relief.” But having poured money and organizational muscle into Iowa only to emerge in a dead heat with Sanders was bad news for the Clinton campaign.
The real story out of Iowa was the incredible outpouring for Sanders, particularly among young voters, who formed the core of his support.
The youth vote for Sanders was visible at his last campaign rally in Des Moines, where young people sporting knit caps and “Feel the Bern” T-shirts cheered as Josh Hutcherson, star of The Hunger Games, and members of the band Foster the People introduced Sanders.
When organizers asked the crowd, “How many of you have never caucused before?” a sea of hands went up. Sure enough, Sanders won 84 percent of caucus goers between the ages of 17 and 29, to Hillary Clinton’s 14 percent.
Jeremy Boyce, 31, a precinct co-captain for Sanders, and Leon Haggerty, 23, a Canadian who came to Iowa to volunteer for Bernie attended the rally in Des Moines together, drawn to Sanders’s call for a “political revolution.”
“For me, from Canada, he’s going in the direction of our politics,” said Haggerty. “We have the socialized medicine he’s proposing and it works.”
“I trust him,” said Boyce. “You can watch videos from 30 years ago and he’s saying the same things. He wants what’s best for people, not the Halliburtons of the world and the corporations.”
Boyce and Haggerty were surrounded by nurses in red t-shirts from National Nurses United, which has endorsed Sanders.
Carrie England, a nurse in a Des Moines hospital said she started out as a Hillary Clinton supporter. “I thought that I should support a woman being President,” England said. “But when it came down to it, I had to ask is this about a woman in the White House or making a real, revolutionary change?”
England has three adult children who went to public college and each has about $50,000 in student loan debt. She supports Sanders’s call for a “Robin Hood” tax to pay for free public college and universal health care .
“I believe he really cares about people,” she said. “There’s no reason people can’t get their needs met.”
RoseAnn DeMoro of National Nurses United told the crowd: “What is disgraceful is another candidate is telling us that guaranteed, universal health care, quote ‘will never, ever happen.’
“I’m so sick of politicians who tell us to lower our expectations,” DeMoro added.
The call for a more ambitious, idealistic vision, as opposed to Hillary’s pragamatic incrementalism, clearly resonated in Iowa.
On both the left and the right, there is a strong feeling that, as Sanders puts it, “It’s too late for establishment politics and establishment economics”
Or, as Ted Cruz, who won the Republican caucuses, put it “If we’re going to break the Washington cartel, the only way to do it is we have to take it on and bring power out of Washington and back to the people.”
“I’m tired of all the money going to the top,” said Q. Humphrey, an older African American man who runs his own catering business and came out to support Bernie in Des Moines. “This country’s not broke,” he added. “I might be over at Hillary’s if she talked more like Bernie. But she’s not talking about breaking up the banks. I said a long time ago we either needed Bernie or Elizabeth Warren.”
At the caucus at Happy’s Place bar and grill in Dubuque, which went 5-4 for Clinton, the Hillary section looked spiffy. Plates of cookies and bunches of red, white and blue balloons adorned the tables. A cheerful group of older voters sat together, chatting and laughing.
The Sanders section was more sparse. The only decorations were posters denouncing Wall Street and Big Pharma. But the Sanders side slowly filled up as a less cohesive group of voters arrived one by one and in pairs.
“Let’s face it, Wall Street owns our country. It’s just a fact,” said Penny Meyer, who works as a customer service representative at the Medline company in Dubuque. “Bernie is the only one who recognizes that.”
Chloe Stanton, a 17-year-old Dubuque high school student and her mother, Stephanie Stanton, who also works at Medline, were supporting Bernie and worried about student debt. So were John Benda and Maria Ambrosy, students from Wallert Catholic High.
The Trump/Sanders Vote
At a rally for Donald Trump, who finished second in Iowa, dental hygienist Rochelle Novick said she was supporting Trump but had also considered Sanders.
“I think he’s willing to step outside the box of regular politics and talk about what people should talk about, instead of that crap all the other politicians talk about,” Novick said of Trump. “I’ve usually voted either liberal or Democratic,” she added. “I’ve looked at Sanders a little bit.”
Richard Hootman, a Vietnam vet explained he was supporting Trump because, “he’s not one of the good ol’ boys. I’ve been voting for good ol’ boys all my life.”
“He’s been successful all his life, and that says a lot,” Hootman added. “He knows how to get the American Dream. I’ve got ten kids, and the American Dream is out of my kids’ reach.”
Hootman’s children, who are grown, are working multiple jobs and sharing a house to cut costs and scrape by, he said.
Asked how Trump could make that better, he said “Hopefully he’s gonna give us back the America I grew up in.”
The weakness of the Trump organization in Iowa was visible at his event at the Doubletree Hilton in Cedar Rapids. Not a single local politician spoke from the stage before Sarah Palin got up to introduce Trump.
A man dressed as an ear of corn and waving a Trump sign said he didn’t’ know where his caucus met, or whether he would caucus for Trump. The caucus, it turned out, was in the same ballroom where the rally was held, and Trump himself introduced the organizer for the Trump side: Trump’s daughter, Ivanka.
Speaking to the crowd in the hotel ballroom, Trump was brash and optimistic: “We’re gonna win!” After decades of “losing,” he said, “We’re gonna win with trade! We’re gonna win with our military!”
And then there was the macho appeal. Looking around the room he declared that the Paris attacks would never have happened if members of the crowd “like that tough cookie over there,” had been armed and present.
“We’re gonna beat her so badly,” he said of Hillary Clinton.
Warned about a protester in the audience, he urged the crowd to “knock the crap out of him.”
Outside, in the hotel foyer, a man in fatigues was selling buttons that said “Bomb the shit out of ISIS.” A young guy in a Bernie Sanders T-shirt approached, carrying a hand-written sign that said “Hug a Bernie Supporter.”
“Sure!” said the vendor in fatigues. The Sanders supporter agreed to buy a $20 Trump cap, and the man in fatigues put down his merchandise and embraced him.