Feb 3, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The second-choice question

Sen. Amy Klobuchar at a campaign rally in Cedar Rapids. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

DES MOINES, Iowa — Conversations with Amy Klobuchar and Andrew Yang supporters highlight how the order of tonight's winners in Iowa could hinge on who makes the first cut.

Why it matters: Caucus-goers will be asked for their second choice if their preferred candidate falls short of a 15% threshold — a high bar in a race that still has so many candidates.

The state of play: The frontrunners according to polls — Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden — each have been developing strategies to win over supporters of lower-tier candidates if they fall below that threshold.

  • A Monmouth University survey released last week found that 45% of likely caucus goers said they could change their mind about which candidate to support tonight.
  • “Klobuchar’s performance could be a real game changer in the final delegate allocation out of Iowa," Patrick Murray, the director of Monmouth University Polling Institute, told USA Today.
  • Biden surpassed Sanders (29% to 25%) in their polling when participants were asked how they'd caucus if Klobuchar and Yang fell short.

Voters drawn to Klobuchar's moderate brand of politics told Axios they liked the same of Biden, and at the end of the day it all comes down to who they think can actually beat President Trump in November. Some Buttigieg fans also overlap.

What they're saying: Mary Benton, a precinct captain for Klobuchar in Guthrie, Iowa, said she'd "switch to Biden if I had to."

  • "I think saving our democracy is more important than Medicare for All right now," she told Axios in the lobby of the Marriott hotel in downtown Des Moines.
  • Her husband, Tim, thinks Klobuchar can win over "post-industrial, Obama/Trump voters in the Midwest."
  • "I think a moderate centrist is important for this election as far as the electoral college is concerned," said Michael Adams.

Yang supporters we talked to expressed a wider range of second choices.

Jeff Thompson, 49, of Johnston is an independent voter who has supported Republican presidential candidates in years past, but detests President Trump and is inspired by what he sees as Yang's humanity and different approach.

  • If Yang falls short of viability, Thompson said he's open to supporting Buttigieg, Sanders, Warren or Biden but hadn't decided which.
  • "None of those would have gotten me to a Democratic caucus," Thompson said, but added that he'd back any of them in a general election as an alternative to Trump. 

Lori Wyble, 50, of Ankeny said she's drawn to Yang's message and feels that "he's kind of real" instead of a career politician. But if he falls short, her Plan B is Elizabeth Warren. 

  • "She's a woman. We need a change. And she's got balls, too."

The bottom line: Just because these supporters are ready to caucus for someone else doesn't mean the Klobuchar and Yang campaigns will end after Iowa — but it will send a signal to voters in other contests.

Go deeper