Jan 14, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Dems could give Haley a boost in Iowa caucuses

Nikki Haley campaigns in the snow wearing a pink coat.

Nikki Haley campaigns Saturday in Iowa City. Photo: Alex Scott/Bloomberg via Getty Images

DES MOINES — Some Iowa Democrats and independents are planning to crash the state's Republican caucuses Monday night and become "Republicans for a day" to vote for Nikki Haley — but mostly, against former President Trump.

Why it matters: It's unclear how many will show up, but "crossover" voting is a low-key tradition in Iowa's caucuses — and it's one of the big unknowns heading into Monday, along with how the dangerously cold weather will affect things.

How it works: Iowa allows day-of party registration for voters, and Democrats aren't holding in-person presidential caucuses this year.

  • That's given mischievous anti-Trump voters "a chance to diminish Trump's inevitability," as Don McLeese of West Des Moines put it.
  • McLeese told Axios he'll be a crossover voter Monday: "I'll hold my nose and caucus for Haley," the former UN ambassador who's been rising in GOP polls.

Lyle Hansen, a Republican precinct captain for Haley in Cedar Rapids, acknowledges that "there could be a good crossover" vote for Haley because Democrats "get to come over and pick the candidate for Biden to oppose."

  • Hansen speaks from experience, having crossed over to vote in the Democratic caucus in 2016 in order to vote against Hillary Clinton.

Jonathan Neiderbach, a Democrat from Des Moines, said he'll register to caucus as a Republican for Haley.

  • "I believe all Americans should cast a vote against Donald Trump every chance we have," he said.

Reality check: Crossover voters are highly unlikely to help Haley catch Trump, who's consistently had a big lead in Iowa polls.

  • But GOP strategist David Kochel said that if crossovers see Haley as the best Republican alternative to Trump, they could help her finish a solid second in Iowa, ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
  • "If you even had 5,000 or 7,500 people across the state cross over for her, that might be the difference between her and Ron DeSantis," Kochel said.

The intrigue: There's some risk for Iowa's Democratic Party if many of its members cross over to vote with Republicans.

  • People who switch parties to participate in a caucus sometimes don't switch back, Tim Hagle, a political scientist at the University of Iowa, tells Axios.
  • Democrats' plans to have mail-in voting rather than in-person caucuses could prove to be a lost opportunity, Hagle said, because caucus events traditionally have been an "amazing" party-building tool.
  • Kochel notes that when Barack Obama first ran for president in 2008, Iowa Democrats had their "biggest caucus ever," and "57,000 people came into the Democratic Party."

The big picture: If Haley benefits from crossover voters, it could feed into Trump's claims that Democrats are helping to prop up her campaign.

  • Trump senior adviser Chris LaCivita brushed aside any concerns about crossover voters aiding Haley.
  • "If that is something they are relying on to get through the night, then poor people, I feel bad for them," LaCivita told Axios.

Haley campaign spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas countered that Haley is a "tried and true conservative who's working to earn every vote."

  • On the campaign trail, Haley frequently cites polls that suggest as many as 75% of Americans don't want a Trump-Biden rematch in November.
  • "Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections," Perez-Cubas said.
  • "That's nothing to be proud of. The Republican Party should be a story of addition."
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