Brad Weber and Emma Stoltzfus — Staff Writers
This year’s precinct caucuses were held on Feb. 5—the first in the nation to occur in 2018. The 1681 precincts met around Iowa to discuss platforms and to nominate candidates.
2018 was an off year, in that the president is not up for reelection, and so the caucus was focused on gubernatorial and congressional races, and turnout was relatively low.
This year, the Democrats and Republicans were joined by the Libertarians in their caucusing endeavors, thanks to the strong showing of Gary Johnson in 2016 that gained the Libertarian party major party standing in Iowa. The Libertarian caucus for all of Sioux County was held in Sioux City, the Republican caucus was held in Orange City, and the Democratic caucus met separately for its 16 precincts.
At a typical Iowa Democratic caucus, participants form preference groups according to the candidates they support. Then a half hour is given for people to persuade others to support their candidate. After this, all candidates below 15% of the vote are removed, and their supporters must select a new candidate. Then each preference group selects delegates for the county convention who will support their candidate.
The Republican caucus is structured differently; a simple ballot vote is taken, and delegates for each candidate are selected based on this vote.
Turnout at the caucus was, as expected, low compared to that of a presidential election year; the Democratic caucus for Sioux Center North had three participants, and the Republican caucus for Sioux Center South had two participants. Jeff Taylor, Professor of Political Science at Dordt College, compared caucus turnout to the ebb and flow of tides. Compounding the issue of low turnout, Northwest Iowa was hit by a snowstorm the night of the caucus.
The Republican caucus, according to Taylor, began with speeches from some of the primary candidates. Then, the individual precincts split off to nominate delegates and discuss platforms. Taylor, who is also the Sioux County South district Chairman for the Republican party, said that most attendees were party activists.
The Democratic caucus for Sioux Center Central and Sioux Center North were held jointly at the All Seasons Center. A total ten participants were present, including seven from Sioux Center Central, and three from Sioux Center North. With such a small turnout, policy and candidates were not discussed, and participants did not separate into preference groups as is typical for a caucus. Instead, delegates were selected to go to the Sioux County Democratic Convention based on availability. Sioux Center North filled both of their delegate slots, but Sioux Center Central filled only two of their three. Dordt senior Brad Weber was selected as a delegate, and will also serve on the platform committee.
The largest election for Sioux County is the gubernatorial election, in which there are currently 13 candidates: eight Democrats, two Republicans, two libertarians, and an independent. Taylor believes that the incumbent, Kim Reynolds, holds a slight edge over the competition despite not previously being elected to the post. She was appointed to the governorship in 2017 to replace longstanding Governor Terry Branstad after he became the US ambassador to China.
Steve King, the congressional representative for Iowa’s 4th district is also up for reelection. Republican Cyndi Hanson is challenging him in the primaries and spoke at the Sioux County Republican Caucus; according to Taylor, she had a poor reception. The Democrats have put forward four primary candidates, from which one will be selected to challenge King in the general election. Most political pundits believe that King will win reelection easily due to his previous election record; in 2014, King won reelection with an overwhelming 61.6% of the vote.