Dog selfies? Stand-ins take centre stage for Iowa’s Democratic caucus
Elizabeth Warren has reportedly taken more than 100,000 “selfies” with supporters since launching her presidential bid last year.
But with days to go until the Iowa caucuses, the first major voting event of the Democratic presidential primary process, voters in the so-called Hawkeye State have been queueing this week for photographs with another Warren: the Massachusetts senator’s golden retriever, Bailey.
Bailey, accompanied by Ms Warren’s husband, Bruce Mann, has been acting as an official campaign surrogate while his owner — one of 100 senators acting as jurors in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial — is in Washington DC.
Surrogates, or high-profile volunteers who drum up enthusiasm for candidates, have been a staple of presidential campaigns before. Four years ago in Iowa, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton relied on canvassing support from her husband, former president Bill Clinton, alongside celebrities Katy Perry and Lena Dunham.
But they have taken on extra importance this year. Ms Warren, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar have all been stuck in Washington for the duration of the impeachment trial, unable to campaign until a verdict is reached.
Meanwhile presidential contenders Joe Biden, former vice-president, and Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, have been holding back-to-back events in early primary states.
The latest public opinion polls show a tight race heading into Monday’s caucuses. According to an average compiled by the website Real Clear Politics, Mr Sanders leads in Iowa, with 23.8 per cent of Democratic voters’ support, followed by Mr Biden on 20.2 per cent. Mr Buttigieg is on 15.8 per cent, Ms Warren on 14.6 per cent and Ms Klobuchar on 9.6 per cent.
But voters in the state are prone to making up their minds at the last minute, and the caucus system — in which voters are persuaded by their neighbours to realign if their top choice candidate does not get more than 15 per cent of the vote in a given precinct — also benefits candidates with high favourability ratings who can pick up support in later voting rounds.
As a result, Iowa caucuses have often ended with surprise victories for perceived underdogs, such as Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Barack Obama in 2008, leading many experts to conclude that this year’s race is too close to call.
“Obviously there are a lot of Iowans who are still trying to make up their mind,” said Dave Peterson, a professor of political science at Iowa State University. “Or, if they have made up their mind, they want that decision solidified. That is what this last run of events is all about.”
Bailey the retriever and Mr Mann are not the only campaign surrogates pounding the pavement for Ms Warren. The Massachusetts senator has also relied on former presidential candidate Julián Castro to host voter events throughout the state and, on Friday, Democratic congresswomen Deb Haaland, Katie Porter and Ayanna Pressley will also stump for the senator.
Meanwhile, two other high-profile progressive Democratic congresswomen — Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Pramila Jayapal of Washington state — will be in Iowa on Friday, canvassing for Bernie Sanders.
Ms Pressley and Ms Omar are two members of the so-called “Squad”, a group of four prominent left-leaning first-term congresswomen. The others, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, have already been in the Midwest campaigning for Mr Sanders in recent weeks.
According to the Sanders campaign, Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s star power attracted almost 6,000 people to her Sanders events in the state last weekend. Similarly large numbers are expected to turn out when the Sanders campaign puts on concerts this weekend with indie rock bands Bon Iver and Vampire Weekend.
“Senator Sanders has, frankly, a more exciting set of surrogates, which makes him better positioned than Klobuchar or Warren,” said Mr Peterson. “But it would certainly still be better for him if he were here in Iowa.”
At the same time, Ms Klobuchar’s campaign — which has hosted multiple “tele-town halls” this week, with thousands of voters phoning in to ask the candidate questions — is betting that smaller, more intimate events will win over voters in the senator’s absence.
Abigail Bessler, Ms Klobuchar’s 24-year-old daughter, hosted her sixth “hot dish house party” in Iowa on behalf of her mother on Thursday night. Hot dish is a casserole common in Minnesota, and Ms Klobuchar’s own “Taconite Tater Tot Hot Dish” recipe — ingredients include ground beef, shredded pepper jack cheese and hash browns — is served at the parties.
“Hot dish is a great unifier — just like Amy,” read an invitation to one event earlier this year.
“It’s kind of like the classic Midwestern get-together,” said Ms Bessler at Thursday’s party. Her pitch to the dozen voters gathered in the living room was briefly interrupted when two ducks convalescing in the homeowner’s bathroom began quacking.
“Caucusing is about engaging with your neighbours, bringing people together for a neighbourhood meeting,” Christina Freundlich, Ms Klobuchar’s deputy early states campaign director, said. “These hot dish house parties are just a reflection of that.”