DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) – Scores of volunteers from across the United States descended on icy Iowa ahead of Monday’s Democratic caucus with one goal: nominating a candidate who can defeat Republican President Donald Trump in November.
Walking door-to-door to try to win over campaign-wary Iowans can be lonely and thankless work, but opinion polls showing a tight race and Democrats’ widespread aversion to Trump have kept volunteers coming to the rural state that hosts the nation’s first nominating contest of the 2020 election.
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Maryland native Dylan Newberry, 27, moved to Iowa in early January to volunteer for U.S. Senator Cory Booker. He then extended his stay and switched his support to former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg after Booker dropped out.
“Our leader (Trump) is very much trying to divide us with hate,” Newberry said as he carried a clipboard door-to-door in a quiet neighborhood in Des Moines. “I really think we need to win this election.”
Newberry is one of thousands volunteering for Buttigieg, who is trailing U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden in most opinion polls and needs a strong showing in Iowa to remain in contention.
The Sanders campaign, which has seen a recent surge in support in Iowa, said volunteers from all over the country knocked on 130,000 doors during the last weekend of January alone. The campaigns declined to give exact numbers of volunteers working in the state.
The caucuses have no paper ballots and choose candidates entirely by turn-out at 1,600 meetings, giving volunteers an outsize role in the process, said Judy Downs, executive director of the Polk County Democrats.
“Whether that’s providing rides or childcare, the campaign that can turn out voters the best is going to win,” said Downs.
Opinion polls show Sanders and Biden in a dead heat, with Buttigieg and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren close behind. U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar is fifth, the only other candidate within striking distance of the leaders.
On one recent chilly morning, Newberry struggled to find residents who would agree to caucus for Buttigieg. Most were either at work or unwilling to open their door to yet another campaign representative.
Sometimes residents have accused him of trespassing or soliciting. Hostile dogs have forced him to skip a house. Life as a volunteer can be lonely and stressful, Newberry said as he trudged through the snow.
Newberry has volunteered on behalf of candidates in other elections, but said the stakes seem higher this time in Iowa, where a crowded field is vying to win their party’s nomination for a chance to topple Trump.
“I get up every day in this cold just with that motivation,” he said. “I just have to reach as many people as possible.”
Reporting by Pavithra George; Additional reporting by Simon Lewis and Jarrett Renshaw; Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Daniel Wallis