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Iowa Caucuses Begin Democrats' Presidential Nominating Contests


We are just days away from the actual real - I promise you - start of the 2020 presidential election. Monday is the Iowa caucuses, the first step in nominating a Democratic primary candidate.

And we have two MORNING EDITION hosts in Iowa to cover it. David is in western Iowa, and Rachel is in the eastern part of the state. They're asking voters what's on their minds. Hey, you guys.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Hello. Good morning.


KING: All right. So David, I want to start with you. You've been asking people about health care because Iowans keep telling pollsters that that is their No. 1 issue. So what are people telling you?

GREENE: Yeah, I totally believe those polls after yesterday. We spent a lot of yesterday with this doctor named Glenn Hurst. He's a family care physician. He's in this really rural county right along the Nebraska border. And he described to us how he's gone into debt - I mean, thousands of dollars of debt - to keep his clinic running. He'll often be treating patients who - you know, where he doesn't even know if he's going to get reimbursed for the care.

And then we spoke to another woman, Pat Kauffman (ph). She talked about how she can't afford her deductible each year, which is more than $6,000, and so she constantly takes out loans to cover it. The debt just builds up. They are both Democrats. They say they want a candidate who is going to act boldly, move the country towards a single-payer system. And they both feel like a whole lot is riding on these caucuses and in the general election for them.

MARTIN: Yeah, David, I'm hearing that, too. I'm in Dubuque, which is across the state from where you are; it's along the Mississippi River. And I talked to a bunch of young voters here. Health care comes up when you talk with them.

And then I also had a really moving conversation with a woman named Suellen Flynn (ph). She's got a 33-year-old son who struggles with mental illness. And she has had to scale back her work so she can just be home to take care of him because they can't afford the in-home professional care that he actually needs. And she said affordable mental health care is the top issue for her in this primary. And you're going to hear more of that conversation tomorrow.

KING: OK, great. Now, you guys are mostly focused on Democrats since they are picking their candidate. Republicans will almost certainly pick President Trump. Democrats have 12 options. How are people dealing with that?

MARTIN: (Laughter) Right. So I got an interesting answer on this from a man named Jerry Lynch (ph), born and raised in Dubuque County. We met up with him on his farm, where he grows corn and hay. And he's got some animals.

You have cattle over there.

JERRY LYNCH: Hey there, guys.

(Laughter) There's two bulls over there. They're nosy, so I thought I'd just holler.

MARTIN: He's the co-chair of his congressional district's Democratic Party. And the number of choices for him, Noel, is unnerving for him. It does not represent this kind of invigorating diversity within the party. Here's a little bit of our conversation.

You said when we walked in the door that this year, it just feels unstable.

LYNCH: Yeah. Well, there's too many. I mean, for God's sake, what is it - 12, 14, 15? I don't know. I wish we would have got down to two or three. But everybody's got their own thing.

MARTIN: So you're worried about a fractured party...

LYNCH: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: ...Going into the general.

LYNCH: Yeah. And I don't really - I don't think it's going to make a difference, really, as to who gets nominated. It's still going to be fractured.

MARTIN: What do you mean?

LYNCH: Well, there's diehard people. You know, this is my candidate. If I can't vote for him or her, why even vote? You know, that kind of an attitude.

MARTIN: So Jerry is a supporter of Joe Biden, we should say. But he is not convinced that even Biden, who talks about himself as being someone who can bring people together - Jerry does not believe he can really do it.

GREENE: Rachel, it's so interesting. You talk about fractured party with him. Last night here in Denison, Iowa, I was talking to a voter named Nathan Mahrt. He's a schoolteacher. He was the former mayor. I mean, he's really politically active. But he says he's not going to caucus on Monday. I mean, he loves talking about issues in caucuses. He's just afraid that the whole night is going to be fighting over who can beat President Trump. Here he is.

NATHAN MAHRT: I don't deal in fear so much, and being afraid that Donald Trump might win again doesn't encourage me (laughter) to go vote.

GREENE: And so just to clarify, I mean, he's going to vote in November. He just says he's not going to caucus because he loves when the party comes together and talks about issues and doesn't feel just bickering.

KING: OK. But this is an interesting point that not everyone gets; it took me a while. This is not exactly voting. These caucuses are meetings where people talk to each other, and then they, like, negotiate over candidates. Right?

GREENE: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. This is completely different, Noel. I mean, what they do here in Iowa is very unique. Caucuses - I mean, they're these community gatherings where you reach this point in the evening where people are urging their neighbors to join their camp - literally saying come over to my corner of the room. That voter Pat Kauffman I mentioned earlier - she went into major medical debt - she told me that the results in a precinct can actually - they can come down to - well, I'll just let her tell you.

PAT KAUFFMAN: In the past, this has been decided by cookies. I'm not kidding you. We've had campaigns win people over by bringing in a dozen cookies and giving them away and say - come over to our camp and have some cookies and talk to us.

GREENE: Really?

KAUFFMAN: Oh, yeah.

GREENE: Your candidate has no chance anymore. Come over; we got really good cookies.

KAUFFMAN: Exactly.

GREENE: So yeah. So she is going to be caucusing for Bernie Sanders. She said she is going into the night very determined but that, you know, she's going to make her case, she's going to talk about single-payer health care - but that if it comes down to it, she might have to resort to cookies. And I swear she was only half joking. So things here could be very, very unpredictable.

MARTIN: Right. One voter told us just days ago, before we came to Iowa, she was going to support Elizabeth Warren. By the time we actually got her and met her in Dubuque, she had changed her mind, and now she's with Bernie Sanders. So who knows what's going to happen?

GREENE: Who knows?

KING: Who knows?

MORNING EDITION co-hosts David Greene and Rachel Martin from western and eastern Iowa respectively. And we're going to be hearing lots more from them as the caucuses begin. Thanks, you guys.

GREENE: You got it.

MARTIN: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.