What it was like for suburban Democratic campaign volunteers to stump in Iowa

  • Former Buffalo Grove Mayor Elliott Hartstein waits in line Saturday to see South Bend Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg in Dubuque, Iowa.

      Former Buffalo Grove Mayor Elliott Hartstein waits in line Saturday to see South Bend Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg in Dubuque, Iowa. Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

  • Volunteers for Joe Biden including, from left, Beth Penesis, Emmanuel Llamas, Ted Penesis and Mark Guethle take a break from canvassing Saturday in Davenport, Iowa, at the former vice president's headquarters.

      Volunteers for Joe Biden including, from left, Beth Penesis, Emmanuel Llamas, Ted Penesis and Mark Guethle take a break from canvassing Saturday in Davenport, Iowa, at the former vice president's headquarters. Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

  • South Bend Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks Saturday in Dubuque, Iowa.

      South Bend Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks Saturday in Dubuque, Iowa. Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont heads to the stage Sunday at an event in Iowa City.

      Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont heads to the stage Sunday at an event in Iowa City. Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

  • University of Iowa faculty Brittany Borghi and Colin Kostelecky wait for Bernie Sanders at an event Sunday in Iowa City.

      University of Iowa faculty Brittany Borghi and Colin Kostelecky wait for Bernie Sanders at an event Sunday in Iowa City. Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont speaks at an event Sunday in Iowa City.

      Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont speaks at an event Sunday in Iowa City. Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

  • Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts greets supporters at a November campaign stop in Des Moines.

    Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts greets supporters at a November campaign stop in Des Moines. Associated Press

  • Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden greets audience members during a bus tour stop at Mason City, Iowa, in December.

    Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden greets audience members during a bus tour stop at Mason City, Iowa, in December. Associated Press

  • Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont speaks during the Iowa Farmers Union forum in Grinnell, Iowa.

    Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont speaks during the Iowa Farmers Union forum in Grinnell, Iowa. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 2/3/2020 9:59 AM

IOWA -- While thousands of Illinoisans head south for a little warmth in February, an intrepid group of adventurers is driving west on I-80 to the Hawkeye State.

They differ on nuances of universal health care, student debt and other Democratic causes, but all carry a torch for the unlikely romance of the Iowa caucuses.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Going door to door for Democratic presidential candidates like Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren is tiring, cold work. But a contingent of suburbanites feeds off the hope their candidate could be the one to break through Monday night when Iowa becomes the first state in the nation to pick its nominee for president.

"I think it's going to be really close," former Buffalo Grove Mayor Elliott Hartstein said Saturday at a Buttigieg rally.

On the menu for the Republicans is President Donald Trump, former suburban congressman Joe Walsh and former Massachusetts Gov. William F. Weld. But it's among Democrats that the stakes are the highest.

Des Moines -- Saturday, 9:30 a.m.

It's about 38 degrees and sunny on Walnut Street, a prosperous neighborhood with spacious single-family homes in West Des Moines.

"This is definitely the nicest canvassing weather I've had so far. I've been out in ice storms and snowstorms," said Arlington Heights native Elizabeth Lindquist, who carries a stack of flyers for Warren, the senator from Massachusetts.

In fact, conditions were so slippery once, Lindquist's car got stuck in an ice-covered driveway and had to be towed.

Elizabeth Lindquist walks a Des Moines neighborhood Saturday, canvassing for Massachussetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
  Elizabeth Lindquist walks a Des Moines neighborhood Saturday, canvassing for Massachussetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. - Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer
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She's undeterred, even taking time off work because "I really think that (Warren) has a uniquely deep understanding of how the government works and how the system is rigged against working people," Lindquist said.

Numerous residents are either sleeping in, out on errands or just not answering.

"I'll just add it to the collection of door hangers," Lindquist said, slipping a Warren leaflet next to a Biden one on a doorknob.

Sarah Eichorn, however, was at home and told Lindquist she's still on the fence. "I really like Warren, I like Pete (Buttigieg) ... Biden, too," she explained.

One neighbor, Chuck Wellman, admitted, "I'm more on the conservative side," and later posts an "I'm voting for (Donald) Trump" sign on his door.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Lindquist, meanwhile, is just warming up.

"If you have a packet of 50 doors and talk to 10 people, you're doing really well," she said. "The people you do talk to -- you make a real impact on -- it matters. Especially when it comes to Elizabeth Warren; there are so many people that don't know enough about her."

Dubuque: 2 p.m.

A dizzying array of major Democratic candidates and proxies are barnstorming the state as the date of the caucuses closes in.

Among them is South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who's in Dubuque for a Get out the Caucus Rally at Loras College.

Standing in line outside the college field house and talking up Buttigieg to fellow Democrats is Hartstein.

Buffalo Grove's Elliott Hartstein watches South Bend Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg in Dubuque, Iowa, on Saturday.
  Buffalo Grove's Elliott Hartstein watches South Bend Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg in Dubuque, Iowa, on Saturday. - Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

Buttigieg's "a pragmatic progressive, and that's really important because we want to win in the purple states. I don't believe people are going to go for extreme positions," Hartstein said.

Not everyone's on board.

"I'm pretty serious about Elizabeth Warren," Iowan Kate Kelly said. "I have not yet seen Pete. ... I like what he says and does." But "he's a mayor and everyone else is either senators or vice presidents."

Mirdza Berzins of Dubuque is all in for Buttigieg. "He's young and fresh, he's very bright." And his heart's in the right place, she added, recalling a TV clip of Buttigieg comforting a woman with ALS.

After introductions by Loras students and chants of "Mayor Pete," from the crowd of about 700, Buttigieg bounds onto the stage to Panic! At the Disco's "High Hopes."

"I'm thrilled to be here in Dubuque, the river city that reminds me of my own town," Buttigieg said.

"This campaign is built partly on the idea that we'd be well-served if we could start getting Washington to run a little more like our best-run cities and towns before the reverse starts happening."

As for Monday's results, Hartstein said, "I hope it's going to be Pete. ... We're going to try to make it happen."

Davenport -- 4:15 p.m.

Four Kane County area Democrats took a breather from persuading strangers to support former Vice President Joe Biden at his Davenport headquarters. Teams of canvassers handled about 104 houses each.

Ted Penesis of South Elgin holds the leashes of his retriever mix Goldie and hound mix Mandy outside Joe Biden's office in Davenport, Iowa, as wife, Beth, and volunteers Emmanuel Llamas, center left, and Mark Guethle of North Aurora look on.
  Ted Penesis of South Elgin holds the leashes of his retriever mix Goldie and hound mix Mandy outside Joe Biden's office in Davenport, Iowa, as wife, Beth, and volunteers Emmanuel Llamas, center left, and Mark Guethle of North Aurora look on. - Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

The three-story building also is home to offices for Warren and entrepreneur candidate Andrew Yang. Other Democrats in the race are Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and billionaire Tom Steyer.

It's Kane County Democratic Party Chairman Mark Guethle's fifth caucus and he predicts Biden will win in a close race.

"The caucus doors lock at 7 p.m. and they've got two hours to figure out who wins the delegate race," explained Guethle, a North Aurora village trustee.

Some candidates won't make a 15% support threshold, meaning their supporters will shift to a second choice.

"I think Klobuchar (supporters) in particular will hopefully realign with Biden," said Guethle, an officer with Painters District Council 30.

Ted and Beth Penesis of South Elgin have brought their two rescue dogs because the shy retriever/Pyrenees mix Goldie and endearing hound mix Mandy open doors.

"The best shot we have is Joe Biden, who is trusted and known throughout the world," said Beth Penesis. "We cannot survive four more years of Donald Trump's administration."

Aurora Alderman Emmanuel Llamas supports Biden because in the general election, "there are a lot of Reagan Republicans who are willing to go Democrat as long as it's the right candidate, and Joe Biden is that one."

Iowa City -- Sunday, 11:45 a.m.

Volunteer Dan Bailey of Wheaton waits for Sen. Bernie Sanders to speak Sunday at an event in Iowa City.
  Volunteer Dan Bailey of Wheaton waits for Sen. Bernie Sanders to speak Sunday at an event in Iowa City. - Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

Volunteer Dan Bailey of Wheaton spent Saturday walking the neighborhoods of Iowa City trying to get voters to share his fervor for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Now the retired locomotive engineer and nurse is getting his reward at a meet and greet for Sanders at the senator's Iowa City office Sunday.

"I want someone fighting to make sure our interests are represented. Bernie is that person," Bailey said. Asked about concerns Sanders is too left-wing, Bailey thinks the fiery liberal is just the person to galvanize voters with malaise. "Those people need to see someone really strong to change their normal behavior. They need a strong motivator."

The event is packed with 400 or so Bernie fans inside and an overflow crowd of about 150 parked outside. They include Iowans and Chicago-area voters, many of them students. University of Iowa faculty Brittany Borghi and Colin Kostelecky are self-described "hard Bernies."

"We feel a lot of disaffected Trump voters will turn to Bernie because he is the true populist candidate. He wants to help the people who are hurting the most, whereas Trump wants to exploit them," Kostelecky said.

"I think it's really unfortunate that we can take a term like socialism or liberalism and manipulate it so much to be a weapon against the people who very much need those ideals," Borghi said. While waiting, organizer Jody Clemens reminds the audience there's just one day before caucuses. "I need everybody here to commit to door-knocking," she said.

At 12:10 p.m., Sanders walks in to a rock-star reception.

"What (Trump) is trying to do is to divide America up," Sanders boomed. "Our campaign is exactly the opposite. Let us stand together as Americans around an agenda that works for all of us, not just the 1%."

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