10 de julio de 2020
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Iowa, between Biden's moderation and Bernie's revolution

By Beatriz Pascual Macias

Des Moines, Iowa, Feb 3 (efe-epa).- The enthusiasm of the volunteers who go door to door asking their neighbors to attend the Iowa Democratic caucuses on Monday night is mixed with growing exhaustion, and with empty pizza boxes and cups of coffee to rekindle their energy in the face of the big decision: Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders?

At Sen. Sanders' Iowa campaign headquarters in Des Moines, volunteer Sue Spicer spoons coffee grounds into a container while dozens of people come and go with chocolate bars, bananas or slices of pizza.

"An Army marches on its stomach," Spicer told EFE.

She is the unofficial "mom" of Sanders' office, making purchases and making sure that all the campaign personnel are well fed so that they can "focus" on winning the Iowa Democratic caucuses, the Midwestern mostly rural state being the one that kicks off the party's US primary season.

"People don't understand how much energy it takes to go and talk to strangers and go door to door like that if it's the first time they've done it," she said, outfitted in a black cap and a jean jacket covered with Bernie badges and buttons.

Spicer runs here and there offering food to the volunteers. Just a few hours before the caucuses about 100 people have congregated at Sanders' office in Des Moines but later they will go door to door trying to convince more people to vote for him.

Seated on chairs, the volunteers listen to a speech by Ja'Mal Green, one of the campaign staffers who says that, of the 11 Democratic candidates, Sanders is the best positioned to defeat President Donald Trump in the November election.

"This is a revolution!" exclaims Green, while simultaneously trying to calm down those who are expressing concern over Sanders' progressive campaign positions, calling the Vermont Democrat a "democratic socialist."

"Will he be able to get the votes from the center?" asks one of those people.

People who play it safe don't excite anyone, says Green, adding that they need a candidate who creates emotion, who gets people out to vote.

Meanwhile, some volunteers finish preparing colorful handmade signs. There's also a papier mache figure of the pink head of Bernie Sanders and a white dog that moves around the office wearing a collar that has a button reading "Dogs for Bernie, E-ruff is e-ruff!" a play on the words "enough is enough," referring - presumably - to Trump and his tenure in the White House.

The latest voter surveys give Sanders a much-needed win in Iowa, albeit by a rather narrow 4 percentage points over former Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden told NBC in an interview on Monday that the vote would be very close.

At the former VP's campaign HQ in Des Moines, the atmosphere is one of moderation, or "orderly" excitement. About a dozen people are there phoning up Iowa residents to try and convince them that Biden is the best candidate due to his moderate stances.

"Being a man from the center, he can communicate with people from the center, people who aren't Democrats and who are Republicans, but Republicans disenchanted with Trump. Biden can reach those people. There are other (candidates) who I think won't be able to reach those people," Nelson Cunningham told EFE, speaking in fluent Spanish.

Cunningham knows Biden very well, having started working for him 25 years ago when the Delaware Democrat was in the US Senate, and he describes him as a man who is, above all, "decent."

"I know very well that he's a good, decent, intelligent man and for me the right leader for our country starting in November," he said.

However, Biden, who heads the Democratic polls on the national level, has been criticized from his party's progressive wing for his inability to generate enthusiasm among the public like other candidates such as Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is also a progressive.

In the heat of the final stretch in Iowa, the state on Monday is facing the dilemma of deciding between the former vice president's moderation or Bernie's "revolution," as his supporters call it.

Recent polling puts the two men out in front of the other candidates, but nobody is ruling out the possibility that one of the other Democrats may be able to stage an upset.

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Iowa Latinos feel ignored by politicians on eve of caucuses

By Beatriz Pascual Macias

Marshalltown, Iowa, Feb 3 (EFE-EPA).- "The politicians are not paying much attention to Hispanics," said Mexican-born Maria del Carmen Alvis in Marshalltown, the city where she works in a pork processing plant that was the target of an anti-illegal-immigrant raid in 2006 and where Latinos are observing the Iowa caucuses that kick off on Monday with a rather large measure of hopelessness.

"Nobody ever comes here. Nobody. They never come. The candidates go to Des Moines to do their caucuses and everything they have to do, their speeches. They do all that in Des Moines because it's the biggest city here. But in the little towns around (Iowa), nothing. Here nothing happens," Maria del Carmen said.

Marshalltown is one of the towns in Iowa with the largest number of Latinos.

The 40-year-old told EFE that "Over time, you learn how to live like this," on the margins of politics and the citizens' assemblies known as the "caucuses" where Iowans will select the Democratic candidate who they want to face off against President Donald Trump in the November elections.

She is still thinking about whether she'll attend the local caucus on Monday evening, saying: "The only thing I'm sure of is that I'm going to vote for the Democratic Party. I don't want Donald Trump (in the White House) anymore. So, I'm hoping that the candidate that ... the Democratic Party (selects) is a good candidate."

Maria del Carmen has been working at the JBS Swift & Co pork processing plant for the past 19 years and emphasized that she has never seen so much unease among her co-workers.

Since he moved into the White House in January 2017, Trump has increased the number of anti-immigrant raids at workplaces, significantly raising the fear level among undocumented migrants who have seen the authorities barge into their lives and deport them.

During the 2006 raid at JBS Swift & Co. Maria del Carmen was inside the plant. "It was a very bad thing, very dramatic, very sad, very sad," she said.

"They stuck us all in the dining room, they put others in their work areas, in different places and all of the (immigration officials) had pistols in their hands, as if we were criminals," she recalled. "They closed the doors, they didn't let us go to the bathroom, kept us incommunicado, without being able to use telephones, without being able to use anything and they scoured the whole plant."

After the raid, the company announced a plan to ensure that all its employees had authorization to work in the US and, as a result, the number of Hispanics at the plant declined.

However, over time, the number of Hispanics has been rising again and now they represent 45 percent of the plant's 2,400 employees with most of them being Mexican nationals, although there are also Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Cubans and Puerto Ricans, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

JBS Swift & Co. is a major source of employment in Marshalltown and has attracted many Latinos. Its main advantages: good pay and stable work.

"I started out like everyone. Here you always start at the bottom," she said.

At first, while she was pregnant with her first daughter, Maria del Carmen worked in the slaughterhouse, where the hogs are killed. Then, she moved to the processing line where all work is timed and you have to cut up the meat quickly, and now she works in the quality control area and is much happier.

"The work is hard, and it's work that the Americans don't do. ... (But) we came here to do the work we could find because we wanted to be able to have a better future for ourselves, for our children," Maria del Carmen said.

The job has allowed her to save enough money to buy the house where she told her story to EFE. On one wall hangs a black-and-white photo of her son in cowboy clothing and, on a shelf, there is another picture of her two daughters, one wearing a pink dress and the other wearing blue. There, too, is a crucifix and a spray can of furniture polish.

Maria del Carmen's family is part of the wave of Latin American immigrants who came to Iowa at the beginning of the 1990s.

Their presence changed the state's demography. Between 1990 and 2018 the Hispanic population of Iowa skyrocketed by 480 percent, according to the Iowa State Data Center.

Currently, Hispanics make up just 6 percent of the rural Midwestern state's 3.1 million residents, most of whom are white Anglos, but by 2050 forecasts are that that percentage will double to 12 percent, according to Woods and Poole Economics, a firm specializing in long-term demographic projections.

The change is being felt on the streets of Marshalltown, where one can always hear Spanish spoken, as well as in the grocery stores, where all sorts of typical Hispanic food products are to be found. EFE-EPA

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How do the Iowa caucuses work and why are they controversial?

By Beatriz Pascual Macias

Des Moines, Iowa, Feb 3 (efe-epa).- After months of campaign events, debates and promises, Democratic voters in Iowa on Monday will kick off the lengthy process of choosing a nominee to run against incumbent President Donald Trump in November.

Residents of Iowa, a rural state in the midwestern United States, will meet Monday night at voting precincts state-wide for so-called "caucus meetings."

There will be also be Republican caucuses in that state, although because Trump faces no significant challenge from within his own party all eyes are on the Democrats.

At precisely 7 pm local time, Iowans will stop waiting in line and enter one of the 1,678 precincts where the meetings will be held: from gymnasiums and school cafeterias to churches, basements and even private homes.

The Iowa caucuses capture the attention of the media and the general public every four years because they are the first nominating contest of the US presidential primary season and thus can provide significant momentum to the winner.

In recent years, however, the out-sized importance of this state has been called into question given that there are roughly 150 million registered voters in the US and only 2 million of them live in Iowa. And of those 2 million, only between 200,000 and 300,000 will take part Monday night in the caucuses.

This first voting state also does not reflect the country's diversity: Hispanics and African-Americans make up 16.3 percent and 13.6 percent of the US population, respectively, while only 5 percent of Iowa's population is Hispanic and just 3.4 percent is African-American, according to the 2010 census.

The first thing to understand about the contest in Iowa is that it is not a primary election.

In a primary election, voting begins in the morning and lasts all day. Once the voting precincts close, the votes are counted.

But in the caucuses there are no voting hours nor ballots to place in ballot boxes. Instead, neighbors meet up at a caucus site and position themselves in a particular part of the room designated for their preferred candidate, a process known as the "first alignment."

Under this year's rules, if a caucus-goer chooses a so-called "viable" candidate, one with the support of 15 percent or more of those present, his or her support for that candidate is locked in and the process for that participant ends there.

But those backing a candidate who does not reach that 15 percent threshold in the first alignment become "free agents" and can switch their support to another candidate in the second round, known as the "final alignment."

The final alignment is the most intriguing part of the evening because people who may be very far apart politically start engaging with and trying to persuade one another, with those supporting a viable candidate trying to win the backing of caucus-goers who initially chose a less popular rival.

Those supporting initially non-viable candidates, however, also can try to win more support for their preferred choice in an effort to push them past the 15 percent threshold. Alternatively, people may join a so-called "uncommitted" section, which also can be reported as part of the final alignment if it attracts 15 percent or more of the vote.

When the lobbying is finished, each precinct will tally up the results of the first and final alignments and the number of delegates to county conventions that each candidate receives (based on the results of the final alignment).

Iowa's Democratic Party also will compile a similar set of results state-wide: first alignment results, final alignment results and so-called "state delegate equivalents" (SDEs).

Traditionally, the candidate with the most SDEs has been considered the winner of that state, but since Iowa's Democratic Party this year will release all three results in a bid to enhance transparency, it is possible for more than one candidate to emerge victorious in the different categories.

Iowa awards just 41 pledged delegates (allocated proportionately) to the Democratic National Convention, a small fraction of the 1,990 delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination. EFE-EPA

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