5 things to know about the Iowa Caucuses

Tens of thousands of Iowa Democrats are expected to turn out to determine who wins the first-in-the-nation contest after an exhaustive campaign season that began two years ago.  

With the Iowa caucus set for Monday, here’s a look at the five things you should know before the start of the official nomination contests


So what’s new with this year’s caucus

As Iowa Democrats gather together Monday to kick off the nomination contests that eventually lead to the party’s nominee, a process that dates back to the 19 century, this year may look a little different.

Typically, Iowans vote for delegates who support a given candidate, moving from one part of the room dedicated to their candidate to another.

This year, there will be “satellite caucuses” for the first time, in an effort to make it more accessible.

It will give those who may not be able to leave a job or an assisted living facility to still participate in the caucus. Some Iowa residents living outside of the state will also have a shot to participate.

Iowa Democrats say there will be 99 satellite sites with 71 in Iowa, 25 in other states — and three international sites across the globe. 

The state of play in the Caucus state

Latest CBS News polling shows a tight and fluid race heading into the final push in Iowa. Top choices for likely participants?  Senator Bernie Sanders has 26 percent of support and former Vice President Joe Biden is just behind him with 25 percent. 

South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, is within striking distance at 22 percent. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is next, with 15 percent, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has 7 percent.

Keep an eye on those candidates polling at 15 percent and below…

How the process works

Registered Democrats gather at a location known as a precinct, based on their address. There are 1,678 precincts across Iowa.

Once a candidate reaches the “viability threshold” — support from at least 15 percent of caucus-goers in the room — their delegates are locked in.

However, if you are with a candidate who has less than 14 percent of support, a critical process called realignment begins where supporters can recast their support to another candidate. 

This means there’s a chance that supporters of Elizabeth Warren, who is polling at the threshold, could help put someone like Bernie Sanders over the top.

In previous years, there were several rounds of realignment, but there will only be one round this year in an effort to speed the caucus process up.

Iowa can send candidates on a path to the nomination

The last four Democrats to win the Iowa caucus also went on to win their party’s nomination — Al Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004, Barack Obama in 2008, and Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

You have to look all the way back to 1992 to break that pattern. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin won his home state’s caucus that year, but it was Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton who went on to win the nomination.

Sure, Iowa is important, but…

Winning the Iowa caucus can be a huge breakthrough for candidates, giving them just the push they need heading into the next round. There’s a long primary process, and in the end, it all comes down to delegates.

There are 3,979 total pledged delegates up for grabs in the 2020 Democratic primary process, and a candidate must win a majority of those pledged delegates to claim the nomination on the first ballot at the convention. 

There are only 41 delegates at stake in the Iowa caucus –  roughly 1 percent of the total delegate count. That means 99 percent of the race occurs after the caucuses in Iowa. 

In fact, one month after Iowa is Super Tuesday, when 14 states will hold primaries and caucuses, awarding 1,357 delegates.

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