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With 2 months to Democratic caucus, many Northwest Iowans remain undecided
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With 2 months to Democratic caucus, many Northwest Iowans remain undecided

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Jack Hysell, left, and Dan Patterson, who taught Hysell at South Sioux City High School, take a selfie at a Pete Buttigieg town hall Nov. 26 at West Middle School in Sioux City. They are among many Northwest Iowa residents who are assessing the field of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to settle on a person to caucus for in two months.

SIOUX CITY -- The Iowa caucuses take center stage in the U.S. political world on Feb. 3.

Jim Anderson, a Democrat from Le Mars, Iowa, has an inkling when he'll decide on which presidential candidate to caucus for: "February 3rd."

The outcome of the Iowa caucuses, the first contest in the nomination season, will be highly anticipated, since they will propel a few candidates onto other states with momentum, while others will be politically wounded.

Twenty-two candidates have moved through Siouxland in dozens of events, but two months out, many Siouxland Democrats are undecided and still looking for the right one to back in the caucuses.

[Read more: Siouxlanders mixed on whether house should impeach President Trump.]

"People are deciding late. There are too many, way too many candidates. ... More than half need to get out," Sarah Sanford, of Moville, Iowa, said.

Sanford, therefore, wasn't a fan of the entry of two more Democrats, Mike Bloomberg and Deval Patrick, in late November, after some shrinkage of the large field -- the dropouts included Kirsten Gillibrand, Beto O'Rourke and John Hickenlooper -- brought the number down from the high of two dozen in the summer. 

The departures continued as December began, with Kamala Harris, Joe Sestak and Steve Bullock, the governor of Montana who had touted prior victories in a red state, exiting the race. The number of Democratic candidates now stands at 15.

Most recent Iowa polls have shown a top tier of Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, with others such as Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Amy Klobuchar and Andrew Yang vying to get higher. Biden was the early polling leader in the race in Iowa, but since mid-September has slipped, while Warren and Buttigieg have surged.

At the same time, a Nov. 12 poll in Iowa by Monmouth University showed only 32 percent are “strongly committed” to their first choice, while 51 percent say they have narrowed the field to just a few candidates and 17 percent said they don’t know who they will back in February.

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Sanford said she is considering between Buttigieg and Biden, making her like many Northwest Iowans, who mention two or more finalists.

Faith Blaskovich, of Lorhville, has been chairwoman of the Calhoun County Democratic Party for 12 years. Blaskovich said people go back and forth on settling on a candidate, since upon seeing certain Democrats in person, they will like the man or woman, then perhaps not the next time, in part because they've seen another candidate in the meantime.

In Iowa, people have a big chance to see candidates in person, often many times, if they want that opportunity. Over the first 11 months of 2019, 22 Democratic presidential candidates have campaigned in Siouxland, beginning with Warren in Sioux City on the first Saturday of January, before people even had a chance to give up on new year resolutions.

Tim Bottaro, a Sioux City attorney and former Woodbury County Democratic Party chairman, said, "It was too big of a field. But we can't control who runs for president. It was unwieldy."

DEM Buttigieg

People take photos of Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg during a campaign event in Sioux City on July 3.

Bottaro pondered a question on the top three issues Democrats are discussing.

"Number one, two and three -- beating Trump," Bottaro said.

Bottaro said most Democratic candidates are fairly similar on issues, so in this election cycle voters he speaks with will go for a person they believe can win.

"Hands down, it is beating Trump. I mean, you always want to beat the Republican. But I have never seen it so ingrained ... I personally don't know a Democrat who likes anything about the guy or what he's done or what he stands for," he said.

Blaskovich said key issues this year in that county have been climate change and health care (the same two issues that Bottaro belatedly also cited), and she said Democrats are taking longer to decide on a candidate than in other presidential election cycles.

Blaskovich agreed with Bottaro that "most" Democrats have the ability to beat Trump as a prime determinant on who they will support.

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Blaskovich said there is no stomach among Calhoun County Democrats for Hillary Clinton, who lost to Trump in 2016, to enter the field. She said there is certainly a candidate among the current crop who can beat him this time.

Bottaro said the time for Democrats to decide is now gelling, and he expects many will come to a conclusion over the month of December.

"They are still gnawing at it, but I think it is getting to when the pedal hits the pavement, by the end of the year," Bottaro said.

Rich Leuschen, of Holstein, Iowa, originally was a Republican in political affiliation, switched to an independent, then moved to become a Democrat in 2008 after being enthused with presidential candidate Bill Richardson in the year Barack Obama became the party's nominee and then president.

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"Everybody has two or three candidates that they are looking at and watching," Leuschen said.

He said the big field means debates with too many candidates, with many having 10 Democrats on stage at a time, which makes it hard to get any good read on candidates. Nonetheless, Leuschen has settled on a candidate, Buttigieg, given his past service in the military and for being a relative moderate, while his other finalists were Harris, a U.S. senator from California, and Tom Steyer, a a billionaire hedge fund manager.

Anderson and his wife, Roxie Anderson, have taken the opportunity to see many candidates in person, and she remains undecided.

"We've seen them all. You see them, you go, 'Oh yeah,' then you go home and think it over some more," Roxie Anderson said.

Jim Anderson said he prefers "somebody a little bit younger" than former Vice President Biden, 77, and Sanders, 78.

He is now mulling Warren and Klobuchar, while noting the nominee needs to have coattails to help in other 2020 races across the nation, so Democrats can not only hold onto leadership of the U.S. House, but also wrest the Senate from Republicans, in order to move key legislation.

"If I was to pick the person I want, it would be Elizabeth Warren. But we need to appeal to independent voters, to also win the Senate back. The Senate is really more important than the presidency," Jim Anderson said.

Correction: The caption of a photo associated with this story mischaracterized the connection between Dan Patterson and Jack Hysell. Patterson taught Hysell at South Sioux City High School.