In Small Town Iowa, Buttigieg’s Cross-Over Appeal Hits Home

by Elizabeth Meyer – Dec 31, 2019 (, abridged)

Bob Thomas, the former chair of the Appanoose County Democrats, needed the clarity of a long winter’s drive to finally commit to a presidential candidate.

“Over Christmas, I drove down to Dallas, Interstate 35 the whole way, all by myself, and I made the decision that I’m going to support Pete at the caucus and I’m going to sign one of these cards here in a minute or two,” said Thomas, on stage at the Majestic Theater in downtown Centerville, as he held a piece of paper signaling his commitment to caucus for Pete Buttigieg.

“This whole year has been tough trying to decide,” Thomas said. “Too many choices, all of us looking for the perfect candidate. And I think after a year, I’ve decided that there is no perfect candidate. We’ve got to go with the one that we think is best.”

Thomas, who has participated in 12 caucus cycles dating back to President Jimmy Carter, was not alone in his indecision. The Des Moines Register’s latest Iowa Poll from November found only 30% of likely Democratic caucus-goers “have a first choice and their minds are made up.”

On Sunday afternoon, Buttigieg greeted about 250 people who filled the theater’s seats to see the Indiana politician.

Susan McDanel, chair of the Appanoose County Democrats and a retired high school government teacher, said Buttigieg’s campaign event was the largest she had ever seen locally. As a teacher, McDanel said she would take students to see Democratic and Republican candidates, including John Edwards and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

“I’m pretty positive I’ve never seen a bigger crowd,” said McDanel, who lives on a farm north of Centerville.

Though registered Republicans now outnumber Democrats in the county, McDanel said it used to lean Democratic. The voters she knows are looking for “someone who’s a moderate who can reach across the aisle. Someone who is … a centrist.”

Buttigieg fit that description, she said.

“People like it when a candidate comes to a small town,” McDanel said. “They all go to the big towns, and people really, they want to see a presidential candidate. There were Republicans there and there were Democrats there and independents. They want to hear, what are they like in person versus a slick commercial?”

Larry Phillips of Lamoni, in nearby Decatur County, didn’t need to be won over. He stepped into the Majestic Theater fully committed. For the first time, the 69-year-old was passionate enough about a candidate to go door-to-door trying to gin up support.

“Pete is the candidate who can be a unifier, not a divider, in the White House,” Phillips said. “I like his youth and the energy he brings to the campaign trail. I can tell he’s not in this for himself, but he really wants to make a difference.”

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