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Iowa Caucus With A Beach View

Sandra Averhart
WUWF Public Media

The Iowa Caucuses will be held Monday, and for the first time, some of those caucuses will be taking place outside the state of Iowa. One of them will be held in the Pensacola area.

"I'm Jim Benda. My hometown, I live now in Clive, Iowa, which is a suburb of Des Moines," said Benda introducing himself.

Now 66-years-old, Benda is a retired attorney, who for the last six years, has spent winters at his second home on Pensacola Beach. He will be hosting a satellite caucus where he lives at Emerald Dolphin Condominiums.

"This is the first time there's been a caucus anywhere outside the state of Iowa, and I'm calling it the first Iowa Caucus with a beach view."

According to Benda, the Democratic Party of Iowa this year has approved around 100 satellite locations, most of which are in Iowa.

"It's places like workplaces, schools, retirement homes, where people couldn't get on on a cold night to go to a caucus. But, there are also four locations approved in Florida," Benda said.

In addition to Pensacola Beach, remote sites in the Sunshine State, include Port Charlotte, St. Petersburg, and just down the road at Tops'l Club and Fitness Center in Miramar Beach.

"My understanding is that the largest registration is Arizona, where there are a lot of Iowans. But, there's even one in the Republic of Georgia, not the state of Georgia, the Republic of Georgia," emphasized Benda.

New York is also among the various places where the February 3, 2020, caucuses will take place.

The decision to move forward with satellite caucuses came after initial plans for an online process ended due to security issues. Benda says he got the thought to caucus at his winter home in Pensacola Beach after a friend forwarded information at the last minute.

He described the scramble to apply, "I saw I literally had 30 minutes before the deadline at 5, and I quickly entered my information and I ran around my building, taking pictures of my meeting room and the parking lot, because they want to make sure it's accessible. And, I submitted the application and they eventually approved me.”

The satellite caucuses will be conducted the same way as the caucuses in Iowa.

“A caucus is a gathering of voters who indicate their presidential preference, and that establishes then how delegates are sent to the state and national conventions. It’s similar in result to a primary election, except a caucus is a town hall-type setting and you declare publicly and you have to physically come out and support your candidate,” Benda explained.

“The Democratic caucuses are based on discussion,” says the narrator of a video explainer from The Guardian website. It continues, “After introduction and a tally of attendees, caucus-goers split off and the committed ones try to entice their uncommitted friends and neighbors to — quite literally — stand with their preferred candidates.”

The video further explains that those preference groups that gather 15% of caucus-goers get to stay. Those who don’t have 15% support have 30 minutes to disband, convince others to join them, declare themselves uncommitted or go home.

In a process like this, it’s important to come with a first and second choice. Benda, who’s only missed one caucus since 1976, says the event is generally good-natured, but can become a high-spirited, free for all.

What’s most exciting is that the unexpected can happen, like in 2008, when Barack Obama surged from the back of the pack.

“At that caucus, something electric happened. He was clearly the leading candidate and had the most people gathering in his corner,” recalls Benda. “At that point, it was expected to be Hillary Clinton or John Edwards, if you remember him, or even Joe Biden. And, it was that electric moment where the candidate who was unknown had really connected with the Iowa voters, with his message and everything else that goes along with making a candidate viable. And, the rest is history.”

At this stage in the 2020 Democratic presidential race, Benda sees former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg as the type of candidate who can gain momentum over other more well-known, well-funded candidates.

“I think it’s just time for a new generation and there’s just something decent about Pete Buttigieg that means a lot to me, given some of the current politics,” said Benda of his first choice.

If Buttigieg doesn’t meet the 15% viability threshold, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is his second choice.

At the time of our conversation, at least four people, including himself, had committed to attend Benda’s caucus on Pensacola Beach; however, he did not know just how many of the estimated 100 people registered for the four remote locations in Florida will be joining them.

The Monday evening event will begin at 7. When it’s over, the results will be submitted via an app.

No matter the outcome, Benda says says he’s proud to be a part of it, “I’m not a party activist in any way, but my vote is important to me, and it’s a privilege to be an Iowan and to have your voice recorded so early. And, I’m patriotic about it.”

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.