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Pensacola Beach Caucus Celebrated, Despite Reporting Issues

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Jim Benda
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Issues with reporting, immediately after the caucuses Monday night, pushed the Democratic Party of Iowa to release the results on Tuesday.

The problems were widespread, but did not dampen the first-ever Iowa satellite caucus on Pensacola Beach.

“It truly was a success,” said Jim Benda, chair of the local satellite caucus, summing up his overall impressions of the event.

“We had 42 people attending from all over the Gulf Coast region, in Alabama and this part of the Panhandle. That exceeded my expectations.”

The local caucus, one of four remote sites in Florida, was held in the meeting room of the Pensacola Beach condominium complex where Benda lives for six months out of the year. He says there was plenty of room for everyone and the event itself went very smoothly.

“I’m looking at friends and posts on Facebook back in Iowa, and large and small caucuses all seemed to go very, very well, with a great deal of enthusiasm. So, it was very disappointing, then, when the reporting system let us down,” explained Benda.

He recognized there was a problem, when he couldn’t access the smartphone app developed for the caucus.

“So, I called into the reporting hot-line and I was on hold for an hour-and-a-half. But, I eventually reached the reporting agent and I turned in the results, and I put them in the mail in the official envelope this morning.”

During the local caucus, several of the presidential candidates sent representatives, and the Joe Biden campaign even brought a sheet cake. Benda says there was some negotiating, which led to some surprising results.

“Personally, if I were a betting man, I would have lost a lot of money betting on this caucus,” proclaimed Benda, as he pointed to the 42 people who took part in two rounds of voting.

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Credit Jim Benda
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Supporters of former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg gather at the Iowa satellite caucus on Pensacola Beach Monday night.

“In the first round, Amy Klobuchar got 17, Pete Buttigieg (9), Joe Biden (13) and Elizabeth Warren (3). That means that Elizabeth Warren was unviable because she got less than 15 percent. And, in the second round, all three of those people went for Amy Klobuchar. So, she was the big winner from our caucus last night, with 20 of the votes out of the 42. Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg were viable. Otherwise, no other candidates got any votes from our caucus.”

That means none for Warren or for Bernie Sanders. The local results will be combined with those from all of the non-Iowa satellite caucuses and treated much like an extra county in the state.

Once the final tabulations are reported and the presidential campaign heats up, the reporting debacle for the Democratic Party’s Iowa Caucuses will fade from the headlines. But, it has raised questions about the future of the caucus system, which remains in use in just three states, including Iowa.

Benda has mixed feelings about whether the caucuses should continue.

“Personally, I think Iowa does an excellent job of vetting presidential candidates. In a primary system, it comes down who can buy the most advertising time and the most market share, and run the most ads,” explained Benda, who likes the fact that caucuses allow lesser-known, lesser-funded candidates to emerge from the pack.

“That being said, I really think the caucuses may have outgrown their usefulness. When I first was going to caucuses, we’d meet in living rooms and then it expanded into gymnasiums. Now, it’s really like asking everybody on an election day to show up at the same place at the same time and that’s just logistically challenging.”

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Credit Jim Benda
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The first-ever Iowa satellite caucus on Pensacola Beach turned out well for this supporter of Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who got the most votes at the local event.

Specific to this year, Benda was disappointed that the reporting glitches diminished momentum for those candidates who did well, after spending so much time and energy in Iowa.

But, despite all the challenges, posts on Benda’s Facebook page were complimentary and the chair of the local satellite caucus says he’d do it again.

“Yes, I would, and, especially now that I’ve had the experience of doing it once, I know what to expect. And, I know the people really appreciated having the opportunity to caucus while they’re snowbirding in Florida and Alabama.”

Besides, for the group of mostly retirees who attended the Pensacola Beach event, it beats driving back to Iowa in the winter.

Another upside for Benda is the fact that his preferred candidate - former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg performed well. Looking ahead, Benda has joined the group “Pensacola for Pete” and says he’s already been invited to a “Pete-Up” event.  

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.