To compete in a crowded field, Democratic candidates look to Iowa's rural voters

By Adam Brewster, Musadiq Bidar, Cara Korte

/ CBS News

Iowa's "2020 Book Club" focuses on Democratic candidates

The Iowa caucuses are just under nine months away. And given the historically large size of the Democratic presidential field, candidates are already looking for new ways to compete in the Hawkeye State.

Several veteran Iowa Democratic strategists and officials tell CBS News that on caucus night, the state's rural vote will play a major role in determining the final results. But competing with rural voters, who have tended to drift away from Democrats in recent years, means campaigns will need to develop novel strategies.

One of the key factors will be finding new or non-regular caucus goers, especially in rural areas, according to Democratic strategist Jeff Link.

Trending News

"You are quickly going to run through the list of previous caucus goers. Everyone will be calling that list first," said Link. "You are going to run out of places to go in the city and then you are going to start scouring the countryside."

About a third of Iowa's state and district level delegates come from rural counties. Iowa will award 49 national delegates, based on results at the state and district level, meaning rural caucus results will affect about a third of the national delegates the state awards to presidential candidates.

"I think the rural vote can make the difference whether someone finishes first, second or third," said former Iowa Lieutenant Gov. Patty Judge.

Judge, who now chairs the group Focus on Rural America, says that there is "nothing to cement the deal like a visit in person" and believes candidates are campaigning in rural areas earlier than usual.

"We really are looking for some partners," Judge said of rural voters. "We don't need saviors. We need people that are going to understand and work with us."

Grant Woodard, a Democratic former campaign operative who worked on Hillary Clinton's 2008 Iowa campaign, said that urban areas would still hold the lion's share of caucus goers. But he also noted that Sen. John Edwards' emphasis on rural voters helped propel him to a surprise second-place finish in the 2008 caucuses.

"You can get a lot of bang for your buck in these places, especially if you have a message that is tailor made to rural people," Woodard said. "They really tried to create this rural coalition and talk about rural poverty and rural issues."

Woodard added that while Iowa has a culture where "people expect to be wooed," that doesn't require hitting all 99 counties in Iowa. He suggested that candidates visit "every town with a stoplight," adding that "that surprisingly cuts out a lot of places."

For Judge, a "smart, aggressive" strategy winning over rural voters comes down to understanding "that their problems are real" and to "have some answers for them."

"We have seen presidential candidates before. We can pretty well tell whether somebody is genuine or whether or not they care about what's going on here," she said.

A message for rural voters, according to conversations with presidential campaigns, will need to focus not just on agriculture and trade, but also on access to health care, boosting economic growth, improving education and expanding broadband internet service.

Some campaign aides are emphasizing their candidates' success with rural voters in their home states, like Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Meanwhile, California Sen. Kamala Harris' state director says organizers known as "Kamala Captains" are currently based in rural parts of the state, rather than urban areas.

But in order to win those rural voters, Democratic candidates will need to know how to talk to them.

"I think Democrats have been condescending to rural voters," Jeff Link said. "The whole dialogue in 2016 about 'if you vote for Trump you're a racist, you're a misogynist, you're all these things,' I think that's not true. I think that's harmful to our party and our brand."

Laura Hubka, the chair of the Howard County Democrats in rural northeast Iowa, says that the "more people you talk to in rural areas, you'll start to get a message of what they really want."

Some campaigns have rolled out policies that they say came from discussions with voters.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' agriculture policy, which his campaign said was developed with input from rural Iowans, includes for more than 50 action items, including breaking up major agri-businesses.

A campaign aide for former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke says he updated his climate change proposal following a visit to rural Iowa, where he heard from community leaders and people affected by the state's recent flooding. The aide says that's going to play a major role in the way O'Rourke formulates policy.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has been taking detailed notes and listening to voters in rural districts to make sure policies fit their needs, according to a campaign official.

Success in the caucuses ultimately comes down to who can get the most people to show up "on a cold, nasty Monday night in February," Link says. And a key to that, according to Woodard, is making personal connections even when the candidate isn't in town.

In 2016, just over 171,000 Iowans turned out to the Democratic caucus, while in 2008 a record 240,000 Democrats participated.

To effectively make connections with those voters, especially in rural areas, Woodard says campaigns need to "make the investments" in field staff.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren's campaign says that they already have about 50 staffers in Iowa, including more than 30 organizers spread across the state. A spokesperson for New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker says the campaign has about three-dozen staffers in the state and they expect to have nearly 50 by the end of May. Several other campaigns tell CBS News they have core staff in place, and plan to ramp up hiring over the next several months.

Big staffs are just part of the major investment it can take to win in Iowa. Link says he won't be surprised if some campaigns spend 15 to 25 million dollars in the state. Much of that will be spent on paid advertising, along with hiring field staff and other organizational costs.

"Some people build an infrastructure ready to take advantage of the moment, and the moment never comes," Link said. "Some people have a moment and never have an infrastructure that can take advantage of the moment."

If that moment for a candidate comes early, Link says a large staff can pay "huge dividends," but adds there will be ways to connect to voters even with a smaller organization.

"I think there's a lot of things you can do with technology to reduce the commitment to full time staff, but it takes a lot of people," Link said.

An aide for Sanders says the campaign plans to eventually have more than a hundred staffers in Iowa, but already has 24,000 Iowans who have said they want to help. The campaign launched an app to digitally register supporters, something an aide says will particularly help volunteers in rural parts of the state by making organizing tools more easily accessible.

The Sanders campaign is also going after rural voters by creating digital advertisements focused on local issues, which will be targeted at specific regions in the state. That includes an advertisement about the recent historic flooding in the state, which is targeted at the communities affected.

Last week, other campaigns unveiled their grassroots organizing strategies.

Harris launched "Camp Kamala" nationwide, an eight-week online program to train volunteers to organize their communities. A campaign aide says they had volunteers register in each of Iowa's four congressional districts in the first 24 hours.

Meanwhile, Booker's campaign launched what they call the "Justice Academy" to recruit and train volunteers in New Jersey and the early states, including Iowa.

Iowans like Larry Rasmussen, who caucused for Sanders in 2016 but hasn't yet settled on a candidate this time around, say Democrats need to make rural voters like him a priority if they expect to win.

"I wish they'd come to rural Iowa so I can hear what they have to say, and hear how they answer questions," Rasmussen said at a Sanders rally in Osage, Iowa earlier this month.

"They need to meet the people here, not just show up in Ames, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and think that's Iowa 'cause it really isn't."

First published on May 14, 2019 / 1:02 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In a crowded field, Democratic candidates look to Iowa's rural voters

"We don't need saviors. We need people that are going to understand and work with us"

9M ago

Man pleads guilty to throwing 5-year-old boy from mall balcony

Emmanuel Aranda faces 19 years in prison

27M ago

Nike responds to maternity leave backlash

Nike tells female athletes to dream big – until they want a baby, Olympic runner Alysia Montano alleges

1H ago

2 sightseeing planes in deadly midair collision over Alaska

The Coast Guard said four people were killed when the floatplanes carrying cruise ship tourists collided

1H ago

House Judiciary Committee sets date for McGahn to testify

McGahn, the former White House counsel, has not yet confirmed his attendance before the committee

1H ago

In a crowded field, Democratic candidates look to Iowa's rural voters

"We don't need saviors. We need people that are going to understand and work with us"

9M ago

House Judiciary Committee sets date for McGahn to testify

McGahn, the former White House counsel, has not yet confirmed his attendance before the committee

1H ago

Trump takes off for Louisiana amid "little squabble with China" — live updates

The president and China are ramping up their trade war

1H ago

Pompeo, Lavrov spar on Iran and Venezuela

Pompeo and Lavrov met in Sochi after a scrapped meeting in Moscow

updated 27M ago

Lawmakers seek investigation of shelter for migrant children

Three Florida congresswomen want an inspector general to look into a massive contract received by Comprehensive Health Services

1H ago

American says record-breaking dive "opening the door for science"

Victor Vescovo dove 35,853 feet beneath the waves in a submarine to the lowest part of the ocean in the Pacific's Mariana Trench

1H ago

Pompeo, Lavrov spar on Iran and Venezuela

Pompeo and Lavrov met in Sochi after a scrapped meeting in Moscow

updated 27M ago

Lawmakers seek investigation of shelter for migrant children

Three Florida congresswomen want an inspector general to look into a massive contract received by Comprehensive Health Services

1H ago

Powerful earthquake hits Papua New Guinea

A magnitude 7.5 earthquake in the nation's central region early last year killed at least 125 people

2H ago

Details of tanker "sabotage" murky as U.S. points finger at Iran

A U.S. military team investigating alleged attacks on 4 oil tankers has made an initial assessment that Iran or its proxies is to blame

5H ago

"Arthur" character comes out as gay, gets married in season 22 premiere

This is not the first time the long-running educational cartoon has included an LGBTQ character

3H ago

New on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon

Shows and movies you'll want to stream in May

Apr 26 36 photos

HBO drops official trailer for "Game of Thrones" documentary

The video shows Emilia Clarke walking off the set after her final scene and other major moments of the show's final season

12H ago

Met Gala 2019: Red carpet looks

See what all your favorite celebrities wore to fashion's biggest night

May 6 80 photos

"Game of Thrones" baby names are more popular than ever

Who will win the Name of Thrones?

16H ago

Disney gets control of Hulu in deal with Comcast

Entertainment giant, which also plans to launch Disney Plus in the fall, pushes deeper into streaming video

2H ago

WhatsApp flaw let hackers install spyware on cellphones

Signs point to Israeli company NSO, which works with governments, often to spy on human rights activists; spyware kicked in when people made or got calls

1H ago

San Francisco considers facial recognition ban

Civil liberty watchdogs argue the technology can be inaccurate

18H ago

Amazon warehouses reportedly trash millions of unsold products

Retailer under fire after exposes of massive waste in the U.K. and France, where new toys and TVs were sent to dumps

19H ago

Facebook now paying $18 an hour to block suicide videos

Some workers responsible for cleaning up disturbing material have reported low pay and difficult working conditions

22H ago

American says record-breaking dive "opening the door for science"

Victor Vescovo dove 35,853 feet beneath the waves in a submarine to the lowest part of the ocean in the Pacific's Mariana Trench

1H ago

NASA vows to make ambitious plan to return to the moon "a reality"

The newly announced Artemis program, named after the Greek goddess of the moon, intends to land astronauts on the South Pole of the moon by 2024

3H ago

The moon is shrinking — and may be generating "moonquakes"

As the lunar interior ever-so-slowly contracts, "moonquakes" are produced, NASA data suggests.

5H ago

"The planet's on f***ing fire!" Bill Nye's climate rant goes viral

He's not the same kid-friendly "Science Guy" millennials grew up with

3H ago

American breaks record with deepest-ever sub dive, finds plastic

The diver's team found four new species and something else no other expedition has seen — pollution

17H ago

Alabama poised to vote on nation's most restrictive abortion bill

If Alabama's bill passes, a doctor who performed one would face up to 99 years in prison

1H ago

Tracking down the source of misinformation fueling measles outbreak

For at least the last four years, what's come to be known as the "PEACH pamphlet" has been circulating in the Northeast, targeting orthodox Jewish communities

5H ago

11-year-old rape victim couldn't have abortion under new Ohio law

Under Ohio's new "heartbeat bill," abortions after about six weeks are prohibited, even if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest

20H ago

Alabama could pass a near-total abortion ban tomorrow

Alabama could pass a near-total ban on abortion as soon as tomorrow

21H ago

Connecticut AG calls alleged drug price-fixing an "attack"

43 states and Puerto Rico filed a complaint Friday alleging 20 companies coordinated to inflate prices and reduce competition on more than 100 generic prescription drugs

23H ago

Nike responds to maternity leave backlash

Nike tells female athletes to dream big – until they want a baby, Olympic runner Alysia Montano alleges

1H ago

Disney gets control of Hulu in deal with Comcast

Entertainment giant, which also plans to launch Disney Plus in the fall, pushes deeper into streaming video

2H ago

Trump targets $300 billion of Chinese goods for new tariffs

Analysts expect a volatile stock market as the world's two biggest economic powers escalate their trade war

4H ago

Walmart launches free next-day delivery, taking aim at Amazon

The new service, which will expand rapidly, starts with 220,000 popular items and minimum orders of $35

4H ago

WhatsApp flaw let hackers install spyware on cellphones

Signs point to Israeli company NSO, which works with governments, often to spy on human rights activists; spyware kicked in when people made or got calls

1H ago

Man pleads guilty to throwing 5-year-old boy from mall balcony

Emmanuel Aranda faces 19 years in prison

27M ago

Legislation could expand rape kit access

Access to rape kits for crime victims is a big problem nationwide. Many hospitals lack specially trained nurses to administer the kits, and without that evidence it's more difficult to identify suspects and prosecute. CBS News' Natalie Brand reports on survivor who's working with lawmakers to change that.

updated 18M ago 02:27

Officer shoots, kills woman heard on video claiming she's pregnant

Police in Baytown, near Houston, say she resisted arrest and the two struggled

1H ago

Facial recognition ban considered

More law enforcement agencies are relying on facial recognition technology to help fight crime. But there's growing public fear over the technology — and San Francisco is considering a ban. Jonathan Vigliotti explains.

16H ago 02:13

Pilot arrested before takeoff

An American Airlines pilot was arrested at the Louisville Airport for a triple murder he allegedly committed four years ago. He was still in his uniform when police took his booking photo. Kris Van Cleave reports.

17H ago 01:35

NASA vows to make ambitious plan to return to the moon "a reality"

The newly announced Artemis program, named after the Greek goddess of the moon, intends to land astronauts on the South Pole of the moon by 2024

3H ago

Trump backs early moon landing with funding request

Trump administration asks Congress to kick-start NASA moon mission with $1.6 billion in additional 2020 funding

15H ago

Shrinking moon may be causing "moonquakes"

NASA says the moon is shrinking and it may be creating so-called "moonquakes." Scientists say the moon's interior is cooling and causing it to shrivel up like a raisin. The shrinking has caused ridges on the moon's surface called "thrust faults" — where one section of crust is pushed up over a neighboring part. Scientists now believe those faults are to blame for the tremors.

11H ago 00:44

Virgin Galactic announces new steps toward offering thrill rides to space

New Mexico officials have eagerly anticipated the arrival of space tourism by Virgin Galactic for more than a decade

May 10

SpaceX cargo ship reaches space station

SpaceX delivers 5,500 pounds of equipment and supplies to the space station

May 6

Britain's royal great-grandchildren

Prince Harry's new baby Archie is the eighth great-grandchild for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip

May 8 9 photos

Met Gala 2019: Red carpet looks

See what all your favorite celebrities wore to fashion's biggest night

May 6 80 photos

Dale Pike murder: Evidence photos in the case against Enrico Forti

In 1998, Dale Pike came to Miami to discuss a business deal with Enrico Forti — the next day he was dead, and Forti was the prime suspect

May 3 17 photos

Worst movie sequels since 2000, ranked

These are the lowest-rated sequels this century, according to Metacritic's rankings

Apr 30 51 photos

Private secrets shared via postcard

Since 2004, hundreds of thousands of anonymous contributors with something to get off their chest have sent postcards to the website PostSecret.com

Apr 28 32 photos

Popular

Pompeo warns Lavrov about election meddling

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Russia, where he issued a stern warning against meddling in the U.S. election process. The two officials disagreed on a variety of issues beyond meddling, including Venezuela and Iran.

updated 6M ago 26:27

Phones of WhatsApp users hacked

A flaw in WhatsApp allowed hackers to infiltrate users' phones. Several activist lawyers and journalists were reportedly targeted. CNET senior producer Dan Patterson joied CBSN to explain the severity of the attack and the technology behind it.

1H ago 05:00

Meet the new faces of "CBS This Morning"

Gayle King will be joined by Anthony Mason and Tony Dokoupil as the new co-hosts of "CBS This Morning," starting on May 20. In this interview with CBSN's Vladimir Duthiers, the new anchor team chats about their lives and careers ahead of Monday's debut.

1H ago 07:31

Amazon's possible growing problem

While Amazon is striving for dominance in the online retail market, there are signs that the company may be having trouble keeping up with its own growth. Paul Wagenseil, senior security editor for Tom's Guide, joined CBSN to explain.

1H ago 05:27

Initiative aims to curb plastic production

The World Wildlife Fund announced a new partnership with six of the world's biggest companies to curb the production of plastic. WWF Deputy Director of Sustainability Research and Development Alix Grabowski joined CBSN AM to explain the partnership and how big corporations impact plastic recycling

1H ago 06:25