BURLINGTON, Iowa—It was about to be a very confusing night in the world of American politics, but the 67 caucus-goers of Burlington Precinct 6 were calm and focused. The cafeteria at Grimes Elementary School smelled like lunch, which, according to a whiteboard at the front of the room, had been corn dogs, green beans, salad, and peaches. And the Iowans sitting shoulder to shoulder at tables for their preferred presidential candidate were busy finishing the final count of the evening. Pete Buttigieg’s and Andrew Yang’s tables were full, and 33 people crowded around Bernie Sanders’s.
Joe Biden’s table was empty.
“Biden wants to go back to the way it was before [Donald] Trump, but things weren’t working all that well then, either,” Lonnie Herbert, a 50-year-old forklift driver, told me when I asked why he and his neighbors hadn’t supported the former vice president. Sure, Sanders is a bit radical, he added, but America needs “a hard shift.”
I’d heard an almost identical message from the other Sanders supporters at this school in Burlington’s South Hill, a predominantly working-class part of town. And I’d heard similar criticism from Buttigieg fans, who’d argued that Biden is not the candidate to deliver the party unity they want. This sample size is small. But Biden’s campaign faced similar problems all across Iowa on Monday. Vote totals from the state’s 1,700 precincts, which have trickled in over the past three days, show him in fourth. Places just like this help illustrate why.