Jeanette Pradhan of Kentucky was all smiles as she watched the inner workings of the Democratic caucus play out in front of her Monday at Gates Hall in Nevada.
Visiting her brother, David Weigel of Nevada, Pradhan came to Iowa about three weeks ago and was excited to see a caucus up close. "This is such an opportunity. I just can’t believe it," she said, as she took out her camera to get a picture of a "horse trading" scenario in full swing. During the Democrats’ caucus for Ward 2, advocates for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were in the middle of the room trying to convince a couple of undecided voters to move to their groups.
Pradhan started out the evening with her brother at his Republican caucus in the north room at Gates Hall. Trump was the big vote-getter there, after the secret ballot process, and Cruz and Carson came in second and third in that caucus. But Pradhan wanted to slip into the Democrats’ room in the main auditorium and see what was happening. "The Democrats’ caucus is so much more fun," she said.
Erin Kennedy showed up at her Democratic caucus at Gates Hall to find herself approached immediately by the national media cameras. Kennedy said she thought the young female reporter was an ISU student at first, but Kennedy’s wife, Bobby Jo Pohlman, said she heard her say CBS News. "I was like, OK, because she’s (Kennedy) very good at answering questions," Pohlman said.
The two women, who have lived in Nevada since 2009 and been married for six years, both came to the caucus undecided. They were among those needing to be convinced of whom to support. They were also among those who were caucusing for the first time, and they felt it was very important to do so. "They’re (the candidates) too divisive. If everyone’s created equally, then we need to be treated equally," Kennedy said, noting that she hates the "fear mongering" that’s been going on in the campaign so far. By the end of the evening, both women had been pulled into the Bernie Sanders’ supporters group.
Another Bernie Sanders supporter, first-time caucus goer because he was finally old enough to caucus, was Grant Kannel, whose caucus was held at Central Elementary School. "I supported Sanders because he fights for the people and not big companies or people that are wealthy like other candidates are. He’s been consistently doing it (fighting for the underdog) for decades," Kannel said.
As for the caucus process, Kannel was underwhelmed by it. "It didn’t seemed as organized and structured as I expected it would be," he said.
Clinton came in second to Sanders in the Democratic caucuses at Gates Hall and Nevada High School. But there are still those who supported Clinton strongly, like John Grause, who was decorated with Clinton pins. Why is he a Clinton supporter? "Her experience and accomplishments with vast foreign affairs knowledge," he said. And because of health care. "She originated the health care reform battles, for God’s sake." As for her ability to run as the Democratic nominee. "She’s tough as nails," Grause said.
Grause was helping lead the Clinton cause in his caucus, but the Iowa native, who moved to Florida for a number of years and then came back, isn’t totally sold on the caucus process. He prefers the primary system. "The caucuses are so exclusive," he said, especially when it comes to people who have to work or can’t get there at the exact time of the caucus sign-in requirement.
One such person came to the Gates Hall Democrats’ caucus Monday. Anthony Haban was told he was too late to take part. Haban said he works in Maxwell and got off a little early, trying to make it to the caucus in time, but he was about 10 minutes off. He stayed anyway to observe, as his wife was there caucusing for Clinton.
On the Republican side, Jeff Stavnes and his wife, Janis, were attending their caucus in Gates Hall’s north room, which was packed. The couple has lived in Nevada a little over a year. The two said they had been out to hear nine of the Republican candidates speak in person prior to the caucus. Jeff said he was supporting Gov. Chris Christie, as he was leaning toward a governor. "Of the governors still in the race, he probably has the best chance to win. He’s very straight forward, honest and blunt," Jeff said.
His wife was supporting Marco Rubio. "We heard him speak in Ames," she said, and she liked "what he had to say and … where he comes from… I think he can relate," she said. Both Jeff and Janis said no matter what, they will support whoever wins the Republican nomination. "I think we need a change of direction at the top in the presidency," Jeff said.
In the south room of Gates Hall, another packed Republican caucus was going on. In that room, De Anna and Brad Tibben were sitting near the front row, and they were supporting Donald Trump. Why? "Because he’s not a politician," De Anna said. "He’s funding his own way and he won’t owe anybody anything when he gets to the White House. There’s a time and a place for political correctness, but there’s also a time for honesty."
At Gates Hall, support was clearly for Trump on the Republican side, as he won in both rooms. But across the state of Iowa, Trump took second to Ted Cruz.
And while Sanders seemed to take the lead in the Democrats’ caucuses at Gates Hall and the high school, the state race was looking like a dead heat between Sanders and Clinton.
Seeing Hillary Clinton have a chance at the White House makes 82-year-old Romeyn Sloan happy this year. Sloan made her way to Monday’s caucuses as one of the oldest participants at Gates Hall. "I haven’t been to a whole lot of caucuses," she said. "But this year was important. After Hillary lost her chance (at the White House) eight years ago, I was pleased she got in the race again. She’s a champion."