Elizabeth Warren drawing support across Iowa Democratic spectrum

Senator Elizabeth Warren’s numbers have tapered somewhat in polls of the Democratic presidential race nationally and in Iowa over the past two months. But it would be a mistake to conclude she can’t win the Iowa caucuses.

A large share of caucus-goers have yet to commit to a candidate. Warren’s high-profile supporters, including the latest batch, point to factors that will keep her in contention as many Iowans decide over the next 40 days.

The Warren campaign is announcing 21 new Iowa endorsers today. Former State Senators Jim Riordan and Steve Sovern, another half-dozen current or former local elected officials, and others who are active in their communities are on the list (enclosed in full below). Jean Oxley was among four Iowa women who broke a glass ceiling by winning county supervisor races in 1972. She served Linn County in that role for more than two decades.

Two things stand out whenever Warren adds to the long list of Iowans publicly committed to caucusing for her.


First, people are drawn to the many concrete proposals Warren has offered to produce “big, structural change” in politics and the economy. In a statement released by the campaign, Oxley said Warren’s “plans support women in every stage of life — from early childhood to retirement.”

Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson (who has often published at Bleeding Heartland) called Warren “a breath of intellectual fresh air,” who is “proposing well-grounded and progressive approaches to solving our country’s greatest challenges, and offering practical pathways for making those plans a reality.”

Swenson adds to the ranks of well-known Iowa “policy wonks” backing Warren: David Osterberg, a former state representative and co-founder of the Iowa Policy Project; Charles Bruner, former state senator and founder of the Child & Family Policy Center; Kamyar Enshayan, director of the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy & Environmental Education; and most recently John Norris, partner in the State Public Policy Group.

Throughout this year, rank and file Democrats who have told me they will caucus for Warren or are leaning that way have similarly cited the senator’s detailed plans of action. Many presidential candidates have articulated a vision and agree on issues that matter to Democratic activists. Few have done more to spell out how they would wage the “fight for economic and social justice at the core of her candidacy,” in Norris’s words.


The last Iowa Democratic caucuses were a near-tie, and finding a way to attract both halves of the party has proved challenging for most of the 2020 presidential contenders. For instance, almost all of the Iowa support for Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, and former candidate Kamala Harris has come from the Hillary Clinton ranks. Bernie Sanders’ appeal is limited to those who caucused for him in 2016 or have never attended a precinct caucus.

In contrast, Warren continues to draw from both major factions. The four state senators who are backing her include three former Clinton supporters–Joe Bolkcom, Claire Celsi, and Zach Wahls, who was a national delegate for Clinton–and Eric Giddens, a regular donor to Sanders throughout the 2016 primaries. The six Iowa House Democrats who have committed to Warren include Mary Mascher, a Clinton supporter in 2008 as well as last cycle, and Liz Bennett, who caucused for Sanders.

Drilling down to the local level reveals the same phenomenon. Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan was among the first Iowa elected officials to support Sanders in 2015. Veronica Tessler, an Iowa City business owner whom some had encouraged to challenge U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack from the left, is another 2016 Sanders supporter committed to Warren. On the flip side, Lauren Whitehead was a dedicated volunteer for Clinton before she successfully ran for the city council in Solon.

Today’s endorsement list includes several activists who long participated in real-world and online circles for Sanders (Jason Frerichs, Annaleah Moore, Michael Moore), along with some who caucused for Clinton in 2016 (Nick Bergus, occasional Bleeding Heartland author Paul Deaton).

Going back to earlier Iowa caucus cycles, Warren has support from some prominent 2008 Clinton supporters, such as former Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson and former Secretary of State Elaine Baxter, as well as State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, one of the first to back Barack Obama here. Denise O’Brien, the organic farmer best known as the 2006 nominee for secretary of agriculture, was an early John Edwards endorser in 2007 and is with Warren now.

Taking one more step backward in time: the new list of Warren endorsers includes Jan Corderman, who as AFSCME Council 61 president in 2003 was a key ally for Howard Dean. Former U.S. Representative Berkley Bedell, another Dean advocate before the 2004 caucuses, came to Iowa to endorse Warren this summer. Meanwhile, John Norris ran John Kerry’s 2004 Iowa caucus and general election campaigns.

As Dan Guild has pointed out, more than half of Iowa Democratic caucus-goers settled on a candidate during the final month before the 2004 and 2008 caucuses. History tells us that any of the four highest-polling candidates in Iowa could win the caucuses, and someone far behind the front-runners could end up in the top three on February 3.

Being on the short list for undecided caucus-goers is therefore critically important. Although the latest poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register, CNN, and Mediacom showed Warren losing some ground compared to September, some 66 percent of respondents said Warren was either their first choice, second choice, or a candidate they were “actively considering.” Only Pete Buttigieg had a higher number on that scale (68 percent were either supporting or actively considering him).

Forthcoming Bleeding Heartland posts will analyze the strengths other presidential candidates bring into the home stretch of the caucus campaign.

Statement provided by Iowa for Warren:

West Des Moines, Iowa — The Iowa for Warren campaign today announced endorsements from 21 leaders from across the state, adding to a long list of Iowans committed to supporting Elizabeth Warren and her plans for big, structural change at the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3.

Among the new endorsers are formers state Sens. Jim Riordan and Steve Sovern, former Linn County Supervisor Jean Oxley, and Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson.

“I’m supporting Elizabeth Warren because it’s time for a woman in the White House fighting for rights and equality,” Jean Oxley said. “Her plans support women in every stage of life — from early childhood to retirement.”

“Elizabeth Warren is a breath of intellectual fresh air,” Dave Swenson said. “She’s proposing well-grounded and progressive approaches to solving our country’s greatest challenges, and offering practical pathways for making those plans a reality.”

The new endorsements follow recent announcements of support from prominent Iowa Democrat John Norris and the Storm Lake Times newspaper.

They join State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, former Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson, state Sens. Joe Bolkcom, Claire Celsi, Eric Giddens, and Zach Wahls, State Reps. Liz Bennett, Tracy Ehlert, Lindsay James, Mary Mascher, Art Staed, and Mary Wolfe, more than 75 veterans and military family members, and dozens of local officials and activists who have endorsed Warren’s campaign.

The following leaders and activists endorsed Elizabeth this week:

  • Jim Riordan, former state senator, Waukee

  • Steve Sovern, former state senator, Cedar Rapids

  • Jean Oxley, Linn County’s first female county supervisor, Cedar Rapids

  • Jan Corderman, former AFSCME Council 61 president, Pleasant Hill

  • Laura Bergus, Iowa City councilwoman, Iowa City

  • Danielle Pettit-Majewski, Washington city councilwoman, Washington

  • Patricia Schaefer, former Morning Sun mayor, Morning Sun

  • Kendra Breitsprecher, former Dayton city councilwoman, Dayton

  • Debi Plum, Fairfield School Board president, Fairfield

  • Jason Frerichs, Iowa Democratic Party Progressive Caucus vice chairman, Des Moines

  • Kathy Winter, Osceola County Democrats chairwoman, Sibley

  • Krissa Mason, former Madison County Democrats chairwoman, Corydon

  • Anna Plank, founder of statewide Indivisible organization, Iowa City

  • Dave Swenson, economist, Ames

  • Nick Bergus, community activist, Iowa City

  • Paul Deaton, community activist, Solon

  • Stan Plum, community activist, Fairfield

  • Annaleah & Michael Moore, community activists, Council Bluffs

  • Ryan Marquardt, Iowa House candidate, Van Meter

  • Dr. Laura Jackson, conservation advocate, Cedar Falls

Top photograph of Elizabeth Warren in Des Moines on January 6, 2019 published on the campaign’s Facebook page.

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin