How can Tulsi Gabbard influence US politics

The little boy has no desire to meet Elizabeth Warren. He's in the West High School gym in Iowa City, playing a game of trains running over cars on his mother's phone. What does he care about this woman who the campaign worker claims to be the "next president"? So a little girl is chosen to go backstage and greet Senator Warren.

Scenes like this are happening across Iowa right now. This Monday, the Midwestern state's primaries begin, in which the parties determine their candidate for the November presidential election. The Republicans have chosen the candidate: incumbent Donald Trump. In contrast, almost a dozen women and men apply to the Democrats. And in order to meet and convince as many voters as possible, they rush back and forth across Iowa in these last few hours and appear at three or four election campaign events every day.

Warren looks very fresh for being her third gig that day. She comes on stage waving. She tells people about how she grew up in Oklahoma, how she lost her teaching job because she was pregnant, how she struggled to bring up parenting and college, how she became a lawyer, law professor, and eventually a senator. Every sentence in her speech leads to a message: I am one of you, I know how hard life is, I will make it easier for you as President. Warren promises that they will put an end to corruption in Washington so that the government can take care of ordinary people again, not just corporations and the rich. The people in the hall, most of them women, like that.

There used to be a rule of thumb: No matter how many candidates come, there are only three tickets out of Iowa. That means: only the top three in the area code can claim to be serious candidates. It's not necessarily about winning in Iowa, says John Norris, a veteran Democrat who has advised virtually all successful Iowa Democratic politicians for the past several decades. It is important for a candidate to get enough tailwind from a good result that he or she can go into the next primary with verve - in New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina. "Our job here in Iowa isn't picking the final presidential candidate," says Norris. "Let's separate out the people who actually have no chance in the rest of the primary campaign."

This year, most observers agree, there will be at least four tickets for the trip out of Iowa. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, and small town Mayor Pete Buttigieg - they all have enough money and support from Party supporters to keep going even if they're not too successful in Iowa. Senator Amy Klobuchar, whose poll numbers rose recently, might say there is also a fifth ticket. That may be a subjective point of view. But Klobuchar is so optimistic that she scheduled an election rally at 2.30 a.m. on Sunday.

And who knows? Iowa is as famous as it is notorious for surprises. The state is like a treacherous cliff that candidates must circumnavigate, lurking against rocks, downdrafts and currents. Every four years, candidates run aground here who previously looked very promising; But at the moment when the voters had something to say, they went down miserably. This was the case with the Democrat Howard Dean, who was disappointed in third place in 2004. Other candidates, such as Barack Obama 2008, got so much wind in Iowa that they sailed on steadily - until they were nominated.

There are two voting rounds

In addition to the rigid criterion of placement, there is a second, very vague and flexible criterion that is important for evaluating success or failure in Iowa: expectations. Whether a candidate does better or worse than expected can have a lasting impact on post-election reporting, the image of a candidate and thus the decision of voters in other states.

To take Klobuchar as an example: If the Senator from Minnesota, who has so far been lagging in the polls, actually got a double-digit result on Monday, as a survey predicts, it would be a huge victory - a spectacular comeback story, even if she did only becomes third or fourth. Sanders, on the other hand, who leads the polls, actually has to win. A second or even third place would be a setback for him, even if he got twice as many votes as Klobuchar. Winning the media game with expectations and predictions is therefore at least as important to candidates in Iowa as collecting votes.

And there's one more thing that makes the Iowa election so unpredictable. That's the fact that Iowa doesn't actually have an election, at least not in the sense that voters at a polling station put a cross next to a name on a ballot paper, toss it in a ballot box, and drive home. This is how the area codes run in states that align a "primary". In Iowa, however, there are "caucuses" - town councils at which constituency residents meet in schools or fire stations and sometimes spend hours discussing the selection of the right candidate. There are two voting rounds in which the applicants' supporters split up into groups.

After the first round, only those candidates may be elected who have the support of at least 15 percent of those present. An essential part of the caucus process is that voters can switch between candidate groups and are even strongly encouraged to do so by members of the other groups.

Important stations until the election

3 February: Iowa area code. Democratic nominee: Joe Biden, 77, ex-vice president. Elizabeth Warren, 70, Massachusetts Senator. Bernie Sanders, 78, Senator Vermont. Pete Buttigieg, 38, South Bend, Indiana Mayor. Amy Klobuchar, 59, Senator from Minnesota. Andrew Yang, 45, New York entrepreneur. Tulsi Gabbard, 38, Hawaii Congressman. Tom Steyer, 62, billionaire New York. Michael Bennet, 55, Senator Colorado. Deval Patrick, 63, ex-Massachusetts Governor. Michael Bloomberg, 77, won't start until Super Tuesday. Republican candidates alongside Donald Trump: Bill Weld, 74, ex-Governor Massachusetts, and Joe Walsh, 58, former Congressman.

February 11th: New Hampshire area code.

February 29th: Area Code in South Carolina.

3 March: "Super Tuesday" with area codes in 14 states, including Alabama, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Texas.

17. March: Area codes in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Ohio.

April 28th: Area codes in a. Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania.

2th of June: Primaries in Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota, Washington.

July 13th to 16th: Nomination Party Congress of the Democrats.

August 24th to 27th: Republican Nomination Congress.

November 3rd: Election of the president.

In this respect, a caucus is a very collective, communicative, but above all time-consuming event. There will be an advantage for those candidates who can actually mobilize their supporters on Monday night and who have dedicated supporters in each district to help debate and woo undecided voters. Victory at a caucus depends not only on a candidate's political program, but also on whether their campaign is well organized and the supporters are sufficiently enthusiastic.

As for the enthusiasm, it is probably the greatest among the Bernie Sanders fans. When he played in a concert hall at Cedar Rapids on Friday night, around 3,000 people came - something like that has never happened to the Democrats in Iowa. Sanders gave a rather dry, class-struggle speech, which was nevertheless accompanied by great jubilation. But it was no coincidence that Sanders asked his many young followers to actually go to the caucus on Monday instead of watching Netflix on the sofa. Young people are not the most reliable voters.

This year another factor complicates the situation: Donald Trump. Beating the hated president in November is by far the most important goal of most Democrats, says Norris. The fear is therefore great that the party will nominate someone who is sympathetic and has the right political ideas, but who is at high risk of losing to Trump. "Many Democrats are terrified of making the wrong choice at the caucus," says Norris. That makes it difficult for Sanders, but especially for Warren. A left woman as a candidate - that would please many Democrats. But among other things because surveys repeatedly show that Joe Biden supposedly had better chances against Trump, the former Vice President in Iowa is stable in front of Warren.

John Norris thinks nothing of such tactical voting decisions. A candidate who can inspire people is ultimately worth more than one who does well in surveys. "I always advise people: vote for the one you like the most, not the one you think is the most eligible."

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