Des Moines, Iowa, Feb 3, 2020 / 05:35 pm (CNA).- As Iowa becomes the first state to kickoff the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, Catholic voters could help decide the winner.

The Iowa Democratic caucuses began on Monday, with registered Democratic voters reporting to their local precincts and “caucusing,” or showing their official support, for their preferred presidential candidate.

Among the Democratic presidential front-runners, former vice president Joe Biden is a Catholic who in recent days has been actively courting Catholic voters, concentrated in the eastern edge of the state along the Mississippi River. Staff were reportedly sending out “Catholics for Biden” letters to certain households, and even asking convents of nuns to join in sending letters in support of the candidate.

Biden was notably denied Holy Communion—according to the policy of the Diocese of Charleston—when he presented himself for Communion at a Sunday Mass in South Carolina, in October.

Biden has long supported legal abortion as a U.S. senator and as Vice President. Although he previously advertised a more “moderate” position, he has recently supported taxpayer funding of abortions and his 2020 platform calls for the codification of Roe v. Wade as federal law.

Outside of St. Anthony Catholic Church just south of the Des Moines downtown, two self-identified Republicans told CNA after Monday morning Mass that they would not be caucusing with the Democrats, but rather supporting President Donald Trump’s re-election.

One of the two said that the pro-life issue was critical to her, although not the only issue she was considering. Although she had initially been hesitant to support Trump in 2016, she praised his efforts to fight abortion and said he is like “Saul turned into Paul.”

Another Mass attendee told CNA he would support Trump in November, as the President has been actively fighting a “toxic” culture.

One of the Mass attendees, Elizabeth Zamora, an immigrant, said she would caucus for Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Monday night. She said Sanders was fighting for “racial justice” and was standing up to the “media class.”

Carlos Garrido, a senior at Loras College, a Catholic college in Dubuque, told CNA that he would be caucusing for Bernie Sanders as well.

The Cuban-born college student, who has been canvassing for Sanders as well, credited his initial interest in politics to seeing the difficulties his mother endured when she declined medical procedures for a condition because she didn’t want to contract medical debt for the family. Catholic social teaching, he said, is about “treating people with dignity for its own sake,” and he believed Sanders’ positions—aside from abortion—aligned with Catholic social teaching.

Carroll County, Iowa, is one of the highest concentrations of Catholics in the state, along with the Archdiocese of Dubuque on the eastern edge and the capital city of Des Moines in the center.
The state’s rural western county went decidedly for Trump in the 2016 election, where he also won by a four-point margin in the caucuses earlier in the year despite losing the state overall. Hillary Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic caucuses in Carroll County.

Kathy Richardson, a pediatric mental health nurse practitioner, was canvassing for Joe Biden on Monday. Although she was not Catholic, she said that two of the precinct captains were Catholic.
Biden, she said, attended Mass at St. Lawrence parish when he campaigned in the area in December.

Iowa’s caucuses are unique in that, unlike primaries, voters physically congregate in an area of a room marked for their candidate’s supporters.

If a candidate receives less than the “viability threshold”—which is 15% in most precincts—then the supporters have the option of either caucusing for another viable “second-choice” candidate, recruiting other supporters of a non-viable candidate to join their section, or forming an “uncommitted” group.

The state’s caucuses are also significant in that they can produce momentum for the winner, who can continue that momentum later into the primaries.