SIOUX CITY, Iowa – In a home that normally sits a family of five comfortably is a crowded living room with at least 30 people, a dining room where there’s a line of at least 15 waiting to place cheese and crackers on their plates, and a line of several others at the front door of the home, patiently waiting to get inside.
They are all Democrats and are lined up, sometimes in standing-room gatherings, to hear from the latest candidate passing through the first-in-the-nation-caucus state.
It’s a scene that’s not unfamiliar to Tim Bottaro. Yet, it’s one that is exciting for the Truman Club founder as Iowa becomes the center of attention for presidential hopefuls looking to gain momentum from voters.
“The Truman Club is a membership club and we work to facilitate private receptions with presidential candidates,” Bottaro said.
Founded in 1987, the Truman Club is a political organization comprised of blue-collar workers, entrepreneurs, business professionals, students, and Democratic party volunteers in Woodbury County, Iowa.
Since its inception, Bottaro said the organization has hosted private receptions with every Democratic candidate running for president.
In what’s shaping up to be a historic presidential election due to the number of people running, candidates are meeting with key influencers and political groups that hold clout in Iowa, like the Truman Club, to gain support from voters outside of these organizations.
“We have intimate gatherings and the candidates love it because a lot of these people are real activists in the party who are there to ask questions, and then they're going to make up their minds, and then go out and tell people who they're supporting and why they should support the same person,” Battaro said.
Across the state, approximately three hours away from Woodbury County, is the capital city of Des Moines where more than half of the Democratic candidates have already met or are having discussions to meet with other key groups, including the Asian and Latino Coalition and College and Young Dems of Iowa.
“This is where the conversations actually happen. If a candidate can impress this group right here, they have a chance,” said Prakash Kopparupu, chair for the Asian and Latino Coalition.
“We may be young, but we’re registering people to vote and we're bringing those presidential candidates to campus so the students have a chance to meet those candidates decide who they want to caucus for,” said Olivia Habinck, president of the College and Young Dems of Iowa.
Despite their impact in Iowa, political experts said these powerful groups serve as more than just an endorsement for candidates.
If you're a really smart candidate, you don't go to these groups just to sell your message and your personality,” said Steffan Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State University. ”You actually go to different groups in order to have them sort of reflect on what you're saying and tell you whether you're on message or whether you're off message.”
A crowded Democratic field for 2020 is causing groups like the Truman Club and key influencers to hold off on making an endorsement in the short term.
“The whole caucus structure is designed around neighborhood conversations with people that you trust to talk about who they're supporting,” Sue Dvorsky, former Former Iowa Democratic Party chair, said. “One of the reasons that my husband and I are not supporting a candidate this early this time is because first of all, we don't have the field set yet. You know we have got this giant box of jigsaw pieces and we don't even know yet whether we've got a 500-piece puzzle or a 1,000-piece puzzle. We are not we're not there yet.”