In Defense of Iowa Caucuses and an Explanation for Mayor Pete’s Popularity Among Seniors


The Hershey Home Place, 1965

Dairy farms drew us together. The Hershey Home Place, Lititz, PA, 1965

My best friend in Iowa is a country girl. Like me, Carol Bodensteiner grew up on a dairy farm in the 1950s. She wrote a childhood memoir, which brought us together. We are both writers.

For the last two years, Carol and I have talked with each other once a month, discovering that we both enjoy this “jubilación” period of our lives after careers, respectively, in public relations and higher education. We care deeply about the future of our country and the world, which means we often talk politics.

Last week Carol bragged a little on the phone. She said she could meet the top Democratic contenders almost anywhere — at the farmer’s market, coffee shops, schools, churches — even in homes.

As she was nonchalantly describing this direct participation in democracy, I blurted out, “I hope you know how rare this is.”

Although I now live in a coastal state, unlike many other coastal-dwellers, I don’t resent Iowa’s role in our electoral politics. I rather enjoy the idea of city-slicker candidates having to breathe in the aroma of the 4-H heifer-judging tent or the thought of a calorie-counting vegan enticed into eating fried butter at the Iowa State Fair. Share on X

More seriously, I know that real people will be taking the pulse of real people. I trust Midwesterners, specifically Iowans, to be my proxy. I doubt that Barack Obama could have become president without that early Iowa win.

Lately, I’ve been encouraging Carol to check out the candidate who has been rising fast in the Des Moines Register/Mediacom/CNN Iowa polls. Pete Buttigieg is now in a virtual tie for second place with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. They all trail Joe Biden, who is in first place but losing ground.

Here’s my analysis of recently unknown-outside-of-South Bend “Mayor Pete’s” emergence as a rapidly rising star after watching him closely in a variety of venues.

One of those venues is the Seniors for Pete Buttigieg Facebook group described in a recent CNN article that cited polling evidence for strong support from older voters.

Columnist David Brooks way back in April described Buttigieg as “an old person’s idea of what a young person ought to be.”

That sounds pretty bland as an endorsement, but the Seniors supporting Pete don’t do bland. They overflow with fervor, eagerly sharing news articles, donating money, buying swag, making memes, and volunteering for his campaign.

The reasons many people older than 55 cite for loving this candidate fall into two categories: their evaluation of his merits and the visceral experience of his impact on them.

His rare and startling merits.

When asked what they like most, people will begin with qualities they admire in him. Phrases like “incredible intelligence” and “amazing verbal ability” appear frequently. They love his values and character – a man devoted to public service and not personal gain. They are not just wowed by his pedigree: Harvard, Rhodes Scholar, McKinsey, Navy. They barely mention these. Seniors don’t judge by logos.

Instead, Seniors value transparent leadership skills: a razor-sharp but gentle wit, the ability to listen, practical problem solving, courage, and moral clarity.

In 2016 Donald Trump destroyed a field of much better candidates with his reality-television braggadocio and insults. The Democrat who runs against him in the next election should not try to beat him at his own game (Rubio) nor wilt (Bush) nor try to use science (Warren).

Buttigieg has schooled the other candidates in how to treat a Trump insult. I doubt that Trump will call Buttigieg “Alfred E. Newman” again! Any other epithet will either be tossed off as easily, de-fanged with humor — or with a pause and “I don’t care” response that brought thunderous applause at a town hall. More than any other rhetorical skill, this one will expose the soft underbelly of the bully.

Mayor Pete says over and over again that we have to “change the channel” and focus on the voter instead of focusing on the theatrics in the White House.

Visceral experience of his impact on them

The voters are responding to this attention. They say things like “he’s a breath of fresh air.” He “inspires hope.” He “brings me to tears.” He “helps me breathe.”

The majority of voters do not, and never have, supported the current president; many are traumatized by him.

In this state what people need most is a “non-anxious presence.” “Calm” is one of the most common compliments Seniors give Buttigieg.

Bill Clinton could FEEL your pain. Peter Buttigieg makes YOU feel calm. Share on XHe is quietly, deeply present to others, encouraging them to take action on behalf of the common good.

If there is any wisdom in age, it is this. No one lives forever. As our awareness of our own mortality grows, so does our love of all that we will be leaving – the landscape that birthed us, our nation with all its not-yet-fulfilled-promise, and, most of all, the people we have cherished.

Over and over again, the Seniors for Buttigieg speak of their grandchildren, their precious ones who need a rare combination: a strong, young, kind, intelligent leader. They don’t just admire Buttigieg as if he were a deserving, well-behaved student (a la David Brooks). When they look at Mayor Pete, they see their own grandchildren’s faces.

Iowa, you are a rare gem in the middle of our country.

Caucus goers, please go out and connect with as many candidates as you can. Feed them corn and pulled pork. Listen to them speak. I trust you and I trust the urgent whisper of the future calling to us all.

Oh, and look for Carol. I expect she might be showing up in a yellow Pete cap any day now.

Screen shot from the campaign website store:

Screen shot from the campaign website store:


Okay, I took a plunge and revealed what I have been doing in this early stage of a political campaign. Here’s your chance to offer your own strategy as a voter. And to speak up for other candidates. I am ready to listen.

Shirley Showalter


  1. Marilyn Unruh (age 89) on June 12, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    Amen, sister. You are right on. I’m all in with Mayor Pete. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 12, 2019 at 12:39 pm

      Marilyn, thank you for giving your age. And for illustrating so perfectly the fervor I have been noticing.

      • Shirley Showalter on June 12, 2019 at 1:30 pm

        Are you from Iowa, by any chance, Marilyn?

    • Janet Givens on June 12, 2019 at 4:52 pm

      Hello Shirley. Thank you for this. I love how you focused on values we all hold dear. And I loved the David Brooks quote. I hadn’t heard that one: an old person’s idea of what a young person should be. I enjoy Pete’s husband too; he’s a true campaigner. I love how full the democratic field is, with so many varied candidates of enormous talent. I’m eager for the debates and hope they can all actually have a true debate.

      • Shirley Showalter on June 12, 2019 at 7:51 pm

        I absolutely agree, Janet. One of the things Seniors on the FB page say over and over is how eager they are for the debates. I also agree that this large field is full of talent. I think everyone who wants to see a change in government will support the nominee of the party. I certainly will. Last time that was not always the case, especially among Bernie’s supporters. Hope that doesn’t happen again.

  2. Carol Bodensteiner on June 12, 2019 at 2:13 pm

    I appreciate your thoughtful consideration of the candidates, Shirley. You’d fit right in in Iowa. As a proud member of the 55+ crowd (okay 70+) and a grandmother, your reasoning for Pete’s appeal resonates with me.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 12, 2019 at 2:50 pm

      Carol, thanks for being my good-natured foil and for inspiring me to write this piece. And yes, ha!, it’s been a long time since either one of us was 55. 🙂

      Let me know when you get that hat!

  3. susan scott on June 12, 2019 at 2:30 pm

    Even though I’m not an American, I follow your politics with keen interest. This man breaths calm. They say when a butterfly flaps its wings in eg Chile, a hurricane can occur elsewhere – upset what needs to be upset. Little ripples ever going outward. I love your post Shirley. It makes me feel hopeful in this turbulent world.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 12, 2019 at 3:08 pm

      Susan, it’s good to know that you too have been following Mayor Pete — all the way from Johannesburg, South Africa! That gives me butterfly wing-flapping hope. Thank you for this comment. I wonder if anyone else from outside the US will respond.

  4. Audrey Denecke on June 12, 2019 at 2:51 pm

    I have not yet settled on a preference for one candidate. I will admit Pete appeals to me for all the rasons cited in your intro.
    I’m looking forward to learning more about his policies. In my heart of heart, I would still like to see one of the women make it.
    Looking forward to the debates in a few weeks!
    Hope we are all guided to a choice that will lead our country to a healthier place.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 12, 2019 at 3:24 pm

      I agree with everything you say, Audrey, especially about women, and I am pleased to see Elizabeth Warren moving up also. I have not made a decision yet, but I do trust my internal, visceral, responses. I had one of those in 2004 when I heard Barack Obama speak at the Democratic National Convention. I literally jumped out of my chair. I started following Buttigieg carefully after I first heard him talk and felt a similar transmission of what feels like spiritual energy.

  5. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on June 12, 2019 at 3:21 pm

    Dear Shirley, I love that your thoughts come out of the ongoing conversations between yourself and Carol. I read your paragraph on Buttiegieg schooling responses to those gathered at my breakfast table, and that sparked a lot of conversation here. I am thrilled that you are directing some energy toward helping us see cherished values in politicians. While I’m glad that Bernie opened the door for lots of new conversations, somehow I can’t quite see voting for him….As a Californian I am excited about Kamala Harris. And, Elizabeth Warren sure can get specific.

    Thank you for getting so specific about Mayor Buttigieg.

    Love, Dolores

    • Shirley Showalter on June 12, 2019 at 7:55 pm

      Dolores, you have lots of good reasons to be looking at a variety of candidates. I am following all of them with interest. And, of course, eventually there will be two people on the ticket, so it’s fun to speculate about who the VP might be also.

      I wish I could have heard the conversation about how to deal with a bully’s insults.

      Love to you and yours too!

      • Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on June 12, 2019 at 9:23 pm

        One observation abt Buttigieg is that he chooses to answer the questions rather than stick to talking points.

        • Shirley Showalter on June 13, 2019 at 6:48 am

          Yes. Every time.

  6. Sam Lapp on June 12, 2019 at 3:43 pm

    Thanks, Shirley, for this EXCELLENT commentary and analysis. As one who will turn 80 late this year Pete has captured my imagination like none of the other candidates. And to think he is from Indiana! Please be certain your reflections make it to the Buttigieg campaign. There is a lot of positive rhetoric (content) there that should make it into the public
    campaign discourse. Best Wishes – always. Sam Lapp

    • Shirley Showalter on June 12, 2019 at 8:06 pm

      Dear Sam, how sweet of you to say these words should reach Mayor Pete. Next time you get to South Bend, . . . 🙂

      How can it be that you will be 80?? You must be the one who started this trend.

      Thanks for these thoughts and blessings on your birthday.

  7. Loretta Willems on June 12, 2019 at 4:25 pm

    Thank you, Shirley. This is great.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 12, 2019 at 8:28 pm

      Good to see you here again, Loretta. Thanks for reading.

  8. Marian Beaman on June 12, 2019 at 4:29 pm

    You’re jumping right in, Shirley!

    Oddly, I remember photos of Carol and friend attending the last Iowa caucus, perhaps on her blog or Facebook page. I would know nothing about Mayor Pete Buttigieg except that I saw him on The View in May, I believe. Though I’m not committed to any one candidate yet, I’m surveying the field for integrity, strength, and kindness. And someone who reads BOOKS!

    • Shirley Showalter on June 12, 2019 at 8:52 pm

      Oh, Marian, I didn’t even mention the books! First of all, he has written a great memoir, and we know how hard that is! His father was an English professor at Notre Dame University, a Joyce scholar, I believe. Here is a great take on Pete’s reading.

      I love the values you are looking for and agree with them. Keep looking and listening to all. Pete would want you to do that too.

    • Mary Chasin on June 12, 2019 at 8:59 pm

      Mayor Pete not only reads books (by the boatload), he also wrote one. If you continue to look into him, you’ll no doubt be charmed.

  9. Ruth Clemmer Hartzler on June 12, 2019 at 4:35 pm

    Thanks, Shirley. I wasn’t too keen on any politicians in the last few years but then I read Pete’s book and started paying attention to what he had to say. I, too, feel like I can breathe and hope again in my seventh decade. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 12, 2019 at 8:54 pm

      Ruth, it was fun to see your name as a Pete fan. Thank YOU for reading this and for your comment.

  10. Dora Dueck on June 12, 2019 at 4:50 pm

    Far away from Iowa, but love this post, Shirley! Mr. Buttigieg appeals to me too. Many of us are thinking about our grandchildren these days. (And I want one of those yellow hats!)

    • Robin Gurien on June 12, 2019 at 8:33 pm

      Carol Bodensteiner! Now theres a name from the way back machine! You may recall our committee work and collaboration for Bob Koob back at UNI. I took those Iowa sensibilities you taught me and brought them back home to Southern California. Pete’s message is taking root here too; there’s hope for us yet!

      • Carol Bodensteiner on June 12, 2019 at 9:23 pm

        Hi, Robin. It was a long time ago, but working with everyone at UNI remains one of my cherished memories. Thanks for stopping by. California is taking steps to gain influence in the primary process, so you’ll be in the thick of candidates soon if you aren’t already. Carol

      • Shirley Showalter on June 12, 2019 at 9:32 pm

        Thanks for offering this comment, Robin. Carol may chime back in too. She says she remembers those days fondly.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 12, 2019 at 9:37 pm

      Dora, I am touched that you have been following our politics here in the country to your south. Of course, the noise generated out of the White House probably disturbs your sleep. You can get a yellow hat by copying and pasting the URL under the photo. And plunking down $25 US dollars!

  11. Laurie Buchanan on June 12, 2019 at 4:54 pm

    Shirley — I haven’t decided on a candidate yet, but I love, Love, LOVE this post and the direction it’s pointing.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 12, 2019 at 8:58 pm

      Thank you, Laurie. Keep paying attention. I know you will!

  12. Marilyn Yocum (65) on June 12, 2019 at 7:16 pm

    I agree with your assessment of Mayor Pete’s appeal. I have enjoyed every interview with him that I have heard/watched. He keeps a cool head, stays focused and is able to articulate his positions well. There’s no “smoke and mirrors” here. It’s too soon for me to settle on a candidate, but he is one to watch! I love that you’ve jumped in with this post.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 12, 2019 at 9:01 pm

      Thank you, Marilyn. And welcome to this space. Looks like you blog too? I’ll have to take a look.

      It is easier for me to try to share what I observe in Pete and his fans than to make a full declaration at this stage, but it is inspiring just to listen to him. And that is enough for now.

  13. Roslyn Raney on June 12, 2019 at 8:08 pm

    I’m 66, and retired from teaching college. I like my Presidents smart, so yes, Mayor Pete’s Harvard degree and Rhodes scholarship are important.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 12, 2019 at 9:15 pm

      Me too, Roslyn. I spent most of my career as a professor and am amazed by this man’s intelligence, his dedication to learning, and his desire to use these gifts to serve others. Above, I was referring to Seniors in general who rarely mention the pedigree but do mention intelligence often. I have great respect for Harvard and Oxford myself, even more so after I see a person like this who attributes much of his political preparation to his Rhodes Scholarship. Here he describes what he learned in his economics tutorial (one of three he studied). “One calculus equation at a time, I came to understand in thorough mathematical detail why supply and demand cannot be expected to deliver fair prices or efficient outcomes in many situations. Indeed, even the most orthodox economic theories showed that market failures were all but guaranteed to occur in situations, like health care and education delivery, where a seller has power over a buyer, or a buyer is seeking a service that can’t easily be assigned a dollar value, or the seller and buyer have different levels of information about the product.” Buttigieg finished with a “First,” the highest grade possible.” From this article:

  14. Tina Barbour on June 12, 2019 at 8:41 pm

    I have not listened to or read a lot about Mayor Pete yet, but based on what I do know, I like him and hope to learn more. I am so impressed with Elizabeth Warren’s intelligence and willingness to be specific and actually think out some policies. The only thing I know for sure at this point is that I will support whichever Democratic candidate becomes the nominee.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 12, 2019 at 9:18 pm

      Tina, tonight’s news is that Elizabeth Warren has overtaken Bernie Sanders in at least one poll. She has been doing really well, and I certainly agree that she has offered some great and detailed proposals. And I am with you all the way in supporting whomever emerges as the choice of the majority.

  15. Mary Jo Short on June 12, 2019 at 10:09 pm

    Thank you, Shirley, for this post. I have been so impressed watching Mayor Pete the last several years on the local South Bend news. He is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise depressing political climate. I think he has a very bright future and he gives me great hope for our grandchildrens future.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 13, 2019 at 6:52 am

      Yes, Mary Jo. You are right there next door to South Bend. If he had not come back home and worked hard with others to rebuild a decaying city, he wouldn’t be running for president now. One reason I started following him was the one you mention. The contrast between his integrity and the total circus in Washington.

  16. Karen on June 12, 2019 at 10:45 pm

    I have been listening and watching and discussing with family, particularly our older son who lives in MA. Elizabeth Warren is who I am most closely watching with mayor Pete next to her.

    • Shirley Showalter on November 3, 2019 at 3:27 pm

      Karen, I somehow did not see your comment here. I apologize for not responding. I assure you that your interest in Elizabeth Warren is not the reason! The race could very well be starting to focus on both of our candidates. If mine does not win, I will gladly vote for yours! I am getting ready to write about my experience in Iowa. Hope you return.

  17. Fran on June 12, 2019 at 11:43 pm

    Plus he speaks French (and Norwegian, and Arabic, and Farsi, and Spanish,..) showing his openness to other cultures, besides an other form of smartness.
    Thank you, Shirley, for this piece, so articulate, so very, very interesting.
    And thank all of you who commented so far. A real delight to read all of you.
    – Fran, a French woman who loves the U,S. and is ready for positive changes in these troubled times.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 13, 2019 at 7:02 am

      Fran, thanks for commenting here. Yes, I didn’t even describe his amazing gift for languages and his ability to show interest in every new cultural setting. The contrasts abound! I love knowing that you are in France and reading and paying attention to your second home here. Where you are always welcome, by the way! It’s been too long.

  18. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on June 12, 2019 at 11:58 pm

    Thanks, Shirley for this reminder of Carol, a favourite blogger. Does she still write a blog? I haven’t received notices for some time, nor heard from her on my blog. It sounds like she has more important fish to fry, and that’s all right. I just don’t want to miss out if she’s still blogging!

    • Shirley Showalter on June 13, 2019 at 6:55 am

      Elfrieda, Carol writes only when the spirit strikes and hasn’t written a post in quite some time. She has some other writing projects going on and is focusing on those. And on her grandchildren. Seasons of our lives.

  19. Merril D Smith on June 13, 2019 at 1:32 pm

    HI Shirley (and Carol), I had no idea there is a Seniors for Buttigieg group (movement). I first heard of him when he was a guest on “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” (Obviously, that places me in a particular demographic of people who get news and information from NPR.) I was impressed with him then, and that was before his candidacy and before I learned of his fluency in several languages and the depth of his learning. He is like the anti-Trump. I’m not committed to any particular candidate, though the more I see and hear of Elizabeth Warren, the more I like her, and I really wish Biden hadn’t entered the field.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 13, 2019 at 1:54 pm

      Thanks for adding these thoughts, Merril. I think we will soon see Warren and Buttigieg running neck and neck for first place, not second. Just my hunch. One reason older voters are not flocking to Biden and Sanders is that we who are close to their age realize that even in good health we don’t have the capacities we once did. The job is too big for anything less than full attention and energy. That’s not ageism, it’s realism. And, even more important than energy is the idea that the Millennials and Gen Z deserve the baton of leadership because they are the ones who live with the consequences.

      I am happy to see Elizabeth Warren rising. She deserves really serious consideration, and I pledge to give it to her.

  20. Nancy Myers on June 14, 2019 at 11:54 am

    Wow, Shirley, thanks for getting back to me immediately on my “like” of your post. FYI I am 74, GC ’65 (Nancy Eash). As you notice, I have also been writing about my mayor, Peter B. It was my 30-something daughter-in-law in Michigan, though, who started tracking the media on Pete months ago. We are BIG fans. I have learned far more about Pete through the national media than I ever did as a South Bend resident (2 years), though I’ve heard good local stories. He is definitely meant for the national stage. Here are my blog posts on Pete so far on The Practical Mystic:,,

    • Shirley Showalter on June 14, 2019 at 1:17 pm

      Great to find you, Nancy. And always fun to connect with a Goshen College grad. My son was the first to find Pete in our family, but we are all very interested in him now. I was happy to share one of your posts in Seniors for Pete on FB. It’s getting noticed there! Isn’t is wonderful that practical mystics can keep using their love for words and practice their faith and participate in democracy all at the same time? I have never loved democracy more than I do now, and I think Pete is right to focus on restoring democratic rule first and then tackling climate change and racism, etc. etc. next.

  21. Gaile Burchill (rural Wisconsin) on June 14, 2019 at 7:28 pm

    Loved this. At 57, not until reading this post had I finally realized I was a senior!

    I believe Pete is the one. He is for me. You mention many of the things he has going for him that I agree make him a formidable candidate and will make him an outstanding President for us all.

    My support for Elizabeth Warren has me want to see her stay in the Senate, which we need to flip blue as we vote in a Democrat as President to really make a difference. If we do that, she’d make an outstanding majority leader. If she becomes President, her Senate seat most likely becomes Republican as the Republican Governor of MA will select a replacement to complete her term.

    Anyway, this is one way I’ve been thinking about making the most of our many great leaders.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 15, 2019 at 12:17 pm

      Hey, you can stay in this welcoming group or leave any time. I decided to do the AARP definition just so I could include more people. 🙂

      Good strategy and I agree that Warren would make an excellent majority leader. What a contrast to the current one!

      Thanks for chiming in here. I love reading people’s comments.

  22. Sherry REYNOLDS on June 14, 2019 at 10:24 pm

    Great article Shirley, almost 70 here and love this man! Inspires me to make the world a better place….and to work hard to see that he is elected!

    • Shirley Showalter on June 15, 2019 at 12:19 pm

      More fervor. It’s contagious. I see you rolling up those sleeves . . .:-)

  23. Joan on June 15, 2019 at 11:32 am

    I’m caught between Mayor Pete and Elizabeth Warren, and love them both. Will continue to listen and look forward to interesting debates.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 15, 2019 at 12:08 pm

      Well, Joan, I know what you will be doing June 26 and 27! Should be both enlightening and entertaining. Hope you have a fun crowd to watch with!

  24. Ruth Naylor on June 18, 2019 at 11:50 am

    Thanks, Shirley, for this post. My ears and mind are open. The debates are important. Do you have any concern about the fact that we’ll be paying our elected presidents for the rest of their lives –well after their time of service? I think some of our laws regarding perks for Congress need to be changed as well. I saw an interview with Pete and will certainly keep listening. I hate to think about the way President Trump will try to slaughter him. I hope all of the Democratic candidates will not lower themselves to treat Trump the way he treats everyone else.

  25. Shirley Showalter on June 18, 2019 at 12:37 pm

    Glad you are giving careful consideration to your choice, Ruth. I would expect that of you always.

    No, I am not unduly alarmed about continuing to pay the president after s/he leaves office. I am not even sure that I know what the amount is, and I do know that the Secret Service continues to protect former presidents.

    As for how Buttigieg handles Trump, here’s a wonderful example:

    • Ruth Naylor on June 18, 2019 at 1:23 pm

      Thanks, Shirley,
      I listened to the website you offered plus two others. I’m excited now. I love his calm spirit and sense of humor, and he cares about a wide area of issues. Thanks for putting me onto this. I’m going to share it.

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