DES MOINES, Iowa — The day after the chaos, five former strangers piled into a wood-paneled booth at the Drake Diner, with its pink fluorescent lights and a laminated menu that ranged from cheesy omelets to thick burgers and a milkshake made with blended chocolate cake.
Still awaiting results of Iowa’s Democratic caucuses, held Monday night, Maymie Lee-Benzon wore a pink Elizabeth Warren hat, Jonathan Bopp had a Warren sticker on his scarf, and Katie Shepherd had her nails painted mint green, the color of the Warren campaign logo.
They had walked through biting cold and wind Monday from about 7 a.m. to 4 p.m, knocking on doors for Warren in the suburbs of Des Moines before heading to a caucus site in the city and then Warren’s official campaign party. By night’s end, they had expected to see the results of their work.
They were still waiting Tuesday morning, with three of them facing a six-hour drive back to Chicago. They ordered hearty breakfasts befitting the hours they had put in. Wendell Shepherd asked for a side of bacon “extra, extra crisp — like, murdered.”
“Everyone’s in a little state of confusion,” said Katie Shepherd, 36, who moved to Iowa from California three years ago, and participated in her first caucus Monday night.
She was avoiding “the Twitter rabbit hole,” she said, adding that she was hearing from both fellow Iowans and friends from out of state about the technical problems that turned Iowa’s highly anticipated caucuses from a political measuring stick into a political disaster show, one still unresolved by midday Tuesday. Following significant difficulties in counting votes on Monday night and Tuesday morning, the Iowa Democratic Party planned to release results from about half the state’s precincts late Tuesday afternoon — a prospect that seemed likely to fuel more, not less, confusion.
“It didn’t leave the best impression,” Wendell Shepherd, Katie’s husband, said of the delayed results.
The high-profile flub was on several patrons’ minds. One man, talking loudly at a nearby table, predicted that the only thing that might save Iowa’s status as the first state to vote in presidential contests was that too many others would fight over going first.
“Gridlock may keep us first, but we sure do look like idiots,” he said.
By now, political activists in Iowa and across the country had expected to have the first real vote tally of the Democratic nominating contest, after months of campaigning, millions of dollars of spending, and many long hours of volunteering, rallying, and calling.
Instead, they had confusion.
Many of the bleary-eyed people coming into the diner still wore their campaign stickers from the night before. A camper that pulled into the parking lot had “Pete 2020” written on the windows. The driver, Gayle Lucka, had come from Indiana with her daughter to support Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend.
Despite the uncertainty, the Warren supporters expressed little disappointment. They were surprisingly upbeat. Two were already making plans to continue volunteering in the Nevada caucuses later this month or the Wisconsin primary in April.
They said the Warren campaign party Monday night, driven by the senator herself, was upbeat, even as they waited in vain.
“It was very high-energy,” Katie Shepherd said. “We were ready to celebrate a lot of hard work.”
She added: “The Warren campaign has an ethic of ‘keep moving.’” So, they said, they adopted the same attitude.
The Shepherds had hosted Lee-Benzon, Bopp, and Jaymes Grabowski at their Des Moines home in the closing days of the campaign, providing space for the volunteers who are crucial to drawing supporters out to the caucuses.
None of them knew each other before.
Now, packed into this booth, they talked over why they gave up several weekends — with three of them making long drives from Chicago — to try to persuade strangers to support Warren.
Several said that as they volunteered, thoughts of the 2016 election lurked in the back of their mind.
“I could have done more,” said Bopp, 35, of Chicago. “This time I will.”
Lee-Benzon recalled falling in a snow bank, slipping on ice — but recalled it fondly.
“I’m in a great mood, actually,” said Lee-Benzon, 46, of Evanston, Ill. “All the work we put in inconvenienced our life, [but] I did it, I accomplished this and I’m done for now.”
Grabowski, 31, from Chicago, was ready to volunteer in Nevada, which hosts its Democratic caucuses Feb. 22. He saw the door-knocking as a learning experience.
“We left it all out on the field,” Bopp said. Even if they still didn’t know the final score.