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At a Super Bowl Party in Iowa, Undecided Caucusgoers Get Off the Fence

DUBUQUE, Iowa — “I’m stuck,” Jerry Hermsen said.

It was 24 hours before the Iowa caucuses and he was still agonizing. Mr. Hermsen had invited two dozen friends over Sunday night, many of them also wrestling with choosing a candidate from this year’s amazingly fluid, tightly bunched Democratic field.

The idea was to combine the Super Bowl party that Mr. Hermsen and his wife, Kris, host annually with a chance to hash out among friends whom to support Monday in the caucuses.

“I really want whoever it is to be able to heal us,” Debbie Gross said, standing in the Hermsens’ kitchen, where pulled pork and meatballs were warming in crockpots and a cooler held Blue Moon and Fat Tire beer.

She was up in the air, juggling Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind.; former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.; and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

“I want to hear more about what these guys have to say and talk more about it,” she said.

The same friends had gathered for years to watch the game. Many were teachers in Dubuque’s public or Catholic schools, nearing or just past retirement. Several belonged to a “faith-sharing group,” formerly a Bible study group. The name was changed, one woman explained, because “we didn’t pick up the Bible that much.”

Jim Kuhl, a teacher, said he had decided on Ms. Warren “about five years ago.”

He tried to convert Ms. Gross. Their conversation was a preview of the kind of earnest discussions that would be taking place at more than 1,600 caucus sites across Iowa.

“What I like is that Elizabeth strongly points out that she’s going to tax the billionaires,” Mr. Kuhl said. “They’ve already gotten the money these last few years.”

Ms. Gross nodded.

“And she’s going to use it to help people who are in need,” Mr. Kuhl added.

Ms. Gross, a coordinator of faith development at a Catholic college in Dubuque, said that she had attended rallies for Mr. Buttigieg on Saturday and for Mr. Biden earlier on Sunday.

“I thought both were good but I cried today — I mean when I heard Joe, it was so beautiful,” she said.

She was torn up by his description of grade-school children participating in active shooter drills, something a granddaughter of hers had gone through.

Her husband, Terry, announced that he had finally decided to back the former vice president.

“The Democrats sometimes don’t express their faith, and Joe is a man of faith — I can tell,” he said. “He said, ‘I went to church this morning.’ That says a lot to me.”

Ms. Hermsen stood beside a refrigerator covered with family pictures, including of her two sons, both engineers. “I think I’m leaning toward Biden,” she said.

“We just really had a good experience with him today,” Ms. Gross told her. “He was amazing. You would have been crying. So powerful.”

“I want someone experienced,” Ms. Hermsen, a kindergarten teacher, replied. “Do I want to go to a doctor that’s new? No. I want someone who knows what they’re doing. So it’s like, why would I not want someone experienced in the White House?”

Beside a table of cold hors d’oeuvres, including a broccoli and bacon salad, Ms. Gross and Jane Haier traded accounts of Trump voters they had heard about who were fed up with the president.

Ms. Haier said her son-in-law’s father, a farmer in Western Iowa and a “staunch Republican,” had announced a couple of weeks ago, “I can’t do this anymore.”

“He’s now going to declare himself” — Ms. Haier dropped her voice to a whisper — “a Democrat.”

Ms. Gross’s father, a businessman, died in July. “You know what I want more than anything?” she said. “I want to talk to my dad now that he might have a better perspective.”

Her father had held his nose while voting for Donald J. Trump, she said. She imagined him telling her, “You were right!”

Downstairs, Kansas City and San Francisco were in the first quarter on a large screen in the den. Guests began drifting down, paper plates in hand, and sprawling over couches, chairs and the carpeted floor.

Mr. Hermsen, a former physical education teacher who used to tour jump-roping teams around Iowa to perform at basketball games during halftime, declared his intention to align with the former entrepreneur Andrew Yang, at least in the first head-count at his precinct.

“I really like a lot of things that Yang says,” Mr. Hermsen said.

If Mr. Yang failed to reach the 15 percent threshold required to earn delegates, Mr. Hermsen would need to make a second choice, and he was unsure whom he would pick.

“We need somebody with experience,” he reasoned. “But do I want a Biden, who’s been a career politician? That’s where I’m struggling. From Yang, do I go to Warren? Or do I go to Klobuchar, who’s a little more centrist?”

He pulled out a Post-it Note, on which he had copied part of a newspaper editorial, and read aloud from it.

“‘Democrats need to decide whether they just want to beat Trump, or whether they want to have a credible candidate who has a vision, commitment, and proven skills to truly reform our government,’” Mr. Hermsen read, adding, “Boy, that really strikes me as something that I need to really think about.”

Faye Finnegan, sprawled in an armchair, said: “Who are we going to get to beat our current president? That’s what I am struggling with. I like Elizabeth Warren. My fear is she’s too far left to bring along other people.”

Colleen Kuhl, seated on the floor beside her, who was moving toward Ms. Warren, said, “If everybody thinks that way, then she’s never going to make it.”

On the flat screen above a fireplace, the Forty-Niners scored a touchdown, tying the score in the second quarter.

Ms. Finnegan related how a friend had called a brother, a political scientist in Wisconsin, for advice.

“He said: ‘Go with your heart. You’ve got to remember, it’s not all just Iowa. You’ve got Pennsylvania, you’ve got some other states,’ and that made me feel better,” Ms. Finnegan said. “Like, O.K., I don’t have to carry this whole burden.”

One candidate who did not come up much in the house was Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

“I like Sanders’s ideas,” said Ms. Finnegan, who works for a nonprofit group that addresses poverty and education. “I don’t think he’s a team player. We all know in work settings that kind of attitude doesn’t really get us places.”

On the television, an ad appeared for Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Ms. Finnegan threw out a suggestion for a ticket: “Amy and Joe Biden.”

“Amy’s my first choice, and then Joe,” Ms. Haier said. “I don’t feel her shouting at me. Some of them shout at me. I don’t like that.”

“She might not be viable,” she added. “So then I’m going to go with Joe. Because ultimately I think he’s going to be on the ticket in the end.”

Ms. Finnegan was still torn but had narrowed it to three: “I don’t know the order yet. Amy, Elizabeth and Joe.”

With the halftime show about to begin, she accidentally hit a button on the remote and the screen went dark. Netflix began to load. There was an uproar of football and caucus fans, as half a dozen tried to get the game back, fumbling with the buttons of the remote.

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