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Inside the Iowa caucus — in Paris

Iowa came to Paris this week in the form of the first Democratic caucuses ever held overseas.

Tbilisi and Glasgow were the other two non-US locations where registered Iowa Democrats could vote in their party’s search for a presidential candidate.

In the rainy French capital, 17 Democrats turned up at a town hall not far from the Louvre museum. Many were young. Several were first-time voters. At least four were former Republicans, taking part in a Democratic caucus for the very first time.

Austin Allaire, 23, had taken the Eurostar from London and said that if he hadn’t had the option to caucus in Paris, he would have flown home to Huxley, Iowa.

“It’s really important that everyone gets involved. That’s why I made the effort to be here,” he said.

But things got off to a rocky start in the City of Light. Several turned up late because of confusion over whether the caucus was scheduled for 8 p.m. local or GMT. After a show of hands was taken, they agreed to restart the caucus “in the name of democracy.”

As the caucusing began, many conversations revolved around the question of electability. Hanne Gaukel, 22, had traveled from Germany. She said that the vote should be about more than beating US President Donald Trump, and that she hoped others would consider the broader policy issues that Sanders has long campaigned on.

Rachel Euchner, 34, was initially undecided. She said that meeting other voters at the Paris caucus helped her see things more clearly. “Just talking to the people who really believed in their candidates, I saw what I aligned with,” Euchner said. She ultimately chose to back Pete Buttigieg in the first round, and then realigned with Bernie Sanders when the 38-year-old failed to reach the minimum threshold for viability.

One of the themes of the evening’s discussions, and a key point of unity, was that they all lived in Europe. Many said that living abroad had given them a taste for what progressive education and health policies can mean.

“I joined the military for free education and free health care, and then I came to Europe and saw it was possible everywhere,” said Paige Greene, 31, who had traveled from a US airbase in Germany.

The Paris caucus group was neither large nor necessarily representative of their home state, but they offered a preview of the discussions to come in caucus sites across Iowa tonight — and brought to Paris the fired-up enthusiasm of Democrats who are hoping for change.

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