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In Iowa, anxiety and unpredictability cloud caucus finish

DES MOINES, Iowa — On the eve of the Iowa caucuses, Democratic presidential candidates hustled across the state on Sunday trying to fire up voters and make one last appeal to those struggling to make a final decision about their choice in the crowded field.

Campaigns and voters acknowledged a palpable sense of unpredictability and anxiety as Democrats begin choosing which candidate to send on to a November face-off with President Donald Trump.

The Democratic race is unusually large and jumbled heading into Monday’s caucus, with four candidates locked in a fight for victory in Iowa and others still in position to pull off surprisingly strong finishes. Many voters say they’re still weighing which White House hopeful they’ll support.

“This is going to go right down to the last second,” said Symone Sanders, a senior adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden campaign.

Polls show Biden in a tight race in Iowa with Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, as well as former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang are also competing aggressively in the state.

Democrats’ deep disdain for Trump has already put many in the party on edge about the decision before them. And a series of external forces have also heightened the sense of unpredictability in Iowa, including Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate, which marooned Warren, Sanders and Klobuchar in Washington for much of the past week.

Many campaigns were looking to a final weekend poll to provide some measure of clarity. But late Saturday night, CNN and the Des Moines Register opted not to release the survey because of worries the results may have been compromised.

New caucus rules have also left the campaigns working in overdrive to set expectations. For the first time, the Iowa Democratic Party will release three sets of results: who voters align with at the start of the night; who they pick after voters supporting nonviable candidates get to make a second choice; and the number of state delegate equivalents each candidate gets.

The new rules were mandated by the Democratic National Committee as part of a package of changes sought by Sanders following his loss to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primaries. The revisions were designed to make the caucus system more transparent and to make sure that even the lowest-performing candidates get credit for all the votes they receive. But party officials in Iowa and at the DNC have privately expressed concerns that but multiple campaigns will spin the results in their favor, potentially creating chaos on caucus night.

The Associated Press will declare a winner in Iowa based on the number of state delegates each candidate wins. The AP will also report all three results.

Despite the late-stage turbulence and confusion, the candidates spent Sunday making bold pronouncements. Speaking to several hundred supporters in Cedar Rapids, Sanders declared “we are the campaign of energy and excitement” and said “we are in a position to win tomorrow night.”

Warren, who is also rallying progressive voters, pressed her supporters to “fight back” if they ever lose hope.

Meanwhile, the 38-year-old Buttigieg talked up his newcomer status, telling a rally in Coralville that when Democrats have won the White House in the past, “we have done with it someone who is new in national politics.” But Biden, emphasizing his decades of Washington experience, told voters there’s no time for “on-the-job training.”

Biden’s campaign appeared to be trying to lower Iowa expectations, cautioning against reading too much into Monday’s results. Biden is hoping to sustain enough enthusiasm and money coming out of Iowa to make it to more diverse states where he hopes to draw strong support from black voters. His campaign is particularly focused on South Carolina, the fourth state on the primary schedule.

“We view Iowa as the beginning, not the end,” Symone Sanders said at a Bloomberg News breakfast. “It would be a gross mistake on the part of reporters, voters or anyone else to view whatever happens on Monday — we think it’s going to be close, but view whatever happens — as the end and not give credence and space for New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.”

Sanders, Warren and Klobuchar fanned out across the state, trying to make up ground after missing most of the last two weeks of campaigning due to the Senate impeachment trial.

In a conference room in Cedar Rapids, Klobuchar appealed to caucusgoers by asking them to think about the voters who won’t be caucusing — moderate Republicans, voters who swung from Barack Obama to Trump and voters who stayed home in 2016.

“They’re watching all of this right now,” Klobuchar said. “We have people who want to come with us. And we need a candidate who is going to bring them with us instead of shutting them out.”

Klobuchar retold her joke about slowly winning over former Cedar Rapids Mayor Kay Halloran, who once told Klobuchar that she was “78 percent with you.”

“We don’t have time for that!” Klobuchar said. “She got to 100 percent and so can you.”

But many voters, too, are still making last-minute moves. According to a Monmouth University poll in Iowa in late January, 45% of all likely Democratic caucus-goers named a first choice but said they were open to the possibility of supporting another candidate, and another 5% did not indicate a first choice.

Indeed, talking to Iowa Democrats can be dizzying. Many can quickly run through what they like — and what worries them — about the candidates in rapid fire, talking themselves in and out of their choices in a matter of minutes.

“There are just so many candidates,” said John Kauffman, a 38-year-old who works in marketing in Marion.

Football fans gather to watch annual Super Bowl matchup

HUNTINGTON — People gathered around the big screens Sunday to watch the kickoff of Super Bowl LIV between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs. Fans gathered at Calamity J Grill and Bar in Huntington to watch Chiefs and 49ers meet for the first time during a Super Bowl game. It was also the first Super Bowl appearance for the Chiefs in about 50 years. This year’s “big game” was held at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, with a halftime performance by Jennifer Lopez and Shakira.

Traditions, fellowship served up at Marshall's annual Soul Food Feast

HUNTINGTON — Chefs whipped up chicken, ribs, cornbread and collard greens for Marshall University’s annual Soul Food Feast on Sunday.

However, the tasty event was less about the food and more about celebrating culture, heritage and fellowship, said Maurice Cooley, vice president/dean of Student Affairs and associate vice president of the Office of Intercultural Affairs.

“The preservation of the food is really secondary to the feast’s overall purpose,” Cooley said. “The purpose of the Soul Food Feast is primarily a fellowship gathering for people to come together, particularly on Sunday.”

Cooley said the feast is reminiscent of meals that would be served by black families after Sunday School and church. Sunday’s feast also featured mac and cheese, chitterlings, yams, potato salad, coleslaw, rolls and sweet potato pie.

“Members of the family, members of the extended family like aunts, uncles, niece and nephews, will typically congregate at a mother or grandmother’s house where a large number of family members will gather for dinner or for lunch after church,” he said. “So they would have their own Sunday Soul Food Feast, and what we find here is following tradition of African American lifestyles, and it’s also very historical.”

The annual Soul Food Feast has been going on for about 30 years with Cooley overseeing the past 18 years, he said. It always kicks off Black History Month at the university, which features a series of events celebrating black culture and heritage.

All the food for Sunday’s feast was prepared by Sodexo with a chef trained in the knowledge of soul food traditions, he said.

“The food preparation also has to be prepared in accordance with how these foods are traditionally cooked with the spicing and that it’s consistent with how these foods have been prepared over many, many years,” he said.

About 200 people attended Sunday’s feast, many of whom were not Marshall students. Cooley said non-Marshall students attend the feast every year for an opportunity to see the campus and and learn more about the university.

Dejah Thomas is a Marshall grad student studying biomedical research. Originally from Atlanta, Thomas said the feast reminded her of food she typically finds at home.

Thomas said she felt comforted by the food, unafraid to pile on her favorite hot sauce.

“It definitely reminded me of home. I felt like I was in an area where I could just eat like I ate at home,” she said. “Since it was soul food and not like anything super fancy, I didn’t feel like i was in etiquette class or anything.”

Thomas said preserving soul food is an important part of Black History Month because there’s a lot of comfort gained from family gatherings and discussions surrounding the dinner table.

In addition to Sunday’s feast, Marshall will host two prominent and accomplished black Americans to participate in its Dr. Carter G. Woodson Lyceum in honor of Black History Month.

Jerome M. Adams, surgeon general of the United States, and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Ph.D., chairwoman of the history department at Harvard University, will visit campus this month as part of the educational event.

Higginbotham will deliver the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Lecture at 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6, in the Shawkey Dining Room in Marshall’s Memorial Student Center, and Adams will celebrate black history from a personal perspective, as well as share his priorities as “The Nation’s Doctor,” at 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13, in the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center.

Water Quality Board approves new security cameras for admin. offices, wastewater plant

HUNTINGTON — Members of the Huntington Water Quality Board approved security camera upgrades at its administration office and wastewater treatment plant during a regular meeting last week.

The upgrades will not be made until passage of the Water Quality Board’s 2021 to 2022 fiscal year budget in June.

During a Jan. 28 meeting, board members approved the purchase of about 17 new cameras totaling $19,000 for the board’s administrative building on 7th Avenue. They also approved purchasing $23,440 in new camera upgrades for the wastewater treatment plant on Sunset Drive and approved $19,791 for a new server to manage the systems there.

Scott Kelley, the wastewater plant’s chief operator, said cameras at the administrative office and plant are more than five years old and are outdated. Cameras at the administrative office were brought over from the Water Quality Board’s old office on Adams Avenue, he said.

Kelly said a new computer server was necessary because the wastewater treatment plant’s current server is outdated and is no longer supported by Microsoft. The server operates Windows 8, and Microsoft no longer services operating systems below Windows 10, he said.

“At this point right now we are a little vulnerable because of our operating system being being out of date,” he said.

Huntington City Attorney Scott Damron said it was OK for the Water Quality Board to approve the purchase of the equipment ahead of preparing next year’s budget, as long as it’s guaranteed to be included in the final approved budget.

Also during the meeting, Sherri Wilkins, director of the Stormwater Utility, gave an update on proposed improvements to flooding issues along Arlington Boulevard. Wilkins said three engineering firms have responded to requests for proposals to design a permanent fix to constant flooding there.

Money for the designs will be provided by the West Virginia Division of Highways. Wilkins said DOH staff have requested meetings with three engineering firms before selecting one to complete the project and act as project manager.

Wilkins also updated board members on the Stormwater Utility’s collection efforts, which has included going after landlords delinquent in paying their required stormwater utility fees.

As of Jan. 15, the Stormwater Utility has filed liens against 371 properties totaling $117,000. In addition, 10 complaints have been filed in Cabell County Magistrate Court resulting in seven settlements, she said.

Some of those settlements were made after the owners received a letter notifying them of liens, and others were settled after they received a summons from Magistrate Court, she said.