DES MOINES, Iowa — About a mile down the road from a Saturday night event for presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley, Jupiter Phuckit was prancing across a stage in barely there tights and platform heels belting out Whitney Houston’s "I Will Always Love You."
Phuckit wasn’t really singing, and that isn’t her real name. She was one of eight performers in a drag show at The Garden Nightclub, a massive gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender bar. It’s nestled in the heart of the city that presidential hopefuls have been swooping in and out of for days to try to win over voters ahead of Monday night’s caucuses. If any of them had stopped by the club, they probably would have found at least one person there who supported them. That’s because, it turns out, the bar’s regulars are all over the board when it comes to who they think should be the next president.
"Bernie. No doubt," said one of the night’s burlesque performers, Captain Jack Hardness. He said he’s a longtime fan of Sanders and plans to caucus for him on Monday.
"I think he’s the person who actually puts the ideas forward first and makes the stuff happen later," said Hardness, whose trim beard sparkled with red glitter. "People talk about the Carter presidency like, well, nothing happened. Well, there wasn’t a whole lot of law passed, but the distance we moved forward as a country was immense. It just happened as a result, later. I think Sanders would be much the same kind of thing."
Foxy, who had just been on stage performing in white go-go boots and a cape, was caught off guard by the question.
"Oh my god. Oh, Jesus. I’m in a dress, girl. Oh, I’m so undecided," she said. "I’m following it too much, I think that’s the problem. If I had to pick, I would say Hillary."
Foxy said she likes Sanders but thinks he’s too idealistic to be president. "I think he’s better in Congress," she said, taking a swig of her drink and running off for her next act. "I think Hillary can actually get things done."
More conversations with people at the bar revealed a similar split between Sanders and Clinton. Both candidates have a strong record on LGBT rights, so if there was a predictable divide to be found, it would be here. Iowans are also particularly tuned into LGBT issues: Same-sex marriage has been legal here since 2009, years before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized it nationally.
"I’m torn between the two. I guess I would go for Hillary over Bernie at the moment," said Seth Schindehette, the stage manager for the drag show. "I think she has a little bit more experience, as far as that goes."
"I’m caucusing for Bernie on Monday. I like what he stands for," said Maggie Powell, who was also helping with the show. She was winding through the crowd all night selling raffle tickets for a chance to win an action figure of Daenerys Targaryen, a character from HBO’s "Game of Thrones."
"I like Hillary as a second choice," she said. "But I feel like the Republicans are really mad at her. Like, they would push more against her than they would against Bernie. There’s been a real stalemate in Washington. I’m tired of that."
Hours later and several drinks in, it was clear that The Garden Nightclub Caucus could not reach a consensus on their nominee. But then it got even more complicated. Enter Jenna Austin, a transgender lesbian who used to work for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
"I’m torn. I like Carly Fiorina," Austin said. "I like her outside Washington background and I like her business background. … I also really like Chris Christie because he speaks his mind and doesn’t apologize for it."
Asked why she would support either of those candidates given that neither is particularly supportive of the LGBT community, she said, again, that she feels torn between her beliefs.
"Obviously being a trans person is a bit difficult, but I personally, as far as government spending and things, I align as more conservative," she said. "I sometimes just, it’s hard."
Austin’s friend Rachel Green, who identifies as a lesbian, said she’s also a fan of Christie. But then she likes Sanders too.
"Bernie Sanders has been in politics for so long, he’s very consistent and transparent. And there’s been no dirt, which means there isn’t any," said Green. "But I don’t like a lot of the things he wants to impose because I don’t think they’re practical. … I like Christie because he sees things on a bigger platform."
They both agreed that if they had to pick someone that moment and vote, they would vote for Christie. For some reason, Green questioned HuffPost’s strategy for interviewing people about the election.
"I’m not sure a bar at 12:30 in the morning is the best place to do this," she said.
But HuffPost knew when it was time to go. Tyona Diamond, another one of the night’s drag performers, couldn’t think of a single thing to say about the race, the candidates or what the election means to her.
"I’m not really following it," said Diamond, who had just been prowling around on stage in fishnets and a bondage outfit. "You gonna be here all weekend? We have a show at 7 and 9 tomorrow."
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