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In Flood-Ravaged Davenport, Iowa, Climate Is A Prime Issue For Some Voters


The No. 1 issue for Democratic voters in this presidential election season is health care. But trailing a close second is climate change. Morning Edition host Rachel Martin has been reporting in Iowa this past week ahead of the caucuses. And she spent some time in the city of Davenport, right along the Mississippi River. The city was the site of record-breaking floods last spring. How does the rising river and the threat from climate change affect how people there vote? Here's what she found out.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: You talk to enough business owners down by Davenport's riverfront, and you quickly realize that pretty much everyone has a flood story.

ANNIE STOPULOUS: I get a call from my sister-in-law that said, I got to drop the kids off. I have to go downtown. The levee broke.

ANDREW LOPEZ: All the water started coming through the drains.

STOPULOUS: And I get down here. And we had 4 1/2 feet in our basement. It was coming up to our doors. And we just started sandbagging.

TIM BALDWIN: And it just caught my eye. And then I went, oh, my God. The river's coming in.

MARTIN: That last voice is Tim Baldwin. He owns an upscale pub right on the waterfront. Dan Bush runs another restaurant a few blocks away. And we met them at Lopiez pizza joint. Andrew Lopez is the owner there.

LOPEZ: The Margherita - it's like a really chill pizza. Our red sauce, it's got a really nice kick to it. So you really don't need much with it.

MARTIN: All three of these guys took a financial hit after the flood last year. But they were the lucky ones. Some of the businesses around the area had to shut their doors for good.

I mean, here you are sitting couple hundred feet away from the riverbank - The Mississippi.

DAN BUSH: Yeah. It's right over there.

MARTIN: So do you just write this off? Or do you expect that this is going to keep happening?

BUSH: I think we're forced to take it seriously.

MARTIN: That's Dan Bush. After the disaster, he started a coalition of business owners to advocate for better flood prevention.

BUSH: You know, the science shows, the statistics shows that this is going to progressively get worse and that we actually didn't - it didn't get as bad as it could have got this year. The last big event was in 1993. I don't expect it to be another 25, 27 odd years before it happens again.

MARTIN: How does that affect your thoughts about climate change and your political choices, Andrew?

LOPEZ: So I think it's a big deal. And it's been getting a little worse and worse every year. So I think it's time to take a step forward and try and do something about it.


BALDWIN: You know, I love these guys. But we have a - different political views.

MARTIN: Where is the difference?

BALDWIN: Well, the - climate change, as we hear about it every day through the national media, I don't believe is our problem. I believe climate's changing. And I believe climate's been changing since the inception of this planet, right? All I know is what is obvious to me. And that is when it rains, the water has nowhere to go except to the Mississippi River. But is it related to - what? - driving cars and eating beef? I'm not convinced of that.


BUSH: I think this event definitely made me think more about climate than I ever have in my life. But yeah, I think we're at the point where the cause is not the conversation. It's, OK, we - Tim and I agree it's happening. Now how do we handle it?

MARTIN: Their answers for that question are different, too. It's going to shape Dan's political choice this year. He says he'll caucus for Elizabeth Warren for a lot of reasons, including her plans to fight climate change. Tim, on the other hand, is a conservative. His primary issue isn't climate change at all. It's the economy. And he's voting for Donald Trump. We say our goodbyes...

Bye, guys. Take it easy.

...Then walk back along the river. We take a right near some retail shops and eventually find our way to East 2nd Street, where we meet Annie Stopulous.

STOPULOUS: We've got a lot going on right now. So that's why - it doesn't normally look like this.

MARTIN: Annie runs a trendy men's clothing store just a couple blocks from the river.

STOPULOUS: I mean, the whole community came together. And it was - we were - our knees deep in water, sandbagging all this area to protect, you know, our space.

MARTIN: How are you preparing for the inevitability of it...


MARTIN: ...Happening again?

STOPULOUS: Since I've lived here, we've only had one really big flood. And it was when I was a young girl. I don't remember it. So historically, the chances are not very high. But when you think of the environment and the effects and global - everything that is included and what's happening, the chances are a lot higher.

MARTIN: Do those issues motivate you politically?

STOPULOUS: Absolutely.

MARTIN: She doesn't want to say who she's going to caucus for Monday. But her fiancee, Kayla, is all in for Elizabeth Warren.

STOPULOUS: She's worried about our children and our children's children and what the environment and Earth is going to be like at that point.

MARTIN: Do you guys have kids?

STOPULOUS: No, we're - yesterday, I just got my appointment. We're planning on it.


STOPULOUS: It's - yeah. It'll - in time. Yeah.

MARTIN: Yeah. A year after the flood, Annie and Kayla are looking to the future, like so many others we talked with here. And after tomorrow's caucuses, they'll have a better idea of what that future might look like. Rachel Martin, NPR News, Davenport, Iowa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.