2020 Democrats Descend on Small Iowa Town Hunting for Support

(Bloomberg) -- Most of the Democratic presidential field converged in a small town in northern Iowa on Friday bidding for the time and attention of party activists who’ll play crucial roles when the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses begin winnowing the crowded field next February.

Twenty-two candidates addressed the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding dinner, one of the many traditions that come with campaigning in the key state. They made their cases in five-minute speeches to voters and activists gathered in Clear Lake at the Surf Ballroom, where Buddy Holly gave his last performance before dying in a plane crash.

2020 Democrats Descend on Small Iowa Town Hunting for Support

“The eyes of the world are here on us here in Clear Lake, Iowa,” Troy Price, the chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, said at the start of the event.

The short addresses amounted to introductions for the less well-known candidates and reminders from those who are riding high in the polls. Mostly they delivered condensed versions of the speeches they’ve been making for weeks on the campaign trail, hitting the high points of their agendas.

It had been barely more than a week since most of the candidates participated in the second round of Democratic debates and rather than lighting into each other, they all went after their shared opponent: President Donald Trump.

2020 Democrats Descend on Small Iowa Town Hunting for Support

“You know Donald Trump offers no moral leadership,” former Vice President Joe Biden said. “He has no interest in unifying the country. There’s no evidence that the presidency has awakened his conscience in any conscious way. Instead he’s publicly and unapologetically embraced a political strategy of hate, racism and division.”

Biden and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who were first and second in a poll of likely Iowa caucus-goers released Thursday, took the stage near the end of the event, which kept the crowd in folding chairs and wooden booths through hours of speeches.

”Your patience exceeds your judgment,” Biden said as he took the stage, the final candidate of the night to talk in the historic concert hall.

Policy Plans

Warren largely refrained from a direct attack on Trump. She criticized his trade policies, saying that “trade by tweet” doesn’t work, but focused on her proposals to improve farm and rural economies throughout the U.S.

2020 Democrats Descend on Small Iowa Town Hunting for Support

In a Monmouth University poll released Thursday, Biden got the support of 28% of likely caucus-goers. Warren was second at 19%, California Senator Kamala Harris was third at 11%, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was at 9% and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, was in fifth place at 8%. No other candidate had the support of more than 3% of survey respondents, though some voters at Friday night’s dinner indicated they were still assessing the candidates.

“Something like this isn’t how I’m going to make my decision. I really intend in the next few weeks and months to read these policy positions, educate myself more,” said Karen Mason, 61, of Webster City, Iowa. “You can’t tell what they’re all about in the five minutes that they’re allotted.”

She said she liked many of the policy proposals the candidates spoke about and hopes the eventual nominee adopts many of them.

“We all want the same thing,” she said. “We want to make our country good again.”

Key State

Iowa plays a key part in the nomination race and it’s also part of the electoral puzzle for both parties in the general election in November 2020. After Barack Obama won Iowa in 2008 and 2012, the state swung to Trump in 2016.

“I’m excited to be in this part of Iowa because this is a great place to remind the country and each other there is no such thing as a permanently red state or county or precinct,” Buttigieg said.

The dinner was one of a series of events for the candidates as they crisscrossed the state this week, with stops at the opening weekend of the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, two hours south of Clear Lake.

2020 Democrats Descend on Small Iowa Town Hunting for Support

Former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke had planned to spend the week in Iowa but has stayed at home in El Paso after a mass shooting there last weekend left 22 people dead. He addressed the dinner via video.

Those killings and another mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, that left nine people dead and more than 30 others injured also were addressed by several of the candidates.

The Wing Ding is an annual fundraiser for local county Democratic parties, with attendees paying $35 each for a buffet of fried chicken and pulled pork. Seconds and beers cost extra.

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